By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Much to the disappointment of Holy Trinity parishioners, it was officially announced by Bishop John M. LeVoir in April, that Fr. Tony Hesse will be leaving Holy Trinity (HT) Church and School in July for a new appointment within the Diocese of New Ulm.
HT School Campus Minister Elaine Kahle said of Hesse’s leaving, “Fr. Tony has been a true blessing to HT School and Parish and the entire Winsted community. He will be missed for his sense of humor, his inspirational homilies, but most of all, for his deep sense of love and genuine care for all of his people.”
Hesse has become a familiar face within the community since arriving as pastor of HT parish three years ago. Besides his numerous priestly duties, he is known for always finding time to show people how important they are to him.
For his “inspirational” homilies, he often uses unique attention-getters, as much for the children attending Mass as for the adults. His Easter Sunday Mass was a perfect example, when he hid two live lambs in the sacristy before Mass.
When it was time for his homily, he brought them out and immediately had everyone’s attention, as he told the story of Lambert, the lamb, who gave his life for a mouse who hid in the lamb’s wool for protection from the cold and the snow a perfect story for Easter and one the children could understand.
“I like themes for homilies, but I try not to let the prop take over the message of the homily,” Hesse said.
He has also taken part in school skits and assemblies, something that has helped Holy Trinity students realize that being a priest doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have fun.
His first year at HT, Hesse played the scarecrow in the “Wizard of HT,” and last year he played Father Hagrid in “Tale of the Terrible Trojans (Ortonville).”
At funerals, weddings, and baptisms, he has been there to offer emotional support.
When the old elementary school was torn down, he stood with the crowd, listening to their stories about the school, the teachers, and students, understanding the need to share the history of the building that had stood in Winsted for more than 100 years.
Outside of the parish, he has joined in several community events. In 2010, he and Holy Trinity Technology Coordinator Peggy Lenz won the Winsted Summer Festival canoe contest for best costume. Hesse went as a priest, and Lenz went as a nun.
Another event that was well received by the community was a religious forum, the first of its kind in Winsted, that Hesse took part in with Pastor Mark Loder of St. John’s Lutheran Church and Pastor Thomas Starkjohn of Harvest Community Church.
The forum was at the Blue Note, and a crowd filled the banquet room to listen to the wisdom of three young men as they talked about their respective religions.
But, the majority of Hesse’s time at Holy Trinity has been devoted to assisting in the development of the Blessed John Paul II Area Faith Community (AFC), which includes Holy Trinity Church and School in Winsted, Church of the Holy Family in Silver Lake, and St. Pius X Church and School in Glencoe.
The goal was to appoint one pastor for the entire AFC, and that was achieved a year ago when Fr. Tony Stubeda was made pastor of Holy Trinity, in addition to being pastor of Holy Family and St. Pius X.
Establishing the AFC has required a lot of meetings and scheduling. Stubeda has called his planner a “monster calendar.” But the two priests, Stubeda and Hesse, have worked well together this last year to help make adjustments to the AFC, so things would run as smoothly as possible for everyone involved.
Working with Hesse is something Stubeda will miss. He said of Hesse’s leaving, “It’s always a joy to have the opportunity to work with as fine a priest as Fr. Tony. His joy in his faith, his attention to the needs of the parish, and his trust in God’s goodness inspire me,” Stubeda said.
“I will miss his presence and ministry, and pray that God will go with him as he begins this new part of his journey with the Lord. It’s difficult to say farewell to someone who has become a part of our lives and families, but we trust that God will continue to bless us with all good gifts in this time of transition. While it’s sad to lose him, we pray that his presence will be a gift to those he will now minister with, and we trust that God will fill him with courage and optimism as we send him forth.”
Effective July 2, Hesse will become pastor of St. George in West Newton, St. Gregory the Great in Lafayette; and will assist at the Church of St. Mary’s, and at the New Ulm Area Catholic Schools.
He will also assist in the development of the New Ulm AFC, which includes the two parishes Hesse will be pastor of, and the parishes of St. John’s in Searles, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and Church of St. Mary’s. The Cathedral and St. Mary’s are two of the five largest parishes in the Diocese of New Ulm.
With the experience he has gained in assisting in establishing the Blessed John Paul II AFC, Hesse will be an asset in the process of establishing the New Ulm AFC, which still has the goal of appointing one pastor to it.
Hesse said LeVoir’s job has to be overwhelming when he looks at the Diocese of New Ulm and the number of parishes with so few priests.
“We have 31 active pastors for 76 parishes (in the Diocese of New Ulm), seven of those priests could retire today and we would be down to 24 pastors,” Hesse said. “I think those numbers are after the move, but still, you are looking at 24 priests, 70 years old and younger; and nine associates, and several of those are retiring.”
For Hesse, it’s important to have HT parishioners understand that although he is excited about his new appointment by the bishop, he is also very sad to leave HT after such a short time.
“I hope and I pray that they (HT parishioners) saw in my ministry they had a shepherd here for these three years that cared for them and was willing to lay his life down for them,” Hesse said, “that they will take that as a sense of gratitude and thankfulness and continue to grow from it, just like the early Church did.”
Hesse said he has witnessed many blessings at HT. One is the musical talent that adds so much to the different services in the parish.
“Another thing I am going to miss, and was definitely pleased with, are the big fundraisers we have. Obviously, Winstock, but there are so many other things, like the fish fry. I have never seen a fish fry this big, and the chicken dinner, and all the different committees that our parish has,” Hesse said.
“And all the help with so many different things,” he added. “People volunteering around the house, cleaning and fixing things. And all of the food that people brought over. I was definitely fed but more than just food the last three years. The parish fed me spiritually, socially, physically, and emotionally, and all of that has been a great blessing.”
Fr. Paul Schumacher will replace Hesse July 2 as parochial vicar (senior associate) of HT in Winsted. Schumacher is currently at Holy Redeemer in Marshall.
Skydiving for Holy Trinity Schools
Before Hesse leaves HT, he’s being given the opportunity to skydive with Westside Skydivers at the Winsted Airport. Hesse volunteered to jump, along with Craig Remer, who is chairman of Holy Trinity’s Education Committee. It was part of the Holy Trinity Spring Fling’s 29th annual auction to raise money for Holy Trinity School.
A date and time has not been scheduled at this time.
Is Hesse excited about it? “No,” he said. “I hope and pray that I come out of it alive. I have images of me standing in the plane before the jump.”
“I don’t even like to go to Valleyfair,” Hesse said. “I go with the youth group because they like to see their priest go, but I would love for them to go to the state fair instead.”
Remer said the first thing that came to mind when he was asked to participate was, “Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good plane?”
Both Hesse and Remer consider Holy Trinity School a good cause and are waiting to be told when the event will happen. More information to follow.