Retired priests, religious put greater focus on being


The 2024 Easter Special Collection that will be taken up in parishes throughout the diocese will benefit retired priests and retired members of religious orders and congregations.

A special envelope for this collection is inserted in the March 15, 2024, edition of The Catholic Missourian.

Mornings are far less rushed and the days less hectic since Sister Kathleen Wegman retired for the second and final time.

Gone are endless deadlines and to-do lists, but she’ll never give up being a School Sister of Notre Dame.

“I have not retired from my vocation at all,” she said. “In fact, I find that it is deepening.”

Sr. Kathleen, a former chancellor of the Jefferson City diocese and former interim director of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, continues to serve as the bishop’s delegate to religious sisters.

She also spends time each week volunteering at Catholic Charities in Jefferson City.

But her main focus during this latest time of transition for her is prayer and presence.

“I’m moving from being very active and doing, to being,” she stated.

Sr. Kathleen is one of numerous religious sisters and diocesan priests who benefit from the Jefferson City diocese’s annual Easter Collection.

Fifty-three years after entering religious life, Sr. Kathleen is relishing her slow mornings and more-deliberate interaction with God.

“I sip the coffee — taste God, taste the coffee and taste the day — and go from there,” she said.

She noted that at age 75, she doesn’t have as much energy as she once had.

“And that’s really okay,” she stated. “I have the energy to do what God is calling me to do right now.”

In many cases, that simply means being fully present to God and to fellow human beings.

“I’ve discovered that in our world, people are hurting just to be in connection with people,” she said. “I can spend a half-hour in the grocery store, just visiting in the checkout line.”

A closer walk

Since retiring as a diocesan parish priest a year and a half ago, Father Donald Antweiler spent all but a few months fighting tongue cancer and recovering from surgery and the side effects of treatment.

A flood of intercessions helped him stay afloat.

“I regard it as near-miraculous all that the doctors were able to do with the support of so much prayer,” he said.

He marvels in being able to speak clearly and carry on much as he did before his diagnosis.

“Prayer makes a big difference,” he stated. “I’m so grateful for people who pray for me, who remember me in their prayers. And I do the same for them.”

Fr. Antweiler has had more time in retirement for praying, reading, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

He leads a small Scripture study group a couple of days a week, frequently offers Saturday morning Mass at the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, and occasionally fills in on weekends for priests in central Missouri.

“Retirement doesn’t mean you stop being a priest,” he pointed out. “And I enjoy being a priest very much.”

He celebrated the Christmas Masses last year at Our Lady of Snows Parish in Mary’s Home, were he once served as pastor for five years.

He offers Mass each morning and spends time in the Liturgy of the Hours, contemplative prayer, Scripture study and other sacred reading.

He recently completed his 806th “Across the Diocese of Jefferson City Crossword Puzzle” for The Catholic Missourian.

“I find doing the crossword puzzles to be such fun!” he said. “But if it weren’t also a ministry, I wouldn’t do it.”

It’s a good outlet for his innate interest in and curiosity about history, the Church, Missouri and the diocese.

He also channels a great deal of creativity into the homilies he preaches.

“I use the gifts that I have,” he said. “And my most fervent prayer before I even start reading the Gospel (while preparing a homily) is, ‘Help them hear what You want them to hear.’”

Wherever he has gone in over 50 years of Priesthood, Fr. Antweiler has felt surrounded by faithful people.

As he looks out from the pulpit or the altar, “there are people in all different stages of life and different occupations, and we come together as people just trying to walk a faithful life, closer to Christ!” he said.

Spiritual gifts

Sr. Kathleen spoke of her retirement in the context of the unique charism — the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on the Church through each religious order or congregation — of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

“I feel like I’m now moving from doing a ministry that impacts the charism, to really learning how to live it myself and give witness to it just by my being,” she said.

She begins each day with time for personal prayer and spiritual reading, “which I now find to be less rushed and more integrated,” she said.

