For months Immaculate Heart of Mary parish has been bubbling over with excitement to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of their Pastor, Fr. Tom Miller.
People from the parish, community and past assignments where Fr. Tom served within his ministry as a priest, were invited, and over 550 people attended the joyous event. Starting with 3 p.m. Mass on Sunday, August 12th, 2018 and continuing with festivities in the Grand Hall, the events included a slideshow of pictures, fun videos made by staff to show off Fr. Tom’s cheerful and party side (see the links at the end of this article) and great smiles and heartfelt stories about Fr. Tom. The culinary talents of Brian Manhardt came complete with an incredible spread that included a whole roasted hog!
The jovial spirit of Fr. Tom’s mom, Mrs. Peggy Miller, was missed at the event. She had lived with Fr. Tom when he first moved to the parish, but was unable to attend due to health reasons. Those who knew her could hear her laugh and silly jokes (usually at Fr. Tom’s expense) ringing through the air.
Not missing a chance to share his own wit, at the start his homily, Fr. Tom said, “We know why you are all here, ME!” which was followed by great laughter. He continued with humble comments including knowing that even though we were there to celebrate Fr. Tom, he knew that Christ was the real glue that was bringing us all together.
During the Mass, IHM Business Manager, Event Planner, and overseer of all parish activities, Laura Orf, read a poem entitled “The Hands of Holy Order”.
She asked Fr. Tom to stand, turn toward the congregation, and look at the palms of his hands. She read: “Remember back to the day when the bishop anointed them and sent you forth to love and serve others… Remember the plans you had that day for your hands to gather and minister to God’s people. Think back to the babies your hands have baptized… Think of the children your hands have prepared for First Communion and Confirmation… Think of the hundreds of homilies your hands have prepared; carefully chosen words that have transformed lives… Think of the countless times your hands have been held up in blessing and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation....”
The poem continued, mentioning countless ways a priest’s hands help guide and comfort people. It concluded with: “Today, we anoint your hands anew with our love; with the love of your family, friends and community. If ever you feel lonely and discouraged, please hold out your hands and look at them and remember; How they feed us the Bread of Life, How they bring hope back into our lives, How they comfort us, heal us, and welcome us home to our church. These hands of yours are the hands of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. We reverence them and we thank you for faithfully loving and serving God and neighbor. We are so proud that you are ‘Our Beloved Priest’. May God continue to bless you in your ministry.”
Looking out on the crowd, Father Tom could see the tearful expression on many faces that showed a small glimpse into the love and appreciation they have for him.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Fr. Tom shared a poem that had been a favorite of his for many years, offering a fitting reflection into his life-desire-ministry as a priest, especially here in New Melle and living in the parish rectory, “The House by the Side of the Road:”
The House by the Side of the Road
by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)
“There are hermit souls that live withdrawn In the peace of their self-content; There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart, In a fellowless firmament; There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths Where highways never ran;- But let me live by the side of the road And be a friend to man. Let me live in a house by the side of the road, Where the race of men go by- The men who are good and the men who are bad, As good and as bad as I. I would not sit in the scorner’s seat, Or hurl the cynic’s ban;- Let me live in a house by the side of the road And be a friend to man. I see from my house by the side of the road, By the side of the highway of life, The men who press with the ardor of hope, The men who are faint with the strife. But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears- Both parts of an infinite plan;- Let me live in my house by the side of the road And be a friend to man. I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead And mountains of wearisome height; That the road passes on through the long afternoon And stretches away to the night. But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice, And weep with the strangers that moan, Nor live in my house by the side of the road Like a man who dwells alone. Let me live in my house by the side of the road Where the race of men go by- They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish- so am I. Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat Or hurl the cynic’s ban?- Let me live in my house by the side of the road And be a friend to man.”
Fr. Tom said he had always enjoyed the imagery and message of the poem, even before he was a Priest, but now finds it particularly meaningful since he is living in a home along the road at Hwys. D & Z.
Mark Keune, lifelong member of the parish, said he thought the Mass was the best part of the celebration, (which means a lot since Mark enjoys partying and gathering with friends!) “The words Father Tom shared during his homily were just wonderful,” he said.
Another Parishioner Patrice Riley said, “The Mass was the most spiritual Mass that I have been to in years. The music was incredible but the participation of all there was beautiful. I could feel God’s presence. It was awesome and I will never forget it.”
