‘Our spirit lives on here’: Precious Blood priests conclude decades-long collaboration

Father Timothy Armbruster, C.PP.S., opens a gift during his farewell luncheon at St. Mary Parish in Centerville June 30. Missionaries of the Precious Blood offered pastoral ministry to the Diocese of Davenport from 1938-2024.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

The Missionaries of the Precious Blood bid farewell to Catholics in southeastern Iowa after nearly 90 years of pastoral ministry. “Taking leave of our parishes in Iowa is very sad for our community and it’s very sad for me personally,” Father Joe Nassal, the community’s vice provincial director, told St. Mary-Centerville parishioners during Mass June 29. The community has experienced a diminishing number of priests, unexpected deaths and several retirements in recent years and members have expressed a desire to live in closer proximity to each other in a centralized location, he said. 

The collaboration began in 1938 at the invitation of Bishop Henry Rohlman of the Diocese of Davenport. The Society of the Precious Blood accepted the invitation to assume responsibility for St. Mary Parish-Centerville and its mission parishes in Mystic, Rathbun, Jerome, Numa and Cincinnati, according to The Catholic Messenger’s archives. Precious Blood priests later expanded their pastoral ministry to include St. Patrick Parish-Melrose, St. Mary Parish-Albia, St. Patrick Parish-Georgetown, St. Peter Parish-Lovilia and St. Mary of the Visitation Parish-Ottumwa.

Father Timothy Armbruster, pastor of parishes in Centerville and Melrose, and Father Mark Yates, pastor of parishes in Albia, Georgetown and Lovilia, said goodbye to their congregations the weekend of June 29 to take new assignments outside the diocese, effective July 1. Father Jim Betzen was the last Precious Blood priest in service to the Ottumwa parish; he accepted an assignment outside of the diocese last year.

Father Mark Yates, C.PP.S., right, greets a woman after Mass at St. Mary Parish in Albia June 30. Missionaries of the Precious Blood offered pastoral ministry to the Diocese of Davenport from 1938-2024.

“One of the responsibilities of the Provincial Council is to regularly assess our ministerial commitments,” the provincial director, Father Jeffrey Kirch, told The Catholic Messenger. “As we look at ensuring the long term viability and vitality of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in the USA, there are times we need to adjust our personnel resources.” Father Armbruster is moving to the Precious Blood Renewal Center in Liberty, Missouri, while Father Yates will serve as pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in St. Joseph, Missouri. 

The departures of Father Armbruster and Father Yates, coincidentally, fell on the Feast of the Precious Blood of Jesus. Father Nassal accompanied the faithful in Centerville and Melrose June 29-30, while Father Kirch joined Catholics in Albia, Georgetown and Lovilia.

Father Nassal tied the feast day to the bittersweet nature of the weekend. At the Last Supper, the first thing Jesus did was give thanks. “So we do, today,” he said to the faithful in Centerville. “We give thanks to all the Missionaries of the Precious Blood of Christ who allowed God’s grace to work through them, but most of all, we give thanks to you. To your parents, your grandparents, to your great-grandparents, all the holy ones who have gone before us in faith, who have been and will continue to be faithful witnesses of the love of Christ that is always near. Though we won’t be near geographically, Centerville (and) the parishes of southern Iowa will always be held very near and close to our hearts.”

Father Nassal served the Centerville parish in the early 1980s; it was his first assignment as a priest. “I was a kid and I had a lot to learn. I was warmly welcomed … and even though I only spent two years here, I have come back often and have enjoyed reconnecting with many friends, which is why this weekend is so difficult.”

Sharon Crall, pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Albia, said she is grateful for the Precious Blood priests’ ministry and friendship over the years. She first became acquainted with the community in the 1990s while serving as secretary of the Ottumwa Deanery. She appreciated their emphasis on spirituality, hospitality, discipleship and community. “Seeing what’s important to them… opened up a whole new way of prayer and a different avenue of looking at things. It enlightened my faith life,” she told The Catholic Messenger. Crall is among 30-35 Precious Blood Companions (lay associates) in the Diocese of Davenport. Groups in Albia/Georgetown and Centerville will continue to gather regularly to keep the charisms of the Precious Bloods alive, she said.

“While the pastoral leadership of the missionaries may pass on to the diocesan pastors, our spirit lives on here, especially in the lives of our Precious Blood Companions,” Father Kirch told the faithful in Albia June 30. “We thank you for welcoming us and supporting us over the years. Be assured of our prayers for you as you move into your future.”

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