Father Donald Antweiler doesn’t much care for the title “Reverend.”
He prefers “Father,” “Servant” or “Pastor,” which is Latin for “Shepherd.”
“As a priest, you’re always a servant,” he said. “You are ordained to serve. You’re a servant of the people in the parish. You’re a father who’s devoted to his faith family, which is what I see the parish as being.”
Fr. Antweiler, who grew up near Missouri’s Capital City and most recently served as pastor of that city’s Immaculate Conception Parish, retired from active ministry on June 30, his 75th birthday.
“A wise person once told me, ‘Don’t cling. You will know when it’s time to leave,’” he said. “And I know it’s time for me to leave parish ministry.
“I think the bishop would have been happy to have me stay on for another year,” he noted, “but I just don’t have the energy. To my regret, that’s just the truth.”
The administrative responsibilities were wearing Fr. Antweiler down, as was COVID-19, which he helped navigate the parish and its school through, and which he also contracted during the pandemic.
“But you know, you take it as it comes — that’s what I always tell people,” he said. “With the Lord at your side and your roots in Him, very good things can happen.”
Fr. Antweiler plans to remain in Jefferson City but to keep a low profile for a while as Immaculate Conception parishioners get to know and love their new pastor, Father Matthew Flatley.
Fr. Antweiler wants to continue producing his “Across the Diocese Crossword Puzzle,” which has been a reader favorite in The Catholic Missourian since the puzzle’s debut on Feb. 9, 2001.
“So many people have asked me if I still plan to do the puzzle,” he said. “I do enjoy it, but if it were just for myself, I wouldn’t keep doing it.
“It’s a ministry,” he said. “It’s a way of reaching out, where you’re making an impact with people. So as long as people enjoy it, I want to keep doing it.”
“Fun and fulfilling”
Fr. Antweiler grew up on a 200-acre farm just outside Jefferson City.
He studied at St. Peter Interparish School; St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal; and Cardinal Glennon College and Kenrick Seminary, both in St. Louis.
He served for six months as a deacon at Holy Family Parish in Hannibal.
Ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 1973, he served as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Columbia and Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Boonville.
As a pastor, he served for five years at Our Lady of Snows Parish in Mary’s Home; three years at Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Vienna; nine years at St. Patrick Parish in Rolla; eight years at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in St. Thomas; eight years at Holy Rosary Parish in Monroe City and St. Stephen Parish in Indian Creek; five years at Immaculate Conception Parish in Loose Creek and St. Louis of France Parish in Bonnots Mill; and for the past seven years at Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City.
“Most of the places I’ve been, it’s been fun,” he said. “Fun and fulfilling!”
He recalls being amazed at the scope of the diversity of parishioners at Sacred Heart in Columbia.
“We had people from all over the world,” he said. “We’d have someone writing their dissertation in Latin, we’d have the head of the Physics Department, and we’d have people who never learned to read or write. We had farm people and city people. It was amazing.”
As associate pastor in Boonville, he also served as the Catholic chaplain at the Boonville Correctional Center and occasionally offered Mass in St. Joseph Church in Fayette.
“St. Peter and Paul is a great parish,” he said. “I had fun there. They even had me play the role of a famous Civil War raider in a play.”
Our Lady of Snows Parish in Mary’s Home was his first pastorate.
“As pastor of that unincorporated little town, I was the default recipient for mail addressed to the mayor or other ‘city officials,’” he recalled.
The parish was famous for having consistently the largest grossing parish picnic in the diocese.
Fr. Antweiler described the parishioners there as “real salt-of-the-earth people.”
“They were very country folks, even though a lot of them worked in Jefferson City,” he said. “Their roots were in the soil, that’s where their identity was, where their faith home was.”
He enjoyed his time in Vienna, which lasted about three years.
“I got to celebrate my 10th anniversary as a priest with the good people of Visitation Parish and got to play Abe Lincoln in a town parade,” he recalled.
With Rolla came the challenge of nearly doubling the size of the church building and of buying a new, on-campus location for the Rolla Newman Center.
It was also the first time Fr. Antweiler had associate pastors to work with, including Father James Finder and the later Father Charles Pardee.
Again, he was amazed at the diversity of the city and its parish.