IHM Parishioner, Elizabeth Jaeckle said, “I think father’s party went perfectly. From all the planning for the Mass, to all the little details, and the people responsible for all the moving parts. It is always amazing to me to see an idea come together. It is a testament not only to Father Tom’s influence on the community and all his parishes but also a reflection on all the wonderful people in our Parish especially those that work in the office. Of course my favorite part was Laura reading the poem.”
Donna Maher, member of the IHM, said “It was a beautiful celebration. Every part of it was filled with love and joyful moments.” She said she also liked the poem Laura read. “Father Tom is a guiding light to all of us and we are truly blessed to be members of IHM parish. Father has inspired me to work hard on my faith journey and prayer life and for this I am grateful and blessed!”
Julie Gust, young adult at IHM parish and daughter of Parishioners Randy and Angie Gust, shared her reflection on the event. “My favorite part of Father’s celebration was the poem about his hands. A priest touches so many lives that are in so many different places and stages and what was said couldn’t be more true!”
Many in attendance congratulated Fr. Tom as they left the Mass and made their way to the rest of the celebration. Some had to leave before the meal, such as the Missionaries of Charity Sisters from St. Louis, pictured above. Fr. Tom spends time each week serving other religious orders, offering Mass and hearing confessions as well. Often times, the joke is made that Father Tom (and all priests) only work on Sunday, which, of course, is a misconception. Those who spend time to get to know their pastor, priest, minister, etc, see how connected these men and women in ministry are to their community.
In today’s world and culture, some people might think the life of a Priest might be restrictive, or dissatisfying. But in talking with a man like Fr. Tom, who is passionate about his vocation, that point-of-view can be transformed. Fr. Tom brings clarity and support to his parish and all those who wish to share their life with him. As a spiritual director, he often meets with people to work through family issues, concerns, illness or death of a loved one, to help them work through their struggles to strengthen and revive their spiritual health.
Over the past five years, Fr. Tom has become a friend, confidant and spiritual leader not only to IHM parishioners, but to many in the surrounding community.
Julie Gust said, “Father Tom has enhanced my faith by being so community oriented. He is a friend to all, both within our parish and out in our New Melle community. He leads and is an example of his faith by his actions and his relationships. I have some friends who are either not Catholic or nonpracticing Catholics and who may have questions or skepticism about the Church. They still know who Father Tom is, respect him, and I have seen how he has touched each of their lives. It’s inspiring to witness! Father Tom has also been there so many times for my family, both in the good times and, just recently, the not so good times, and every time he is present he is an example of Christ’s love for us!”
Just days before the celebration, Fr. Tom helped the Keune family deal with the loss of Bob Keune, Julie’s uncle. Fr. Tom was able to bring the family peace, comfort and grace through the Sacraments.
Fr. Tom influences so many who attend Mass and are changed by the gift of the Eucharist, but also the inspiration provided by the clergy.
Elizabeth Jaeckle said, “Father Tom has influenced my family in the greatest way by showing my children what it means to serve our Lord. He shows them that he is a regular person, with a tremendous ability to love and follow our Lord. He has shown me personally how important it is to reach beyond the boundaries of our normal lives to spread God’s word to everyone we come in contact with. He is a spiritual guide and leader not only to our Parish but our community as well. He makes it a priority to be open and available to anyone regardless of their livelihood, Faith, or social standing. We kind of like him!”
Now for a little fun. Laura had put together some photos of “the life of Fr. Tom” that were shown on the two TVs in the grand hall narthex. Shawn Mueller (Dir. of Religious Education at IHM) had planned to add to this with a little humor to highlight three points in “the life of Fr. Tom.” What better way to keep him from getting a big head, then to use that head (and others) to have a few laughs. Unfortunately, there were technical problems with the wireless internet in the hall so we share these with you now. Remember......all in good fun! Enjoy!
“Blessed are they who laugh, for they shall last.”
Video Point 1 of 3: Fr. Tom reminds us that this event was to be a “Celebration” to be sure, but a celebration of the work of Christ, first and foremost, not simply the life of Fr. Tom. Here’s a dance to help you Celebrate. LINK https://www.jibjab.com/view/make/celebration_edf_for_him/f07a39d2-ab33-4bdc-95bd-4629952d8900
Video Point 2 of 3: One of the random thoughts-quirks-memories that Fr. Tom once shared was an 80s music video by a guy named Rick Astley, called Never Gonna Give You Up. We’re thinking this song was probably in Father’s subconscious for his personal mission statement as a priest. Would this be the song he would want to sing to the Church, to his parishioners past and present?...Never Gonna Give them Up? LINK https://www.jibjab.com/view/make/never_gonna_give_you_up/a0c7626c-b19e-4460-bc96-9b20cc8662cf