Easter Collection: A priest on mission in northern Missouri


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

A special envelope for this collection is inserted in this, the March 31 edition of The Catholic Missourian.

Gifted with reasonably good health, Father Patrick Dolan sees retirement as an ongoing integration with the Sacrament of Holy Orders that he received 52 years ago.

“Most sacraments have an element of you actually becoming the sacrament that you receive,” he stated.

Raised in Ireland, where priests were once plentiful, Fr. Dolan came as a missionary to this diocese, which needed priests.

He spent 10 years in the diocese’s missions in Peru, and since returning in 1995 has maintained ties to Spanish-speaking Catholics in whatever part of the diocese he’s serving in.

“I was never assigned to a parish here that has a large group of Hispanics,” he noted. “I was always moving out to get to them.” 

Since officially retiring in 2021, Fr. Dolan has been volunteering on weekends as sacramental minister for St. Mary Parish in Milan and the Mission of St. Mary in Unionville; and providing a monthly Mass in Spanish in Macon, Moberly, Palmyra, Hannibal and Ewing.

He lives in the St. Bonaventure Rectory in Marceline.

He often takes to the road during the week, offering Mass in Spanish at various parishes in northeastern Missouri, visiting scattered enclaves of Catholic immigrants, and teaching English as a Second Language once a week to Spanish-speakers in and around Shelbina and Clarence.

He recently clocked 400 road miles in one weekend.

“It’s easy driving and really beautiful country up here,” he noted. “I enjoy having Mass for those people and getting to know them.”

Many of those he encounters work odd hours on dairy or hog farms, in restaurants or in food plants.

“For some of these people, the weekly Liturgy has not been part of their Catholic upbringing,” Fr. Dolan noted. “They often come from little areas in their homeland, where a priest may come once or twice a year.”

A gift of thanks

For Fr. Dolan, age 77, retirement has meant setting aside the responsibilities of administration “and making more time for priestly things.”

“And more time to read, be relaxed, be healthy,” he added. “All of this, of course, within the limitations that come with age.”

He noted that no two priests approach or experience retirement exactly the same way.

Some retired priests spend weekends filling-in for pastors who are sick or traveling. Others attach themselves to a community and help out however they can.

Several retired priests of this diocese are dealing with serious health issues, while others are in need of constant assistance.

“That’s just another stage in retirement, isn’t it?” said Fr. Dolan. “You have to humbly let people minister to you. That can be hard, especially if you’re used to be in the driver’s seat, so to speak.”

In any case, he stated, “We’re well taken care of as priests in retirement.”

“That’s something I want to make known,” he said. “I’m grateful that I am able to retire and still have my needs met. And one of the ways I say thank you is to be of service as I am able to people in the diocese that is supporting me.”

Prayerful adventure

Fr. Dolan follows literally and figuratively in the footsteps of another missionary from Ireland, Father (later Bishop) John J. Hogan, who founded parishes and missions across northern Missouri in the years before and after the U.S. Civil War.

Fr. Hogan called northern Missouri “my beloved mission home,” while traveling a mission circuit roughly size-and-a-half of Ireland, seeking and ministering to scattered immigrant communities.

Like Fr. Hogan before him, Fr. Dolan is on mission in northern Missouri.

“Part of my vocation has always been to be a missionary priest, in a place where the Church is needing some kind of an outreach,” he stated.

He said going on mission is an adventure, “and I advise making it a prayerful one.”

Knowing the flock

Time and experience have given Fr. Dolan parallel insights into the ministerial Priesthood.

One is of being a priest of the Lord, the other is of being a priest of the people.

“We have a very high and beautiful theology of Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination,” he noted.

“But I always felt that theology becomes more beautiful when we become a priest for the people, as well as a priest for them before God,” he said. 

Fr. Dolan has found that he preaches better if he listens first.

“It’s hard to become a shepherd without allowing the people to come and speak to you, and getting to know them so you’re not just speaking to their minds but to their lives,” he said.

Shared mission

Having collaborated with religious sisters through much of his Priesthood, Fr. Dolan said it’s good to remember retired priests and retired sisters at the same time.

“One has to recognize the beautiful work that the sisters have done on the front lines of bringing the Church together and helping it get organized in so many communities throughout the diocese,” he said.

He called to mind how religious sisters through the decades have helped draw immigrants together into communities for worship and catechesis.

“Let us remember them with a prayer of thanksgiving for everything they’ve come and done here for us,” said Fr. Dolan.