By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
RICHLAND — Ss. Joseph & Cabrini Parish members worried they might not be able to find a priest to celebrate the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on New Year’s Eve. “I asked six to eight priests. They were all busy, or said it was too far away,” recalled Shirley Van Dee, parish life coordinator.
The parish, which offers services in Richland and East Pleasant Plain, does not have a resident priest. Usually the parish relies on sacramental minister Father Damian Ilokaba or retired diocesan priest Father Lou Leonhardt to celebrate Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation. That night, neither priest would be available.
After exhausting other options, Van Dee contacted Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s secretary, Emily Pries, in the off chance that the bishop might be available to celebrate Mass. “Emily knows I am trying to get around to all of the parishes for non-formal visits,” Bishop Zinkula said. “She saw that I was free that evening and asked if I was interested.”
The fact that he said yes “was just really, really special,” said parishioner Suanne Dickey. “We know he is a busy man, and we’re just a small community of families. It was just special to know he would take the time to come celebrate with us.”
Once the parish learned the bishop would be coming, “everyone got excited … we were just thrilled to death to have him,” Van Dee said. They went to work planning an evening that would be special for parishioners and for Bishop Zinkula, preparing a soup and salad luncheon to celebrate his visit.
They also surprised the bishop by asking seminarians Dane Dickinson and Ben Snyder to serve at the Mass. Dickinson’s grandmother, Irene Dickinson, is a member of the parish, as is Ben Snyder’s grandfather, Wayne Kneeskern.
The church in Richland was full for the Mass, with people from neighboring communities and “Easter and Christmas” Catholics in attendance, Van Dee said. Dickey brought her mother, Helen Adam, a lifelong parishioner who now lives in Fairfield. The choir led the congregation singing “Renew Our Hearts,” the theme song for the Vision 20/20 initiative.
At the luncheon, Bishop Zinkula made small talk with guests. He stayed until everyone who wished to chat with him had the opportunity to do so, Van Dee said. “Bishop was so cordial at the luncheon.”
Dickey appreciated the bishop’s willingness to “be a shepherd among the sheep,” like Pope Francis.
Bishop Zinkula later told The Catholic Messenger that he was touched by the “over the top” welcome he received from parishioners. “It was a joy to be with the folks. The extra effort was really nice, but I was happy simply to celebrate Mass with them and socialize a little afterwards.”
He said he enjoys being with people and celebrating Mass with them on weekends and holy days because it brings him back to his roots as a parish priest. “It feeds my soul and lifts my spirit. It keeps me grounded. It helps me get to know the people and parishes of the diocese.”