Three celebrate golden jubilees of ordination
On November 14 the US Province celebrates the 50th anniversary of priesthood of three of its members: Bishop Joseph Potocnak, Fr. Anthony Russo and Fr. Thomas Westhoven. The Jubilee Mass will take place at Sacred Heart Monastery in Hales Corners. Fr. Ed Kilianski, SCJ, provincial superior, is the main celebrant and the three jubilarians are each giving a part of the homily.
Bishop Joe and Fr. Tom were both ordained on September 21, 1966; Fr. Tony was ordained on December 17, 1966, in Rome.
Although they were each ordained in the same year, the paths they followed in their priesthood varied widely. The following is a brief look at the lives of the jubilarians:
36 years in South Africa
Originally from Berwick, PA, Bishop Joe, 83, was a sergeant in the US Air Force and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada before pursuing his call to religious life. He professed his first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart in 1961.
His first assignments were in vocations, formation and as rector of the province’s seminary in Great Barrington, MA. In 1973, he went to South Africa to serve as a missionary. He stayed for 36 years, eventually being named bishop of the Diocese of De Aar.
The opportunity to get to know another culture is something for which Bishop Joe is especially grateful. “Being in a different culture allows a person to look at things from a new perspective,” he said, “it can help you to see that people are people; there is goodness in everyone.”
Seeing the basic goodness in others is the rudder that guided Bishop Joe in his ministry in South Africa. “If someone is nice to you, treats you with respect, you pick it up, even if your language is different,” said the bishop. “If you are good to another, that person feels your goodness. The Catholic Church brings a bit of hope to people in need by treating them with respect, by caring for them. Developing a sense of faith is important, and I think the faith is getting deeper in South Africa, but the first thing the Church must always do is be good to others, see the basic goodness in others.”
The bishop saw many changes during his 36 years in South Africa. He came to a country living in the midst of apartheid and then watched as it was dismantled, even serving as a poll monitor in South Africa’s first multi-racial national elections.
Bishop Joe retired in 2009. He is now a member of the Sacred Heart Community in Pinellas Park , FL, where often serves as a chaplain at the Bay Pines VA hospital in Tampa.
Ordained in Rome
A Chicago native, Fr. Tony, 78, professed his first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart in 1957. He did his theological studies at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained with six other SCJs from around the world, including Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, who would later become general superior of the congregation.
His first assignments were as a Latin and religion teacher, as well as a formation director, at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Massachusetts, and at Kilroe Seminary in Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts, he and fellow jubilarian Fr. Tom Westhoven, also led retreats at nearby high schools and parishes.
When the province moved its formation program to Chicago Fr. Tony moved along with it and served as director of a community of approximately 20 seminarians who attended Loyola University. His next assignment was as director of pastoral and field education for Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
In 1975 Fr. Tony’s life went in a new direction. He moved to San Antonio to serve as associate pastor of St. Cecilia’s parish. He was in San Antonio for five years, three at the parish and two involved full-time with Marriage Encounter.
He was named pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston in 1980 and served there for eight years. Besides his parish work, he was also involved in social action through organizations such as TMO (The Metropolitan Organization).
From 1989 – 1995 Fr. Tony was in province administration, serving first as director of ministries, and then as Justice and Peace director and as personnel director. Living in the Milwaukee area Fr. Tony was a frequent weekend ministry priest at Spanish-speaking parishes in the city. And just as he did in Houston, he became active with social justice organizations, such as SET Ministries.
His last full-time assignment was also at St. Martin of Tours parish in Franklin, WI, first as associate and then as pastor. He was also involved in the Dehonian Family initiative that later resulted in programs such as Mission Education. Fr. Tony was present at the most recent Mission Ed Conference in Mississippi in October.
Now retired, Fr. Tony is a member of the Sacred Heart Community at SHML in Franklin.
Fr. “Westy,” as many know him, grew up near Toledo, Ohio, and professed his first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart in 1959. He studied theology at Sacred Heart Monastery and earned a master’s degree in Modern European History at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1966. Fr. Tom is now 75.
As with Bishop Joe and Fr. Tony, his first assignments were in seminary education and formation. He served at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Lenox, MA, the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Ste. Marie, IL, and at Dehon Seminary in Lanesboro, MA.
In 1979 he moved west to South Dakota where was in a variety of ministries including many years as director of St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain. From 1993-2004 he was on the pastoral team of All Saints parish in Eagle Butte, SD, and from 2004-2007 he was on the Lower Brule, SD, Pastoral Team
Fr. Tom was also the Province Vocation Director (1990-1993) and often served as the recording secretary at province gatherings.
His last assignment before retirement was in the Province Archives.
“For me, being an SCJ means that I strive to give of myself totally out of love for the One who loves me and each person,” said Fr. Tom reflecting on his vocation. “As an SCJ I recognize the calling to be inwardly dedicated to returning the love the Heart of Jesus has for each of us.”
When he first began his studies for the priesthood and religious life, Fr. Tom wanted to go to the foreign missions. “But as I continued my studies I realized that there are so many opportunities to serve the poor and marginalized – not just overseas, but at home as well,” he said.
As is Fr. Tony, Fr. Tom is a member of the Sacred Heart Community at SHML in Franklin.
If you are coming to the jubilee celebration on Monday, November 14, please note that the location has changed! Instead of Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake the liturgy and reception will be at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology (just across the street).
Be sure to check the province Facebook page the next day to see photos from the event. You do not need to be a member of Facebook to view the photos.