A dying priest's message: "I'm now afforded a pulpit that few preachers have"

A dying priest's message: "I'm now afforded a pulpit that few preachers have" September 6, 2011

His journey with cancer is turning into the greatest homily of his life, and he shares it with everyone he meets.

Details, from the Courier in Waterloo, Iowa:

These days, the Rev. Everett “Ev” Hemann seemingly holds a captive audience at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Cedar Falls.

Some say his homilies are getting better, that his preaching is increasingly profound. Parishioners say the messages are more inspiring and the application more tangible.

That may be true.

Hemann, 66, wonders if perhaps parishioners are listening to his words a little more closely these days.

Last spring, doctors diagnosed Hemann with pancreatic cancer. He is undergoing chemotherapy treatments but said the disease is terminal.

Hemann believes his time on this earth is short, and he wants to make the most of it. This means continuing with his regular responsibilities to the best of his ability as the priest of St. Patrick Catholic Church, where he’s been the head priest since 2009. For Hemann, it also means being open and candid about his death and dying and helping others come to terms with it.

“I’m now afforded a pulpit that few preachers have,” Hemann said.

In between the homilies and the staff meetings and the chemotherapy treatments, he also has been busy hosting dozens of friends and acquaintances who have come to say goodbye, whether they can articulate that or not.

Hemann, a native of Stacyville, has connections far and wide. His career includes teaching and preaching stints in Cedar Rapids, Ames and Dubuque. He taught at Columbus High School, served on numerous boards and councils and served many years as a campus pastor in Ames.

And while he hopes to avoid the focus being too much on him, Hemann also recognizes the potential to influence, instruct, comfort and encourage — all within the job description of a priest, one might contend.

“And I feel I have a unique position. I’m a public figure. I feel comfortable talking about it,” Hemann said.

Often, he relies on his trademark humor. Hemann once corralled the staff together at St. Patrick Catholic Church to discuss a “deep pastoral problem” in the parish. Really, Hemann wanted help picking out which caps to wear when he lost his hair to chemo.

Deacon Peter Loving remembers the moment, which is classic ‘Ev.’ The ice-breaker also served a pragmatic purpose.

“At the same time, it helped us face all there is to come,” Loving said.

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2 responses to “A dying priest's message: "I'm now afforded a pulpit that few preachers have"”

  1. He’s a good man and a fine priest. He and I shared time on the archdiocese’s Jubilee 2000 committee and in diocesan liturgy. He hired me to my current parish in 2008–his last year at the Catholic student center here at Iowa State. Indeed inspiring.

  2. One of the things I most admired about Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was his willingness to speak frankly about his struggle with cancer and his process of dying once doctors determined his illness could not be controlled. Too few of us are able to speak openly about such things, for obvious reasons, but what a gift when one can. (Bernardin’s book, The Gift of Peace, which he finished in the last week or two of his life, is truly a gift.)

    May God bless Fr. Hemann with peace and joy, both in this life and the next.

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