In the rolling plains of a farm town in Iowa, Deacon Joseph Lappe, MIC, was ordained to the sacred priesthood in the same parish where he was baptized.
The Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless, Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, presided at the Holy Mass of Ordination on the morning of Saturday, July 28, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Willey, Iowa — where the newly ordained Fr. Joseph grew up.
In his homily before a packed church, Bishop Walker emphasized the rarity of presiding at an Ordination in a priest’s home parish.
He explained, “[Fr. Joseph] wanted his ordination to be here at his home parish because [he thought] there might be some young person out there right now whom the Lord is also calling to the priesthood, and maybe they’ve never seen an ordination, and he said maybe could spark a vocation.”
The Very Reverend Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Provincial Superior, has, when possible, encouraged Marian candidates approaching ordination to the priesthood to receive the Sacrament at their home parish.
Father Kaz said, “I remember when I was a kid, maybe seven or eight years old, someone being ordained and then having the first Mass — it was something that just kind of seared itself in my memory. It was something special, something beautiful. My heart moves me in that direction that parishes today would need something like this. … It makes them happy and often moves them to tears.”
Father Mark Barron, MIC, the former novice master of Fr. Joseph, said that he remembers a time when the Marians did not often have ordinations in local parishes.
“I am always happy at every ordination I go to at somebody’s home town, because it helps connect the person to their past, and it really helps you appreciate just the beauty of where they come from,” he said.
Father Kaz added, “You see the place where he grew up, the church he attended, the environment. It’s actually a great blessing for us as a community … because we become more aware of our own members and their background. [Reading about] their background doesn’t really give you that full flavor. Being here you begin to understand.”
Though St. Mary’s has 600 parishioners, the town of Willey, where Fr. Joseph’s family still lives today, has a population of only about 100 people.
“I felt like coming here [to Willey, Iowa], that the clock turned back about 40 years,” Fr. Mark said. “I feel like I was back, in one sense, in Fern Creek, Kentucky, where I grew up, or in Mayberry, or in Leave-it-to-Beaver-Land. It feels like I’m in a time warp. It’s just incredible.”
Without many man-made structures in the area, the steeple of St. Mary’s can be seen across the amber cornfields from more than 5 miles away.
“The Church is beautiful. It just reflects [Fr. Joseph],” Fr. Mark said. “I always forget where he’s from, and now you know. It becomes more concrete for me in understanding him: He’s Joe from Iowa. He has that good-natured vibe about him, and you always kind of know what you’re going to get.”
After the ordination, more than 400 people — most of them parishioners — attended a reception held at a local American Legion. The following morning, just as many attended Fr. Joseph’s first Mass and a reception in the parish hall. Father Joseph’s own family, along with his parish family, hosted the receptions.
Father Joseph’s mother, Jan, said, “We always knew we had a great parish family, but have we ever come closer this weekend! They all worked so well together.”
She added, “What’s so beautiful about it is that Joe has three living great aunts who would never have been able to go [if the Ordination were elsewhere]. Half these people would have never [been able to] come … So it was as good for [the parish] as much as it was for us. It was like one of their own sons was ordained.”
In his homily, Bishop Walker praised the parish, thanking them for producing many vocations to the priesthood and religious life throughout the years. Since the parish’s founding in the late 19th century, St. Mary’s has produced 17 priests, including one bishop.
“I think there’s something in the water [here],” Bishop Walker said. “Keep praying, or whatever you’re doing, do it more.”
Father Joseph attributes the fruitfulness of his home parish to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He mentioned that someone is always praying the Rosary there before Mass.
“We’ve been very blessed. The parish is very much priest-friendly,” he said.
Father Joseph’s mother attributes the health of the parish to the quality families living in a tight-knit community.
“I found that our neighborhood right where we were, there was just so much family,” she said. “They were always there for everything, and we’d always get together for anniversaries and that sort of thing. I think that’s what we’ve lost in so many parishes — that kind of neighborhood. People don’t have time to do that anymore.”
Father Kaz said, “I’ve never seen so many children in an ordination Mass. … [Years from now], I think there will be more ordinations [here].”
Father Joseph’s first assignment as a priest will send him to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to work in two of the Marian parishes there, St. Peter’s Parish and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii Parish.