Free of administrative responsibilities, she can offer her time and expertise, along with a listening ear, as its own gift.

She’s also found an increase in her involvement in volunteer activities at church.

She is a member of her parish stewardship council and helps prepare and serve food as part of the Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish Events Committee — just as her mother, the late Dorothy Wegman, did for many years.

Sr. Kathleen noted that for generations, religious sisters in the United States taught in Catholic schools and served in other capacities at a very low cost to parishioners.

“Much of the compensation was what we would call ‘in-kind,’ which met the immediate needs of the sisters living there at the time,” she noted.

This almost never included preparing for retirement.

SSND and other communities of religious women eventually established their own retirement funds, with help from generous donors, but they have been consistently underfunded.

SSNDs and other religious sisters apply for all the government benefits that are available to them.

“Our thinking,” said Sr. Kathleen, “is that while we need to ask people to help fund the retired religious appeal, out of a sense of gratitude for what the sisters have provided throughout their lives, we don’t have a right to ask the laity to contribute to more than they have to when the taxes they pay already support all of these government benefits.”

Over the past half-century, the Catholic Church in the United States has gone from an abundance of men and women religious, to having more and more laypeople provide the bulk of those ministries.

“Which all is of God!” Sr. Kathleen stated. “The charism of the laity is a great gift to the Church.”

But the needs of retired religious remain — along with the legacy of services that have been provided to the Church by women and men religious for generations.

“We have a long, great history in this diocese of ministry provided by sisters, brothers and religious priests, and of great relationships with local parishes and the institutional Church,” Sr. Kathleen noted.

“It’s important, especially for anyone who has been educated in Catholic schools, to find ways to give back from what we’ve been given, and this is one good way to do that,” she stated.

“Give what you have”

Sr. Kathleen pointed out that like her siblings who are married, she has retired from her job but not from her vocation.

“The call from God is not age-bound,” she said.

She said she and the other religious sisters who serve in this diocese — many of whom do so at some level of retirement — feel honored, appreciated and supported.

“I know a lot of them take Holy Communion to shut-ins or visit people who are on the margins who just need to be in relationship,” she said. “The sisters have the ability and time to do that. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m very grateful for it.”

Fr. Antweiler offers thanks for all the prayers, support and affirmations he’s received throughout his decades of Priesthood.

He said a scene from a movie he recently watched sums up his approach to priestly retirement.

“Somebody asks St. Matthew, ‘What do you do these days?’ And Matthew says, ‘Life is very simple now: I just wake up in the morning and focus on how to follow Him.’”

That approach tends to make each day somewhat different from the one before it.

“I take each day as it comes,” he said. “I can’t maintain the same pace as I used to, so I’m trying to go at the pace I can go at.”

He glories in the time he gets to spend with people, as well as the times of quiet and solitary reflection that allow him to rest and recharge.

“All of that is happening in my retirement,” he said. “I just see it as God leading me on, and I take it day by day.”

As he did in his youth, he often gets lost staring out into a night sky filled with fuzzy points of light.

“Two hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and another 100 billion galaxies, and that’s just what we know about!” he said. “It just makes me think of how big God really is!”

Observing God’s playful creativity on full display in nature and throughout humanity has a similar effect on him.

“I get focused on things,” he said. “And when I take time to look a sunset or a person’s face, it’s wonderful!”

While cooling her feet in the waters of retirement, Sr. Kathleen asks for prayers for her and all the religious sisters of the diocese to continue to remain open to how God is calling them at this stage in their lives.

“Because, no matter the age, God is still saying, ‘Give what you have to the poor and come follow Me,’” she noted. “So, what does that ‘follow Me’ mean for each of us?”

Fr. Antweiler also asked for prayers.

“If you would be kind enough to simply remember me when you remember your loved ones, when you remember your enemies, when you remember those whom the Lord has asked you to pray for, I’d appreciate just a word, just a thought,” he said.

“I’d appreciate that very much.”