“Of course, you have the (Missouri University of Science and Technology) there and the U.S. Geological Survey,” he said. “And it’s right at the crossroads of so many cultures. That made it a very interesting and exciting time for me.”
Life slowed down a bit for Fr. Antweiler during his time in St. Thomas in rural Cole County.
“St. Thomas the Apostle is a wonderful little parish,” he said. “In some ways, it was a respite for me. I have many happy memories from there.”
Monroe City and Indian Creek brought him into contact with some “extremely open and inviting people.”
“That’s how they were: very generous, very active, always inviting of other people,” he said. “They were really glue for that community.
“When they had their high-school prom, the young people of the parish would come to Saturday night Mass first — and bring their Protestant boyfriends and girlfriends,” he said. “It was a big thing, and we had prayers for them.”
He called St. Stephen in Indian Creek “the oldest and one of the most active and alive parishes in the diocese.”
He joyfully reminisced about celebrating with Monroe County parishioners the 150th anniversary of Venerable Father Augustus Tolton’s birth and baptism in Brush Creek.
Born into a family of enslaved people, Fr. Tolton eventually came the Roman Catholic Church’s first recognizably Black priest in the United States. He is under serious consideration for being declared a saint.
“We had a big banner out over the main street into town,” Fr. Antweiler said of the 2004 event. “People from all over came to the celebration.”
As pastor in Loose Creek and Bonnots Mill, Fr. Antweiler marveled at how two parishes could be so different from one another. Members of both parishes were very proud of their individual history and identity.
While he was in Loose Creek, parishioners built onto Immaculate Conception School, increasing its space by about one-third.
He remembers receiving a call from Monsignor Gregory L. Higley, who was vicar general, asking if he’d consider leading one of the diocese’s largest parishes.
“I said, ‘Wow! I’m used to having several hundred families. I.C. (in Jefferson City) has 1,400!’” he recalled. “But it sounded like an exciting challenge, and it’s been an exciting seven years.”
Again, Fr. Antweiler was serving a parish in a diverse community with a strongly rooted base.
“We have parishioners from all over the place,” he noted. “I always love having Mass. We have great singing, and it’s very hospitable, very welcoming.”
He ministered with seven associate pastors in his seven years at I.C., including priests from Nigeria, Peru, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States.
“I.C. to me is a parish family,” he said. “Maybe because it’s so big — there’s a rootedness but also an openness to other people.”
Perhaps the most difficult time for him in recent years was when he was sick with COVID and had to spend 10 days alone in his room in the rectory.
“I don’t like saying Mass alone,” he said. “Yes, the saints were there, the angels were there, but I couldn’t hear them pray the responses.”
Fr. Antweiler hasn’t determined what this next phase of Priesthood will bring for him.
“There are all kinds of exciting things I could do now,” he stated. “I just need to sit back for a while and figure out what to do next.”
He said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight “has been so gracious and generous and supportive of where I am and where I need to be.”
Fr. Antweiler is grateful to be healthy and able to continue offering Mass and praying for the whole Church every day.
“I believe the ‘secret’ to the joy and depth of God is to get my mind into the game; to come with an attitude — a gratitude attitude; to get into the zone — a gratitude zone,” he said.
He knows that he can retire from being a pastor, but he’ll remain a priest forever.
“I’m a servant,” he said. “That’s in my heart.”
So is puzzle-making.
“Hopefully, (the crossword puzzle is) building up the Body of Christ by helping the people get to know the geography and history of our diocese, the structure of the Church, the saints, Scripture ... that kind of thing,” he said.
When asked what he would like people to pray for when they pray for him, he suggested a prayer that he offers up each day:
“Transform me, transform my life. I trust that You have an incredible plan for me. Everything is on the table. Take what You want to take. Give what You want to give. Transform me into the person You created me to be so that I can live the life You envision for me. I hold nothing back, and I’m 100-percent available. ...’”
“And I love the last part!” he paused before concluding: “How can I help? This is all Your work! Amen.”
The prayer is from evangelizer Matthew Kelly, founder of The Dynamic Catholic.
“I heard it once, and I said, ‘I will make that my mantra. That prayer that I will say every day,’” said Fr. Antweiler.