By Kristen Miller
DARWIN, MN - After 44 years serving in the priesthood for New Ulm Diocese, Father Patrick Casey, 70, of St. John’s Parish in Darwin is retiring this June.
“I’m going to miss the people and being able to celebrate with those I know and can count on,” Casey said.
Throughout the nine years Casey has been at St. John’s and sister parish, St. Gertrude’s in Forest City, he has made a lot of friends.
He has enjoyed being involved with the various church councils and committees, where Casey is able to connect even more with his parishioners.
Bishop Raymond Lucker, former bishop for the New Ulm Diocese, used to say that committees and councils were “little experiences of church,” Casey said, quoting Jesus, “When two or more are gathered in my name, I am with them.”
“It’s a wonderfully alive and human experience for me,” Casey said, adding it allows him to get to know the individuals, including their ups-and-downs.
Throughout his career, he has served in many small-town parishes, even teaching at three high schools and four grade schools.
During conversations outside of the community, Casey will tell people where he lives and works.
When naming the town or the church doesn’t seem to ring a bell, Casey just has to mention the ball of twine, and more times than not, the person will know what he’s referring to.
Along with his friends within the church and surrounding communities, Casey is going to miss working with the young people of the parish.
Casey has been asked before if he misses not having kids, but he replies, “I have 160 of them.”
“It’s fun to see them grow up and to be a part of that,” Casey said, adding he even tries to make it out to their sporting events from time to time.
St. John’s Coordinator of Religious Education Shelly Mendiola can attest to Father Casey’s love and respect for the young people of the parish.
“He shows up [to events] and really supports them,” Mendiola said.
Casey grew up in Litchfield when, at the time, being Catholic was the minority.
He attended Litchfield Public School through his sophomore year. Casey spent four years at Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary, on the shore of Lake Johanna, north of St. Paul.
Casey attended St. Paul Major Seminary, now a part of St. Thomas, where he studied philosophy and theology.
During that time, Casey was also taking courses for teaching at St. Thomas.
In 1965, he was ordained a priest and after practicing teaching at Holy Redeemer Parish in Marshall, Casey received his master in the art of teaching degree from St. Thomas College.
Casey saw a lot of changes that were made in the culture of the Catholic church after the second Vatican Council in 1965, he said.
Many of the changes made were in the way priests dressed and interacted with parishioners.
For example, clerical suits were customarily worn by priests at all times, whereas nowadays, priests can wear street clothes when they are not actively working for the church.
This was also the beginning of church councils and committees, according to Casey.
For him, those changes were a good thing and may have contributed to his many years serving in the priesthood.
“I was very comfortable with those changes,” he said.
Casey has served in 16 different faith communities within the Diocese of New Ulm including St. Joseph’s Parish in Montevideo, where he served seven years, Holy Redeemer Parish in Renville, where he also served seven years; and St. Anastasia Parish in Hutchinson, where he served for two years, before coming to St. John’s June 28, 2000.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of good places to be,” Casey said.
To this day, he has tried to stay in touch with most of his previous parishes, as he will do with his Darwin and Forest City parishioners.
He may even come back for the annual fall festival, if he is promised he won’t be dunked in the dunk tank again this year, Casey joked.
In his retirement, Casey will continue his hobby of music.
For 12 years he has been singing with the Woodbury Chorus and Orchestra. This is a nonprofit choir which donates freewill offerings received from events to local food shelves, flood relief, hospices, and more.
Casey is also active in the Litchfield Male Chorus and plays bass horn for Mid-Minnesota Concert Band at local area events such as Dassel’s Dairy Berry Day in June.
During his retirement, Casey will be available as a substitute priest for various parishes throughout the state.
Casey’s final Mass will be Sunday, June 28.
He plans to live with his sister and brother-in-law in Edina.
Father John Pearson of the Benson area will be taking over at St. John’s and St. Gertrude’s Wednesday, July 1.
Casey will be missed
When St. John’s parishioner Gloria Kotila of Dassel thinks of Father Pat, she thinks of two things.
“. . . His ‘yes’ in giving of himself and answering the call to priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his generous spirit.
“He shares in the gift of prayer, his wonderful voice, and his laughter,” she said.
St. John’s parishioner Sue Steuck remembers when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004, and receiving the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick from Father Pat.
“I was so at peace after that,” Steuck said.
“That still means so much to me. I’m really going to miss him,” she said.
On a personal level for Mendiola, Father Pat has shared in the many special moments in the lives of Mendiola and her family. Not only did Father Pat minister at her and Carlos’ wedding, and baptized all five of their children, but he’s supported their family.
“He’s more than just a pastor, he’s an integral part of our lives. We’re really going to miss him,” Mendiola said.
Retirement open house set for June 14
A retirement open house celebration for Fr. Casey is planned for Sunday, June 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the St. John’s Education Center, with Mass at 10:30 a.m. with Bishop John LeVoir presiding.
Music at the open house to be performed by the Woodbury Choral and Bell Ringers, and possibly the Litchfield Male Chorus.
More details to come.