Thursday, September 25, 2008

Baptism Under Fire: a new priest gets four parishes; and a mentor or two

Fresh from the seminary, the Rev. Jeff Dobbs is now getting intense on-the job-training and learning all that is involved in being a Catholic priest.

Dobbs is part of a new Diocese of Winona mentoring program and is assigned to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Worthington, where the Rev. Larry Brixius is pastor. But Brixius and Dobbs have also assumed responsibility for the Catholic parishes in Currie, Fulda and Westbrook.

“Up until July 31, that cluster had their own pastor, but they didn’t get a replacement,” explained Dobbs. “Father Larry was named parochial administrator, and he’s coaching me to be a pastor. There will also be another priest in the vicinity named to mentor me.”

Although it’s a daunting first assignment, Dobbs feels comfortable in southwest Minnesota, having grown up in Pipestone. He began seriously to consider a religious vocation while still in high school.

“The possibility was first proposed to me when I was a sophomore in high school,” he recalled. “A priest asked if I’d ever thought about becoming a priest. The answer was no, I hadn’t. That was during a retreat, and for the rest of the retreat, they called me Father Jeff. I was a little annoyed, but a few months down the road, I started really thinking about it.”

Soon after, a new priest was assigned to the Pipestone parish and was very involved with the church’s youth program, piquing Dobbs’ interest further.

“By the time of my senior year in high school, I was thinking about it quite a bit and the possibility of going to seminary,” he said. “So I did a seminary visit, but at that time wasn’t ready to make the jump into seminary.”

Dobbs was particularly concerned about missing out on a couple of activities — music and tennis.

“So I went to South Dakota State University for a year and got involved in those things, but it seemed like there was something missing. It didn’t seem like I had a purpose, so I decided to try the seminary,” he related. “I entered my sophomore year at St. Mary’s University in Winona and Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, and lo and behold, I found out I didn’t have to give up everything. I even played tennis my first year there. … I was thankful to see I could be myself and have the same interests while being in the seminary environment.”

After three years at IHM, where he received his minor seminary training, Dobbs continued his studies in St. Paul for another four years.

“The minor seminary is focused on how to be a good Catholic man, developing a prayer life, philosophy studies and the vocabulary and tools needed to approach theology,” he explained. “Theology is the main focus of major seminary. A lot of it makes more sense in retrospect, each piece in the puzzle laying the foundation.”

Now on the job for almost two months, Dobbs has been putting his seminary training to practice. He and Brixius alternate weekends; one conducts the three Masses at St. Mary’s while the other handles the four services scheduled at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Currie, St. Gabriel’s in Fulda and St. Anthony’s in Westbrook.

Dobbs and Brixius both speak Spanish and are assisted in ministering to the local Spanish-speaking population by Sister Karen Thein. Dobbs also helps out at St. Mary’s Catholic School when time permits.

“The one thing I’ve really appreciated about this assignment is the diversity,” said Dobbs, referring not only to the ethnic diversity, but diversity of ages and the various communities.

“I like working with the youths, working with the families, and also a chance to enter into the different cultural settings, the desire to be present and offer what gifts I have in different cultural settings,” he said. “It’s been a major blessing to see more of the different dimensions of the church.”

Dobbs has felt very welcomed by the congregations in all the parishes he now serves, and is particularly grateful to be learning his duties under the tutelage of Brixius, who recently celebrated his 40th year in the priesthood. He also appreciates Thein’s insight into the Spanish community and language abilities.

“It’s been such a pleasure to work with Father Larry. He’s such a seasoned pastor and very insightful,” Dobbs said. “The staff here and in the different parishes has been very helpful.”

Although his future plans are totally in the hands of the bishop, Dobbs has a desire to focus further on Hispanic ministry, as well as encouraging other young people to follow the path he’s chosen.

“Another thing I’d like to be involved with is men and women who are thinking about religious vocations,” he said. “In this section of the diocese, I’m the priest representative for that. They’d be given my name to talk about that possibility, about what would be the next step … about the real possibility of a joyful life.” Worthington Globe


The Ironic Catholic said...

hee hee. I taught Fr. Jeff a few years ago. He is indeed a really good guy. I'm glad he seems to be thriving in what strikes me as a kinda crazy first year from the sem assignment.

Unknown said...


There must be a real thrill for a teacher when they see evidence that their students have succeeded (and a surprise, sometimes, too).

Yeah, that sounds rather intimidating being thrown into a "experimental" parish structure as a new-kid priest. I would imagine though, having been raised in Pipestone, he knows the people and culture of southwest MN quite well.