Fr. Joe Dorner's First Homily, St. Bernadette Parish, July 14, 2019
Well here I am. I’ve finally arrived. Are you ready for this? Good, so am I.
You’ve been hearing about Fr. Don and Fr. Thorsen leaving, and of Fr. Katamba and Fr. Joe arriving for months! What is it now…three months of drama? My last weekend in Green Bay I joked with my parishioners: You are probably saying, “Leave already. Just Go.” And maybe some of you have been saying, “Where are they? Let’s get going already!”
Truth be told, I have been sneaking down here these past months, meeting with Fr. Don and Fr. Thorsen, your staff and lay leadership. My first reaction: Wow, what a great staff, and what a warm welcome. Thank you.
It’s always hard to leave behind good friends and great memories. (For you too, with Fr. Don and Fr. Jon no doubt.) All the same, five years ago, by God’s grace, when I moved from Marinette to Green Bay, I was ready. I felt peace. And then something else hit me. If I had to move, there was no other place I could think of, where I would rather go than the East side of Green Bay. And now, the experience is no different. Since I’m moving, what better place than Appleton. You see I did know about this place. Some good priest friends of mine have ministered down here, and I was always impressed with all the good they had to say about your city, and the Fox cities in general.
As I look back, over twenty four years of priesthood, I’ve never been able to chose my parish, I never got to pick, it was always picked for me! Thank you Bishop! And by God’s grace, it has always been the right fit! I’m hopeful God will give me/us that gift again. What was it we heard in our Gospel last week: Jesus appointed seventy two to go ahead of him to every town? I know what it is to be sent.
But please, be patient as I strive to learn your names, your traditions, your history and keep straight all the Mass times, not just here and at Sacred Heart, but also at our hospitals and schools.
We’re all on a journey aren’t we? And this journey called life is full of surprises, isn’t it? But the good news is that God has called us at this time to travel together. My pray and hope is we will learn from one another, pray well with one another, laugh with one another, cry with one another and support one another as we go on this spiritual pilgrimage called life, for however much time God gives us.
You might be interested in learning a little more about me. If not, you can go to sleep now. Otherwise, here is a little background. I still have both my parents, 79 and 77, and in great health. I have four sisters and three brother-in-laws, and 13 nieces and nephews. Very blessed in that way. I grew up in Kewaunee county in a little town called Pilsen. Our parish was St. Joseph’s right there in downtown Pilsen. I was baptized there, received my first communion and was confirmed there, and eventually celebrated my first Mass there. Pilsen is a very special place to me. For 43 years, my parents ran Pilsen Service and Body Shop, serving Pilsen and the surrounding communities. We had customers from all over, places like Kewaunee, Luxemburg, where I went to High school, Denmark and of course Green Bay, situated 11 miles west of Pilsen.
I felt the call to priesthood in my Sophomore year of High school. That is a whole other story, for a different day. But I can say this much: from as far back as I can remember, for me, God was never an idea, or a question, or someone who might exist. I felt his presence and his love from a very young age, and I want to share this friendship and his teachings with you the best I can, because I think it makes all the difference in life.
While very young, I consumed all the little booklets and pamphlets in the back of Church. (In fact, during this move, found one I had saved all these years.)
When I did receive the call, my pastor Fr. Johanek put me in touch with the Vocations Director, Fr. Jim Dillenberg. Bishop Maida then sent me to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul MN. There I attended St. John Vianney Seminary while attending classes with the other College students. I graduated in 1990 with a degree in Philosophy, History and Latin. Then Bishop Maida sent me to Rome where I studies at the Angelicum with the Dominicans till 1995. I stayed with the other American seminarians from all over the country at the North American College. I graduated with an M.A. in Theology and was ordained July 8th, 1995, on my 27th birthday. Born and ordained on the same day….I hope that is a good sign. Talking about signs, the year I was born, this Church, St. Bernadette’s, was built.
I then served for four years as an assistant priest in Green Bay, Four years as pastor in Wausaukee and Amberg, 11 years as pastor in Marinette, Five years as rector and pastor at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and St. John the Evangelist parish in Green Bay, and now, here I am, in the heart of the valley.
I enjoy running, biking, golfing, deer hunting, long range shooting, playing chess, reading and… sharpening knives. It’s a long story, I’ll tell you sometime, just don’t let the fact that I’m into knifes and hunting scare you.
On a serious note, I know this is a difficult time to be Christian and Catholic. We’ve going through some tough times. I’m sure we have unique challenges here at Sacred Heart/Bernadette parish. But we are not alone, our God is Immanuel, God with us.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But here is what I will emphasis. Be faithful to Sunday Mass attendance, if at all possible attend either Sacred Heart or St. Bernadette. There is moral strength in numbers. (To help with this we will be adding a 6:30 Sunday night Mass in September at Sacred Heart.) Secondly, respond at Mass in word and song strongly. Let people around you feel the conviction. Third, get involved. Watch the bulletin and volunteer. Fourth, keep an eye out for the newcomer. It is tempting to always hang out with your good parishioner friends after Mass, but try to make time to welcome the new faces so they come back. Fifth, keep reading and studying the faith. I’m so happy we have joined Formed.org. I know it is going to help us in sharing and defending our Faith.
And finally, while we do all this, let’s just enjoy life, and have a good time, seeing all the signs that God is with us, he is Immanuel. Jesus is saving the world, his kingdom will come. We already have a share in his spirit, so there is a joy in our hearts, whether everyone else is open to receiving it or not. And so we are always a people of Hope! Remember the three theological virtues, the most important ones…Faith, Hope and Love? God opens doors to those who light a candle rather than curse the darkness, to those who walk in hope, rather than negativity or cynicism, to those who trust in him, doing their small part and then just confidently wait for his miracles.
I look forward to journeying with you, coming to know you, and experiencing the Good News with you. I look forward to seeing all the miracles, big and little, he is going to work for us. God bless you.