Priests celebrate significant jubilees

Managing Editor 

On May 1 priests in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois met with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki for their annual priest celebration at Villa Maria on Lake Springfield. They listened to special guest speaker Archbishop George Lucas of the Archdiocese of Omaha — who was Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois from 1999-2009  — and took part in Evening Prayer, a social hour, and dinner. Priests who were celebrating special Jubilees and were able to be there that day were also honored.  

Catholic Times also honors the following priests who have a history with the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and are celebrating special significant Jubilees in 2024.  When you do the math and combine their time in ministry, these men have served nearly 450 years as priests. Congratulations and thank you so much for your ministries!

25 Years

Father Larry Brunette

At 82 years old, Father Larry Brunette is the oldest of the silver jubilarians.  He became a diocesan priest after he was widowed, so he was what some call a “late vocation.” However,  Father Brunette says he knows he is in the right place. 

“Even as a young boy, I always wanted to be a priest.  I used to play Mass using my dresser as an altar in my bedroom. When my family moved to Springfield, and while I was still in high school, I met a young girl with whom I fell in love. Barbara was an only child of parents who were not baptized. When we talked of marriage, I told her that my faith was incredibly important to me and I asked her if she would consider learning the Catholic faith,” he said. “Without hesitation, she said, ‘Yes, I want what you have.’ She was baptized after our wedding reception in her wedding gown.” 

He and Barbara had three children, and now Father Brunette has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  He said, “The day Barbara died, at the age of 53, I went to the chapel in the hospital, and I asked God, ‘What would you have me do now?’ The immediate thought that was infused in my head, was, ‘Now, you can pursue your boyhood dream.’ Nine months later I entered the seminary, and on May 29, 1999, my children walked me down the aisle.”  The newly ordained priest was 57 years old. 

“When sitting around the dinner table at Pope St. John the XXIII Seminary, I remember saying that I would probably never see my 25th anniversary due to my health condition at the time.  But through medical science, here I am. I am extremely grateful to all who had a part in helping me find, and receive, these medical miracles.” 

Father Brunette says his initial few years as a priest were enhanced by the first pastor he served with. “Just about everything I do sacramentally was to follow the example of my mentor Father John Beveridge, who was my first pastor at Ss. Peter and Paul in Collinsville,” he said. “The eight years I was pastor at Holy Family in Granite City were among the best years of my life. I had an incredibly wonderful staff.” 

Father Brunette says it is a privilege to serve as a priest. “Of all the services I do, the ones I love the most are weddings and funerals.  I can’t think of a better opportunity to evangelize.  There will always be people there, many of whom are unchurched, or who have not gone to church in a long time.  What a place and time to let them feel God’s love.  And they can feel that love from what we say and how we conduct themselves.  We must be at our very best when honored to be called to do these services.” 

Father Brunette now resides in Itasca, where he lives just “18 minutes” from his youngest son.  He has a daughter in Springfield and a son who lives in England. “We’re able to get together several times a year,” he said, adding he enjoys traveling and walks in parks and nature areas. 

“Sacramentally I am as busy as ever because of living in the Joliet diocese where the density of population is so large.  There are 35 parishes within 30 minutes of my apartment,” he said. “Therefore, I am as busy as I want to be.  I wish every priest gets to do what I am doing before being called back home.” 

Father Peter Harman

Father Peter Harman was just 26 years old when he was ordained to the priesthood on July 17, 1999. As his 25-year Jubilee approaches, he said, “Mostly I’m thinking about how fast it has gone. I remember being at a 25th anniversary celebration of one of our priests when I was newly ordained and thinking to myself, ‘That’s a long time!’ But it’s not really.”

After his ordination, he was for a short time parochial vicar at St. Alphonsus in Brighton and St. John the Evangelist in Medora and then later at Cathedral (2000-2003) and St. Agnes (2003-2005), both in Springfield. He continued his studies at North American College in Rome from 1999 to 2000, earning his S.T.L. in Moral Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in 2000. He later did graduate studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 2005 to 2008. Father Harman, who since 2022 has been pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham,  also served as pastor of Cathedral Parish from 2008 to 2013, before serving for nine years at the Pontifical North American  College in Rome. 

“I would have never guessed that I would have been in Rome for the first time, meaning being a seminarian there,” he said.  “But to go back and serve on the faculty, and then as rector, that has been a tremendous and unique blessing for which I will always be grateful.” 

