Montrose Catholics pay tribute to deceased pastor Fr. Hoenig


By Celine Klosterman

Father Mark Spring, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Montrose, blesses a garden dedicated June 15 in memory of Father Gerald Hoenig, a former pastor of the parish.

MONTROSE — Members of St. Joseph Parish remember the late Father Gerald Hoenig as a man so humble and unattached to material goods, he often declined parishioners’ gifts and favors.
So the June 15 dedication of a garden in the pastor’s memory was especially meaningful to parishioners, according to parish council member Danita Washburn.
“We thought this would be something he couldn’t say no to,” she said.
Dozens of people gathered outside St. Joseph Church on Saturday as Father David Wilkening, pastor, and Father Mark Spring, parochial vicar, led prayers and singing before blessing the garden. Gavin Burgess had planted Lenten roses, hydrangeas, hostas and clematis flowers and placed stepping stones leading to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Fr. Hoenig, who served at St. Joseph’s from 1988-2001 and died Sept. 4, 2012, was especially devoted to the Blessed Mother.

Fr. Hoenig

Fr. Hoenig’s love for Catholicism showed in his ministry, which included serving as a chaplain at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison from 1968 to 2001. “He was absolutely enthralled to be at that prison,” parishioner Mary Sue Galle said. “He thought there wasn’t a soul who couldn’t be helped.”
“I never heard him say a bad word about anyone,” said Father Robert Lathrop, pastor of Church of All Saints in Keokuk.
Several Catholics recalled Fr. Hoenig helping local people in need find and pay for a place to live.
“He was one of the most unassuming people you’d ever meet. He didn’t need a new car” or other nice possessions, Galle said.
His priority was the well-being of those he ministered to. So when Sherry Meemken’s husband Marcus was dying of cancer, “he’d stop by every other day to check up on us,” she said.
Cathy Roberts said Fr. Hoenig often visited her husband Tom Farnsworth, whom she had married civilly, to ask when he planned to have his first marriage annulled so Farnsworth and Roberts could wed in the Catholic Church. The two men would sit down and have a beer, she recalled. Because of the priest’s visits, Farnsworth started returning to Mass, and the couple married at St. Joseph’s, she said. Her husband later died “with all of the sacraments, because of Father.”
“This was his church. This was his home,” said Fr. Hoenig’s sister Ruth Coffey. She attended the garden dedication with sisters Jean Helling and Bernadette Cramblit, all of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison.
Coffey recalled the priest telling her that he sometimes presided at weekday Masses to which no parishioners came. When she asked if he minded celebrating Mass alone, he responded: “No, I invited all the saints and angels.”
Sometimes after a Wednesday liturgy, he’d take parishioners to the local Double Dipper ice cream shop and teach theology, Jim Cameron noted.
Fr. Hoenig had wanted to be a priest since second grade, Helling said.
But he was also a farmer who could fix tractors, loved raccoon hunting and occasionally showed up at church with muddy shoes, Catholics recalled.
“His mantra was ‘Bless you,’” recalled Fr. Spring, whose ordination Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Hoenig. “He was hospitable, compassionate and devout.”
“He was a great example of a priest,” Fr. Lathrop said.

Parishioners contribute to garden
The new garden at St. Joseph Church in Montrose was  funded mainly by Fr. Hoenig’s memorials, said parish council member Danita Washburn. The Gene Bartlett family also made a donation. Leon and Barb Schau gave a stone inscribed with the priest’s name, and Joe and Bob Bergman and Travis Nelson installed footlights by the statue of Mary.


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