by Joe Bollig
CORNING — When Tony Heideman was a younger man, one person he admired very much was fellow St. Patrick parishioner Albert Boeckman.
“It seemed like he volunteered for everything in the parish,” said Heideman, a parishioner of St Patrick Church in Corning since 1947. “I think that rubbed off on me.”
Boeckman, who died in 1973, was particularly useful in the parish cemetery. Back then, the men of the parish would dig the graves by hand and Boeckman would frequently volunteer. It was hard work.
In some ways, Heideman is following the example of Boeckman, although nowadays graves are dug using machinery. He’s in charge of keeping track of the burials in the parish cemetery, selling the plots and marking off the plots where new graves will be dug.
He’s training two of his sons to take over this duty, for whenever in the future he “retires” from parish volunteering.
Volunteering at the parish is something Heideman, 82, has done at St. Patrick’s since he was a boy. He was an altar server at a time when the Mass was celebrated in Latin.
As a young man, he helped build the current church. But before it was finished, he was called into the U.S. Army. When his hitch was over, he came home to a finished, new church.
Other than a short period working as the church janitor, Heideman worked as a dairy farmer. The hours were long, but he found time to teach religious education classes for five years.
“It was a natural thing to volunteer,” said Heideman.
For many years, fellow parishioner Frank Steinlage took care of the parish facilities. But when ill health forced him to step down from that role, the parish looked for another person.
In about the mid-1990s, Abbot Owen Purcell, OSB, asked Heideman if would take over Steinlage’s duties. He agreed.
“He did a lot more than I did,” said Heideman. “He’d mow the grass, and I didn’t do that.”
In this position, Heideman makes sure the doors are locked and unlocked at the right times, the lights are on or off, and the heating and/or cooling is turned to the correct setting. If some small thing needs fixing or to be made, he does it.
One day, pastoral associate Sister Mary Beth Niehaus, OSB, asked Heideman to be the sacristan.
So now he does that, too.
Not only is Heideman an authority on “who’s who and where” in the parish cemetery, he’s the “go-to guy” for “when did it happen?”
“When anybody wants any information on parish-related matters, they say, ‘Ask Tony,’” said pastor Father Mariadas Sesetti. “Being available to the parish for a long time on a voluntary basis is a sure sign of a vocation.
“He is the church man of Corning.”