Saturday, June 21, 2008

Diocese of Winona to ordain four new priests

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The Diocese of Winona will ordain four new priests on June 28, possibly the largest group it has ordained in decades as a shortage of priests has developed both locally and nationwide.

The priests-to-be are Jeffrey L. Dobbs, 26, from Pipestone, Minn.; Ubaldo Roque Huerta, 36, of Austin, originally from Mexico City, Mexico; Thomas M. Niehaus, 30, from Mankato; and William D. Thompson, 26, from Lake City.

The Diocese of Winona ended a four-year drought when it ordained two priests in 2006. Another priest was ordained in 2007.

"The pipeline is filling up again," said spokeswoman Rose Hammes. Another priest could be ordained in the diocese this year, and three more are expected next year.

The upcoming ordinations won't make a sizable dent in the Diocese of Winona's priest shortage, however. The 20-county southern Minnesota diocese has 115 parishes, and just a handful, mainly in larger cities like Rochester, have one dedicated priest.

"The rest of them are all sharing between two or three parishes per priest," Hammes said.

The uptick in ordinations can partly be attributed to the fact that Pope John Paul II connected well with a generation of young men that is coming of age, Hammes said. At the same time, she added, the Diocese of Winona has stepped up its efforts to encourage young men to enter the priesthood.

The diocese started stepping up its efforts to attract more priests five years ago, when the Rev. Tom Melvin was named the diocese's full-time vocations director, freeing him to work full-time on recruiting new priests.

The Diocese has also laid the groundwork to attract more men to the priesthood by encouraging priests to examine the path they have taken in their lives and share the stories with parishioners.

A discovery from that process, Melvin said, is that despite the toll that the sex-abuse crisis has inflicted on the Catholic Church in recent years, priests in the Diocese of Winona are satisfied with their lives as pastors.

At the same time, the diocese has started events promoting the priesthood that are aimed at 6th graders sophomores in high school, times when the diocese believes key decisions about the future are being made.

While Melvin hopes more churches will have a single pastor dedicated to it, he said drops in rural populations may not make that ratio practical anymore.

"In some of the rural areas I don't know if we'll get back to having one priest per parish," he said.

At the same time, he said that he's focusing on realistic goals, saying he doesn't think the diocese will see a sharp increase in ordinations, as many as 10 ordinations per year for four or five years in a row, for example.

"I have to work on getting the men who are called to be priests and not force men to be priests who aren't called," he said. Rochester Post Bulletin


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