BY LORI HADACEK CHAPLIN
Too little is said about all the good things priests do for their flocks. When our youngest was facing a serious surgery and when my parents were sick and dying from cancer, it was our pastors to whom we turned for consolation. At the end of the day, I don’t close my eyes without praying for priests because I understand their value.
One of the holiest priests, St. John Vianney (1786–1859), known as the Curé of Ars, said, “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.”
Here, learn how three extraordinary priests have touched the lives of Catholics in both grand and simple ways.
ARCHBISHOP ROBERT CARLSON
In June 2014, Brett Haubrich, 11, was diagnosed with an inoperable golf ball-sized brain tumor. Since the outlook for Brett was dire, the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him if they could grant one of his wishes.
His mother, Eileen Haubrich, from Missouri, told Catholic Digest, “It could’ve been anything. Brett could have had a trip or met a celebrity like his favorite football player, Brett Favre.”
Instead, her son asked the Make-A-Wish representatives to give his wish to someone who needed it more than he did. But Brett was deserving of a wish. He had a grade-three tumor and only a 30 percent chance of living three years, even with treatment.
“He had three laser brain surgeries and three shunt surgeries. The first laser surgery took his ability to use his right arm. The second laser surgery took some of the strength out of his right leg, and the final surgery took his speech,” Eileen explained. “He could still talk, but in short phrases; it was extremely difficult for him. He suffered a lot.”
To be a priest
The Make-A-Wish Foundation representatives weren’t giving up that easily. They asked Brett what he wanted to be when he grew up. Brett, an altar boy, told them, “I really want to be a priest.”
A call was made to the Archdiocese of St. Louis about the possibility of Brett serving Mass with Archbishop Robert Carlson. The archbishop overheard the conversation and offered to have Brett serve at the Chrism Mass in 2015 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. He also invited the altar boy to have dinner with him.
Brett also ended up serving at the Holy Thursday Mass alongside seminarians.
“Usually it is just the seminarians that have their feet washed, but this time Brett was one of the people who had their feet washed sitting next to the seminarians,” his mother said. “It was his dream to be a priest.”
Brett enjoyed serving Mass for the archbishop and seeing his home. “He just said it was pretty cool,” recalled his mother.
For Eileen and Conrad Haubrich, seeing their son receive his wish was bittersweet. They were proud to see him serve with Archbishop Carlson, but in the back of their minds was the knowledge that their son would never grow up to become a priest. The Haubrichs were grateful to the archbishop for going out of his way to make the day memorable for Brett.
“It was his idea to do all the things that were done for Brett that day. The dinner, the luncheon, the participation in the Mass both times. It was such an amazing day,” Eileen said.
Fit for a king
On Jan. 10, 2018, Brett Haubrich, 14, died, and his funeral was held at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
“I feel it was extra kind of the archbishop to allow us to have his funeral at the same cathedral where his Make-A-Wish was,” Brett’s mother said. “And we were surprised and humbled that the archbishop was also there. I think it shows the effect my son had on him. His funeral was one fit for a king — or a priest like Brett wanted to be.”
FR. MARK UHLENKOTT
Caring enough to ask
It’s not just the big gestures of kindness from priests that impact people; it’s the small acts of showing genuine compassion and interest that also distinguish a priest. Diane Herzbrun, from Caldwell, Idaho, shared a story about how her then-parish priest, Fr. Mark Uhlenkott, gave her the most pastoral care she’s ever received during pregnancy.
Herzbrun, the mother to seven living children, told Catholic Digest, “For me, pregnancy is when I need it the most.”
Herzbrun has endured four miscarriages and debilitating morning sickness (known as hyperemesis gravidarum) through all her pregnancies. “I’d lay in a dark room because I couldn’t handle the lights or sound. All day long, I’d be trying not to vomit.”
The pain of miscarriage
In 2017, Fr. Uhlenkott was Herzbrun’s priest at Our Lady of the Valley in Caldwell, Idaho. When the young priest heard that she was pregnant, he made a point to ask how her pregnancy was going because he knew that she had recently had two miscarriages. He also didn’t shy away from asking questions about her losses.
“Hearing him inquire was surprising because most people avoid you when they find out you’ve recently lost a baby,” she said.
Fr. Uhlenkott then offered to give Herzbrun a special blessing for pregnant mothers and their unborn babies. “It gave me a lot of comfort to receive that blessing,” she said.
Caring enough to call
Weeks later after her conversation with Fr. Uhlenkott, Herzbrun and her family missed Mass more than one consecutive week because of her morning sickness and her husband Michael’s allergies. Noticing their absence from their customary place in the front of the church, Fr. Uhlenkott phoned her.
“He asked me if there was anything he could do to help us,” she shared with tears in her eyes. “I’m sure that other priests also care about people’s difficulties, but he seems to have an understanding that’s different.”
Herzbrun had never had a priest call to find out why she wasn’t at Mass, let alone offer assistance. “He also continued to ask me how I was feeling throughout my pregnancy, even though most people stopped asking,” she said.
On April 14, 2018, three weeks after the birth of her daughter, Fr. Uhlenkott baptized Regina Rose.
FR. BRUNO SEGATTA
Showing love with art
Another Idaho priest, Fr. Bruno Segatta, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Parish in McCall, showed his love for parishioners and local community through his art. Fr. Segatta, a professional artist, has donated many religious paintings for church and Catholic school auctions, Catholic radio, and charities. He often paints live at events.
Mother and child painting
Fr. Segatta also presents one of his original paintings to couples that he marries and to babies that he baptizes. In April 2018, Tom and Kate Starr’s youngest child, Joey, was baptized by the artist-priest, and he gave them a Madonna painting.
Kate Starr, mother of nine children, told Catholic Digest, “I thought it was a lovely painting of Mary holding baby Jesus.”
But Fr. Segatta, a native of Italy, told her that it was a painting of the Blessed Mother holding Joey. “I said, ‘Oh!’ with an indrawn breath,” she recalled, “For him to think of this was overwhelming and wonderful.”
Starr, who has had Fr. Segatta as a guest in her home, says, “What I have noticed about Fr. Bruno is that he desires a personal relationship with everyone he meets.”
By giving away his artwork, he’s able to give a piece of himself.
Fr. Bruno told Catholic Digest that he considers his artwork a visual ministry, where he tries to portray both the material and the spiritual in the message of his artwork.