If Father Harman was asked to advise a man who was considering the priesthood, he would have this to say:  “Do not be afraid.  Be generous and honest with God in all things, and He will bless us and those whose lives we are blessed to touch.” 

Father Harman, who is also the chaplain for the Springfield Chapter of the Catholic Physicians Guild/Catholic Medical Association,  says that his family has always understood his vocation. “I am very blessed that my family members have always been encouraging and supporting of me,” he said. 

Now that he is back in a parish, Father Harman says he is enjoying his ministry as he had originally imagined it. “The variety of life and ministry for a parish is what I entered the priesthood to do, to be present in so many various situations with parishioners — ministries, schools, joyful moments as well and in the midst of struggles,” he said. “This varied ministry is the joy of being a priest.” 

Father William Kessler

Father William Kessler was ordained May 29, 25 years ago, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “I am glad to have served the diocese since 1999,” he said. “I have undergone much training, which has allowed me to minister in many places in many ways. I have been a tech support person for the diocese, a Life Teen minister, and a priest and pastor for the parishes I have been assigned to.” 

Father Kessler says he finds inspiration in the ministry of his father, Deacon William Kessler, who serves in Godfrey and is a diocesan consultant for health care ministry. “My father has always been a person who has served God and God’s people in all that he has done,” Father Kessler said. “I was inspired to see a mission in life in reflection of his ministry. I must say that his gift of speaking the truth has inspired my own preaching. When he asked me if I would feel comfortable with him becoming a deacon, I responded, ‘Absolutely.’ His example continues to guide and instruct me.” 

Father Kessler was also inspired by his great-uncle, Father John Kessler, who was one of the priests who gave him “such good example of the ministry.”  “Also, Father Will Kessler, though we have never met, I have seen his Mass Made Visible, a slide series he used to teach the Mass. Curating those precious slides I have come to encounter his spirit which he shared through that tool of ministry.” 

Serving at St. Alphonsus in Brighton and St. John the Evangelist in Medora since 2012 has been a good fit for Father Kessler. “The blessing of being in Brighton and Medora has allowed me to get to know the families of these two parishes,” he said. “I can honestly say that I have experienced such wonderful care and support from the people of these two parishes. They are accepting of my peculiarities and are open to the gifts I have to share.” 

Father Kessler, who is self-described “computer geek and amateur astronomer,”  and also plays guitar, says he loves saying Mass. “It is a precious grace to share the Body and Blood of Jesus with the community.  But the most important ministry, and the one in which I have seen so much of God’s merciful love, is the sacrament of reconciliation,” he said. “Through the special grace shared in the sacrament, I have seen the healing presence of Christ in action in the world. So, those sacraments have been the ones that give me life the most.” 

To a man considering the priesthood, Father Kessler would say, “God is quite possibly inviting you to serve. It is not a command, but an invitation. I, too, wondered if this call was mine, and I spent many years in the seminary seeking that answer. God will show you what you are to do, as He did for me. Whatever path you take, don’t let this invitation go uninvestigated.”

Father Kessler will be having a Mass and dinner this summer to celebrate his 25th anniversary of being a priest. He looks forward to that, he said, adding, “It is the same weekend as our family reunion, and we will have family in from across the world.” 

Father Augustine Koomson

Father Augustine Koomson was ordained on Oct. 9, 1999 for the Archdiocese of Cape Cost, Ghana, Africa.  “I came to the United States in 2011 to pursue postgraduate studies in Theology,” he said. “I enrolled at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.  I did a masters of art degree in Justice Ministry and a doctor of ministry degree later.  I offered to do pastoral ministry in the Springfield diocese.  I have come to know Bishop Paprocki in Chicago during my stay at the St. Francis of Rome Parish in Chicago. 

“It has been very wonderful for me ever since I started ministry here at the Springfield diocese,” he said. “The love from the bishop and his pastoral team, the presbyterium, the parishioners and the people in general have been nothing short of incredible. I really appreciate everything; I have had a lot of experiences in both pastoral and academic spaces.”

Father Koomson goes home to Ghana at least once a year to visit his family.  “My parents are all resting in the Lord now.  They were instrumental in my upbringing and my journey to the altar. I owe them an eternal gratitude for nurturing me to be who I am today.  I go back to Ghana to siblings, nephews, and nieces and catch up on all their stories and events that have occurred in the course of time.  It is a long journey and often very tiring, but I cherish the experience every time I have been able to do that.” 

