Father Jim Hoover joins sisters as Motherhouse chaplain

Father Jim Hoover

For Father Jim Hoover, becoming chaplain at the Nazareth Motherhouse is the natural next step in a lifelong connection to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

“Since I was born, the sisters have been part of my life,” says the 77-year-old native of Junction City, Kan. “I was taught by them, I worked with them, I’ve ministered with them, I’ve prayed with them.”

And beginning today (Aug. 16), he celebrates Mass with them in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Motherhouse, succeeding Father Jack Schlaf, who has retired after five years as chaplain.

Father Jim definitely does not see his new role as a step toward retirement.

“I always said I would never retire,” he says with a laugh. “I would die of boredom.”

Instead, he sees the chaplaincy as a new opportunity to serve God and the women who have always been a part of his life.

He was born the youngest of three children, to parents who were active Catholics in the rural Junction City area. His mother Josephine had attended the school run by the Sisters of St. Joseph there, and even boarded at the convent during the school week.

Jim and his siblings attended St. Xavier School in Junction City, where, he says, “I was the orneriest kid in town — but it was a good orneriness.”

His elder sister Dorothy had already entered the Sisters of St. Joseph, providing one more connection to the congregation. (Today, Sister Dorothy is one of the sisters who live at the Motherhouse after retiring from active ministry.)

Jim was ordained a priest in 1960, and was headed toward becoming a canon lawyer when he discovered his love of ministering one-on-one with people in need.

“I know now I could never have taken the path to canon law,” he says. “It would have been a living hell.”

Instead, he served in parishes across the Salina Diocese.

After earning a master’s degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Father Jim returned to Salina and spent the 1970s working with Sister Christine Doman — providing another connection to the Sisters of St. Joseph — on religious education throughout the diocese.

But he remained committed to parish ministry.

In 1987, he was assigned to a parish in Beloit, Kan. “And before I took that assignment, I went to (Sister Marilyn Wall) at Manna House of Prayer to ask her to lead me in a directed retreat,” he recalls. “We discovered we had more in common than we had any idea.”

They also discovered a shared vision of working with people in small parishes, and being available for human needs as they arise. They found they shared a core belief in the compassion of Catholicism, and the deep human desire to find and feel faith. Over time, they also developed a vision of working together, to join their separate strengths into one ministry.

Their chance to put that vision into practice came in 1994 when Bishop George Fitzsimons decided to give the partnership a try, in Oberlin, Kan., and two neighboring western Kansas parishes. Father Jim was assigned as the priest while Sister Marilyn served as what was then called a pastoral administrator.

They served together for eight years there, and then in 2002 were assigned an even greater challenge: the four parishes, Catholic grade school and 500 families strewn across 900 square miles of Washington County, Kan.

In July 2009, Bishop Paul Coakley reassigned Father Jim to the central Kansas parishes of Wilson, Dorrance and Holyrood, still with Sister Marilyn at his side.

Their 17-year partnership ended last month when the Sisters of St. Joseph turned to Father Jim to serve as their chaplain and Father David Metz asked Sister Marilyn to return to the parishes in Washington County.

Father Jim might have taken the more common path for older priests: He could have served as a part-time, “fill-in” celebrant, helping to relieve the chronic shortage of priests in parishes everywhere.

He’s done some of that, he notes. Recently he filled in at his home parish in Junction City.

“I walked in there and everything was physically the same,” he says. “I knew the church, I knew the Mass. But it was cold. I didn’t know the people.”

And the people, he stresses again, are paramount.

He’ll have a chance to get to know the people in Belleville, Munden and Cuba, Kan., as he helps Concordia’s Father Barry Brinkman as a fill-in in those churches. And, of course, he already knows the people of his new congregation at the Motherhouse.

“I have always loved the sisters, I have always felt such esteem for the sisters,” he says. “After 51 years as a priest, it’s a blessing that I will be here.”

• • • • • • •

Father Jack to return to Colorado

Father Jack Schlaf

Father Jack Schlaf has retired after five years as chaplain at the Nazareth Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

He will be returning to Fort Collins, Colo., where he lived for a year before coming to Concordia. Before that, the 72-year-old Nebraska native had served his entire priesthood in the Grand Island Diocese.

Father Jack celebrated his final Mass at the Motherhouse on Monday, Aug. 15, the Assumption of Mary. Traditionally, this was a date on which many of the Sisters of St. Joseph entered the congregation.

Father Jack also served throughout the Concordia area, filling in when needed at the parishes in Belleville, Munden and Cuba, Kan., and ministering to the Sisters of St. Joseph at Mount Joseph Senior Village.


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