by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It’s not every day that a priest returns to his home parish as pastor. Yet, that is what Father Tim Haberkorn did this past summer.
And he couldn’t be happier.
In July, Father Haberkorn left two rural parishes in Hartford and Olpe to become the new pastor of the recently combined parish of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph in Topeka.
Father Haberkorn, who grew up in Topeka as a parishioner of St. Joseph Church, said he never dreamed he’d end up with the chance to serve as pastor at his home parish, but he’s absolutely delighted with the assignment.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.
“For me, it’s not only about being pastor for the people I already know and love, but it’s also about my culture. I’m proud of my German-Russian culture,” he said. “The majority of the people within the parish have the same background as I do, and it’s wonderful to be able to share our heritage and its traditions together.”
When asked for some examples, “homemade noodles” was the first thing to come to the new pastor’s mind, but he also quickly added dancing together at the annual Germanfest and singing German songs at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
“It’s one thing to be the pastor of a parish and help them with their spiritual lives,” he said. “It’s quite another to be pastor of your roots.”
Father Haberkorn said he often thinks about what his grandparents, Ignatius and Mary Haberkorn, might have thought if they had lived to see him become the pastor of the German- Russian parish.
“Grandpa was Russian, and I’ve been back to the village where he grew up,” Father Haberkorn noted. “I wonder what he would think if he was still alive to see his grandson pastor of this national parish.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann formally installed Father Haberkorn as pastor of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish at the 10 a.m. Mass on Aug. 5 at Sacred Heart Church.
It is a process he is undertaking with every new pastor he names, and is the canonical term for the solemn entry of a parish priest into his new parish.
Often, it occurs weeks or months after the newly assigned priest has undertaken his new pastoral duties, but it gives the archbishop the opportunity to formally introduce the priest to the people.
The ceremony also includes a public profession of faith by the new pastor, in which he pledges to willingly serve the people of God within the context of his parish assignment.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann explained how reviving the practice of formally installing pastors has given him the opportunity to preach in parishes throughout the archdiocese.
“I have chosen to take full advantage of the ritual for a public installation of a pastor at a Sunday Mass because it emphasizes the importance of a pastor in the life of the parish community and the essential connection between the Eucharist and the priesthood,” said the archbishop.
“The installation of a pastor also gives me the opportunity to preach in our parishes about the importance of the priesthood for the life of the church. It is an opportunity to raise consciousness about the need for priests, the importance of our parish communities being supportive of our priests, and the responsibility of everyone in the archdiocese to promote and encourage vocations to the priesthood.”
Elsewhere in his homily, the archbishop explained the radical commitment made by priests to serve the Lord.
“The priest becomes for us a living proclamation of today’s Scripture readings. Having staked his whole life on following Jesus Christ, he reminds his people not to be foolish by placing their desire for happiness on worldly power, human recognition and/or material things,” he said. “The priest is a constant reminder that more important than anything in this world is our eternal destiny, and that the key to joy in this world is also the key to eternal life — following Jesus and striving to do the will of our heavenly Father.”
The archbishop also explained the seemingly impossible task faced by today’s parish priests.
“Pastors are expected to be learned theologians, competent spiritual directors, eloquent homilists, knowledgeable liturgists and capable administrators,” he explained. “We expect our pastors to be sensitive ministers of compassion to the sick and the dying, as well as dynamic youth leaders; to be skilled canon lawyers, but also creative community organizers; to be effective teachers of first-graders and adults with graduate degrees; to be prophets who speak the truth without equivocation, as well as healers who can unite diverse communities; to be experts in development and fundraising, and by word and example challenge us to the simplicity of life.
“We expect our pastors to be present at many, many meetings, available and accessible to all parishioners, fully immersed in the life of the parish and to be a man who spends a significant portion of each day in prayer.”
“In many ways, what is asked of our priests is impossible,” the archbishop said. “No pastor is or can be the master of all of these areas. Every pastor must depend first on the Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as well as on the assistance and collaboration of his parishioners.
“In many ways, the pastor is called to identify and unleash the gifts of his people, using his time and energy to empower them to meet the many needs of the parish and community. The post-Vatican II pastor has been compared to a symphony conductor. He should not and cannot play all the instruments, but he has to coordinate and direct the activities of all the prayers to bring about a wonderful and collective result.”
Concluding his remarks, the archbishop expressed gratitude for the gifts of Father Haberkorn.
“We give thanks in a particular way for Father Tim Haberkorn, who has accepted the call of Jesus to serve the church as a priest and to serve this community of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph as its shepherd. We ask the Lord to bless Father Tim’s priestly ministry and make it fruitful in building up and strengthening this wonderful community of faith.”
At the reception after the Mass, Father Haberkorn was presented with a housewarming present that was uniquely appropriate. Several women of the parish bought him a traditional Russian welcoming gift, which consists of salt, bread and wine.
“The salt is to remind me of the tears of leaving the place from where I came, the bread is to sustain me, and the wine is to be a symbol of joy,” explained Father Haberkorn.
“What a neat gift.”