Father Koomson has been serving in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois since 2014. He worked in a number of parishes during his first year in the diocese, and also in prison ministry, however since 2015 he has been serving as parochial administrator in Christ the King in Greenup, St. Charles Borromeo in Casey, and St. Mary in Marshall. 

“It is wonderful working in the small parishes; they may be small as parishes but great and wonderful with the grace and love of God,” he said.  “It is my home now and with them they are my brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. There is a lot of bonding here and one is made to feel a part of every little group out here. I feel comfortable being with them and they offer me a unique space to exercise my pastoral ministry.”   

Looking back, Father Koomson says his favorite part of being a priest is “to be a priest.”  It is a way of life he would encourage other men to consider as well. “I would say, do not be afraid to give your life to Christ and to serve as His priest,” he said. “I have never regretted being a priest. I surely encourage men to consider and ask the good Lord to send them to His vineyard.  They will never regret it. It is a wonderful and noble vocation.”

Father Koomson is looking forward to a Jubilee celebration with his “entire cluster of parishes” in Marshall. “Celebrating my 25th anniversary is my thanksgiving to God for all His blessings.  It is equally my opportunity to say thank you to the people of God for allowing me to be their priest.” 

Father Sajimon  Aarakkattu Kuriakose

On April 19, Father Sajimon Kuriakose, known to his parishioners as Father Saji, was at home in India celebrating his 25years as a priest. 

Father Kuriakose, who is currently serving as a parochial vicar at St. Aloysius and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parishes in Springfield, was ordained April 19, 1999, for the Diocese of Idukki, India. Just prior to coming to America, his last assignment was pastor of St. Mary in Vazhavara, India. 

In 2023, he came to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and first served at St. James Parish in Riverton, before coming to the two Springfield parishes.  

On March 17, Father Kuriakose celebrated a Mass in anticipation of his Jubilee at St. Aloysius Parish. That Mass was followed by a luncheon with his parishioners.  

Father Kuriakose will return to the Springfield parishes in mid-May, after he has had some time to visit his family and friends. 

50 Years

Father Donald Blickhan

Father Donald Blickhan says remembers well his ordination day and what happened 50 years ago. “I still vividly remember May 25, 1974, lying prostrate on the cold marble floor of the Cathedral sanctuary during the ordination ceremony,” he said. “Has it really been 50 years?  I can’t believe it!” 

Father Blickhan says he is blessed to have two families. “At age 7, after the death of my mother, George and Anaise Haubrich welcomed me into their home and their hearts,” he said. “I have often thought that their example was the seed of my vocation.” 

Although he has served in parishes and schools in Springfield, Decatur, Bethalto, Carlinville, and Raymond, Father Blickhan spent many years of his priesthood as chaplain for those in in the military. “It was my privilege to serve for some 27 years in uniform as an Army Chaplain,” he said. “That opportunity took me to six of the seven continents. I am probably the only priest of this diocese to have celebrated Mass in Antarctica and to have performed the funerals of some 500 of our heroes at Arlington Cemetery.”  His final assignment lasted 11 years as he served at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy. 

These days Father Blickhan lives in his hometown of Quincy, close to his brother Richard, his brother Larry and his wife Patti, and their daughter, Brandy, as well as many classmates and friends. He has another sister in California, and a sister in Kansas City. He jokes that moving home has made him change up some of his homilies.  “I have often observed that moving home has cramped my preaching style, as I can no longer talk about my relatives.” 

Father Blickhan keeps busy by serving as chaplain for the Quincy Knights of Columbus, helping out in area parishes every week, driving veterans to medical care appointments, serving on the board of a local corporation, and walking dogs at the Quincy Humane Society. 

“As a priest I treasure teaching, preaching, and especially hearing confessions,” he said. “Is there any greater privilege than giving the Lord’s forgiveness to others?”

Looking back at his priesthood, Father Blickhan admits that his life has been very hard at times, but adds, “From the perspective of today I know that I have been richly blessed.  When people congratulate me, I become uneasy for I realize this is not something I have accomplished, but rather it was the overwhelming grace of God that has carried me through these years. I often wonder why God chose me, but I realize that it has somehow been part of His great plan.” 

