For as long as he’s been preaching, Dominican Father Richard Litzau has been reminding Catholics that they were anointed at baptism as “priest, prophet and king.”
They are accordingly obliged to conform their lives to all three roles.
“A priest stands as a go-between between God and the people,” he noted. “A prophet speaks the truth, and a king leads. That’s what we’re called to do as Catholics!”
Fr. Litzau hopes the people of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish in Columbia, where he’s been pastor for the past six years, will keep reminding themselves of that after he takes on his new assignment in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 1.
He will serve as senior associate pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish.
Dominican Father Michail Ford, current associate pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish, will become associate pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
They are the last two members of the Dominican Community of St. Raymond of Penafort in Columbia, which was established in 2006.
The leadership of the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great announced last November that the Dominicans in Columbia would be reassigned to larger communities, in order for them to “engage in a more robust common life while attending to the demands of their ministries.”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight has appointed two diocesan priests, Father Daniel Merz and Father Paul Clark, to succeed Fr. Litzau and Fr. Ford as pastor and associate pastor at St. Thomas More.
Fr. Litzau said that while he regrets leaving people and a place he loves, it is the nature of Dominican life to be itinerant.
“Blessed Father Dominic inculcated that character into our charism,” he stated. “It encourages us to live in a detached way — detached from possessions and places and occasionally even from experiences.”
This frees up members of the order to live simply, focused on the mission of their order: “to preach, to bless, to praise!” he said.
He added that as ministers and shepherds, Dominicans are obliged to fall in love with the people of God.
“We are called to minister and shepherd and then, as a cost of doing business with that same God, we are called to break our hearts and theirs, when we are called to leave,” he said.
For Dominicans, that call filters down through their superiors in religious life, obedience to whom they offer as a solemn profession to God.
“It is a vow I take very seriously,” said Fr. Litzau, and one that he keeps with God’s help and that of his fellow Dominicans.
After ministering for 15 years on university campuses, he is being missioned to a more traditional parish with a grade school.
Our Lady Queen of Peace School has about 500 students.
“It will be a joy and a challenge to keep up, and I am looking forward to trying,” he said.
The Dominican order is formally known as the Order of Preachers.
People have told Fr. Litzau that they appreciate the Dominican emphasis on preaching good homilies at Mass.
“I want people to know that we were committed to ministering to the people and setting a good example of what religious life looks like,” he said.
He’s grateful to the parishioners for the openness, support and love they have shown to the Dominicans and urged them to continue that with their new priests.
He said it’s been an honor to partake of the priestly fraternity of this diocese.
“The priests here are honest, hardworking, dedicated, compassionate people,” he said.
He feels blessed to have been a part of this diocese, supported and encouraged by Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos and then by Bishop McKnight.
“I thank them for their prayers and direction,” Fr. Litzau stated. “The friendships that have grown over my time here have been a source of strength and energy, of challenge and support.”
He noted that the bishop, clergy and laypeople have been navigating nearly nonstop challenges and obstacles while working to implement Bishop McKnight’s priorities.
“The people need to continue to support that,” said Fr. Litzau. “I am absolutely convinced that the Trine God is right here in our midst. Our job is to find out where, and what that presence means and requires of us.”
It starts with listening to God’s clear direction in Scripture.
“Jesus made it very simple: ‘Love God ... neighbor ... self,’” said Fr. Litzau.
“Listen to your heart”
Since arriving in Columbia, Fr. Litzau has referred to his role as “servant leader.”
“For me, that term speaks to how you lead and where you lead from,” he said. “The priest is called to serve.”
He summed his understanding with a quote he once read from Jesuit Father Pierre Teillhard de Chardin (1881-1955):
“To the fullest extent of my power, because I am a priest, I wish from now on to be the first to become conscious of all that the world loves, pursues and suffers. I want to be the first to seek, to sympathize and to suffer; the first to unfold and sacrifice myself, to become more widely human and more nobly of the earth than of any of the world’s servants.”
“That is an operational definition of servant leader and of pastor,” Fr. Litzau asserted.
A philosophy professor at Saint Louis University defines a vocation as “something you cannot imagine yourself not doing.” Fr. Litzau can’t imagine not being a Dominican priest.
“I was invited — called — when I was young,” he noted. “I just waited a long time to RSVP.”
The call was there all along, and with God’s help, he answered it “right on time.”
He encourages anyone else who feels called to Priesthood or religious life in the second phase of their adult life to “listen to your heart.”
“Religious orders and congregations all have age limits,” he noted. “But it never hurts to seek.”
Ft. Litzau asked for prayers for him and all the other Dominican priests and brothers who have served in Columbia.
“Prayer is a constant in my life, as it should be in all our lives,” he said. “The ongoing conversation with God is a source of strength and wisdom, it was very much a part of the discernment of God’s will for us.”
In this time of crisis, he called to mind a prayer recently published in America magazine:
“God of justice, give us the courage to admit our sins and failings. Give us the freedom to seek Your mercy and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. And give us the strength to continue crying out to You for the healing of our nation until it fulfills its commitment to recognize that You have created all people equal.”
Calling upon God to bless the people, he urged them to “be bold in your mission, be gentle in your relationships, and be kind in your thoughts of the Dominicans.”
Fr. Litzau’s mailing address at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish will be: 401 S. Owen Drive, Madison, WI 53711.