The Vatican II Awards were established in 1991 to honor men, women and young adults who exemplify the Catholic Church’s vision set forth in the Second Vatican Council. These individuals have been selected by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki to be recognized for their service to the Body of Christ in southeastern Wisconsin. While an awards ceremony is typically held annually in October, this year’s festivities are postponed until such a time as it is safe to gather such a large group.
Service to the Priesthood — Fr. Donald Thimm
Fr. Donald Thimm has the unique distinction of being able to say he spent 20 years — a little less than a third of his whole life — around the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center.
It was the place where his vocation to the priesthood was nourished as an adolescent, when he attended De Sales Preparatory Seminary during his high school years. It was just a short walk down the street at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary where he achieved his undergraduate and master’s degrees in theology, culminating in his ordination to the priesthood in 1976. And it was in the then-Cousins Center that he served the archdiocese central offices and the archbishop for more than a decade in the 1980s and the 1990s.
“There were so many people from Washington County, there was a school bus that would pick people up from West Bend, Slinger, Hartford and then Menomonee Falls, that would take you into school Sunday night and bring you back home on Friday after school,” Fr. Thimm told the Catholic Herald in 2018, reflecting on his time at the seminary. “The rector would say to our parents, ‘One out of 10 of your boys will stay to be a priest.’ That’s really what happened in our class. We had 184 enter, and 18 of us were ordained. Along the way, they just said, ‘Go to school. Live hard, and you will eventually determine if this is for you.’ Every year, we had a chance to do that and they were very good years. A great place to go to school.”
Fr. Thimm grew up at St. Killian Parish in Hartford and was ordained May 28, 1976. He served at St. Frederick in Cudahy from 1976-83, when he went to St. Agnes Parish in Milwaukee to join the pastoral team; he later became the parish’s administrator. In 1985, he was tapped to direct the archdiocesan synod and, in 1987, directed the reorganization of the central offices. In 1988, he began his tenure as the executive assistant to the archbishop, a role he would hold until 1998, when he was asked to found a new parish in the Kenosha area.
“The pastors of the churches in Kenosha realized St. Mary’s (Parish) was just becoming too large because of all the new growth in the Kenosha area,” Fr. Thimm told the Catholic Herald in 2018. “When I was working on the archbishop’s staff, I thought that would be a great thing to do. It was something I would have enjoyed doing.”
The parish was slated to open in 1997, and Fr. Thimm had one year left of service on the archbishop’s staff. “You don’t leave early,” he said. “But then the personnel board said, ‘Would you be willing to start that parish?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, if it works for the archbishop.’ They postponed starting it for a year so I could finish my time on the archbishop’s staff.”
Fr. Thimm led St. Anne in Pleasant Prairie until 2010, when he became the pastor of Holy Apostles in New Berlin. He served in that role until his retirement in 2020. He is now an assisting priest at St. James in Menomonee Falls.
“It’s a joy to be a priest,” said Fr. Thimm in 2018. “People are so generous and so faith-filled and love their Church. It’s humbling to enter into their lives and serve them.”