60 Years

Msgr. James O’Shea

Msgr. James O’Shea had just turned 27 when he was ordained to the diocesan priesthood on May 23, 1964, by Bishop William A. O’Connor at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He was named Chaplain to His Holiness — Monsignor — on Dec. 18, 2015.  

A native of Springfield who grew up at Blessed Sacrament Parish, he attended Blessed Sacrament School and Cathedral Boys High School. He spent a year studying at Springfield Junior College and another year at the University of Illinois at Champaign. He returned to Springfield to begin his studies for the priesthood at the diocesan Latin School and then went on to complete his seminary studies at St. John’s Seminary in Little Rock, Ark. 

Over the years, Msgr. O’Shea said he was assigned to about 14 parishes and served in 18 parishes. Those parishes were in Springfield, Alton, Wood River, Villa Grove, Hume, Brocton, Mt. Sterling, Mt. Zion, Decatur,  and Bethany. He was dean of the Decatur Deanery from 2002-2008, moved to senior priest status in 2008, and was named pastor emeritus of St. Thomas the Apostle in Decatur in 2016. 

Msgr. O’Shea has said that no matter where he was assigned, he was happy to serve as a priest. “I’ve found every parish is really beautiful and has holy people,” he said. “It has been a blessed time.” 

Msgr. O’Shea is now 87 years old and resides in Springfield.

Msgr. John Ossola 

When he was just 25 years old, Msgr. John Ossola was ordained to the diocesan priesthood on May 23, 1964, by Bishop William A. O’Connor at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In 2002, he received the papal honor, Chaplain to His Holiness —or Monsignor.

Over the years Msgr. Ossola served at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (for a total of 25 years), Little Flower (for a total of more than 10 years), Blessed Sacrament, Sacred Heart, St. Patrick, and St. Katharine Drexel, all in Springfield; St. Paul in Highland, and St. Mary in New Berlin. He was also director of the CYO, DCCW, Family Life, and Pro-life ministries for the diocese. He served in various other diocesan leadership positions as well.

His last diocesan assignment was pastor of Little Flower Parish in Springfield before he became pastor emeritus in 2014. He lived at St. Aloysius in Springfield from 2015-2017, and then was chaplain at St. Joseph’s Home in Springfield from 2017-2021. Msgr. Ossola now resides in Chatham. 

Msgr. Ossola was, for a short while, the rector of the Diocesan Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. He  taught at Sacred Heart Academy (now Sacred Heart-Griffin High School) and taught religion for many years at the now-closed Ursuline Academy in Springfield. No matter what school he was associated with, Msgr. Ossola always made a point of supporting extracurricular activities and sports teams. Along with other chaperones, he took students on trips to Europe and made many mission trips to southern states. He was often invited to celebrate the marriages of his former students and went on to baptize their children.  When Ursuline Academy closed in Springfield, he celebrated a final Mass for the students and then helped those students adjust to changing schools. He also helped to run a diocesan Family Camp each summer for more than 10 years. 

When he celebrated his 50-year Jubilee as a priest, Msgr. Ossola summed it up this way: “I feel like I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve made so many friends.  It’s been a good life.”

75 Years

Father John Ostdiek, OFM

Father John Ostdiek, OFM, is another priest who is celebrating 75 years of priesthood in 2024. He is 101 years old and was ordained on June 24, 1949, by Bishop William A. O’Connor in Teutopolis.  

The eldest of 10 children, Father John was born and raised in Nebraska and entered the Franciscan seminary in 1936 for four years of high school and two years of college study. He of course went on to complete two more years of college and then spent four years studying theology at Teutopolis. After ordination he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in education and later studied at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he earned both a master’s degree and a doctorate in biology. During his years at Catholic University, he worked part-time as an auxiliary chaplain at Walter Reed Medical Center. 

After completing his doctorate Father John began a long teaching career at Quincy University, where he became a full professor. He also took on administrative positions. He has conducted retreats, led pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and has been involved with boards and commissions. 

Father John was a Seniors Olympic bowler until he was in his early 90s, winning 36 medals over the years. 

Finally, Father John is a prolific writer. For many years he  wrote a popular column called “Whispers in Life” for Catholic Times.  He is the author of more than 400 booklets, pamphlets, and articles.  One of his most recent is a book called Letters to Emma, which he was inspired to write when he first met his great-great grandniece at an Ostdiek Jubilee Celebration.  

Father John now lives in Wisconsin.