Priests connect during national conference

Father Walter Helms, left, and Father Jim Vrba were delegates from the Davenport Diocese at the National Federation of Priests’ Councils Conference in Houston April 12-15.

By Celine Klosterman

Two priests from the Diocese of Davenport said they appreciated connecting with clergy across the country during this year’s conference of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC), held April 12-15 in Houston.

Father Walter Helms, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, and Father Jim Vrba, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Wilton, were among more than 150 U.S. priests who attended the 42nd annual event to reflect on the theme of “Holiness and Wholeness” in the priesthood.

“The highlight for me is to see a cross-section of priests from around the country and to hear them share the successes and struggles we all face,” said Fr. Helms, who frequently attends the conference. “I am heartened by the activity of the NFPC in gathering us and addressing some of the concerns we all experience.”

For him, a highlight this year was a talk on humor and spirituality by Father James Martin, SJ, culture editor of America magazine. “He seemed to embody in both his person and talk the subject he addressed,” Fr. Helms said.


Fr. Vrba said he especially appreciated a “pep talk” from Archbishop Emeritus John Quinn of San Francisco on “The Challenges and Hopes of Priests in a Difficult Time.”

“I felt Archbishop Quinn’s talk was a great reminder that there’s a spirit of hope for the priesthood,” Fr. Vrba said. “Sometimes it can be easy to get a little depressed with all the news” about the sexual-abuse crisis, but we need to keep that in perspective, he said. “And we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the priest who we represent. Our vocation as priests is a real blessing.”

Fr. Vrba said he also enjoyed a presentation from Father Richard Vosko, a design consultant and priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. Fr. Vosko compared the evolution of church architecture to the evolution of the theology of the priesthood. “It was very, very interesting,” Fr. Vrba said.

Other workshops addressed topics including psychological and spiritual wellness, caregiving, the need for intellectual formation, and developing values for priests as servant leaders.

The conference also included awards ceremonies honoring, separately, the Knights of Columbus and Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y., former president and CEO of St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., and a current faculty member of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The Knights of Columbus of the United States was honored for its 129-year history of supporting and encouraging men and women in their call to priesthood and religious life, as well as for the organization’s work in highlighting Pope Benedict XVI’s Year for Priests.

Msgr. Rossetti was honored for his extensive work and publications addressing clergy sexual abuse, for his role in bringing healing to local presbyterates, and in promoting psycho-spiritual wellness among clergy and religious, the NFPC said. 

The National Federation of Priests’ Councils formed in the late 1960s and states that its first goal is “to promote priestly unity and fraternity by facilitating communication among priests councils.”

Two diocesan priests have attended the organization’s conference annually for many years, Fr. Vrba said.

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