By Jay Nies
Dominican Father Ronald Kreul has enjoyed the past six years of ministering to priests of the Jefferson City diocese.
Serving as minister to priests, he has gone to great lengths to help them look after their own wellbeing, thrive in their ministry and be successful in their Priesthood.
He has helped priests from other countries get their paperwork in order and become more acclimated to ministering in this culture.
He has provided ongoing formation for newly ordained priests, helping them reconcile their seminary formation with the unpredictable realities of parish life and the mission field.
He has traversed the diocese, filling in for priests during vacations, sabbaticals and sickness.
He has helped plan retreats and other activities with the diocesan Ministry to Priests Committee.
He has helped some priests navigate recovery from illness and accompanied others through their last days on this earth.
He has been servant of the servants of God, and what he has seen through that lens has filled him with amazement.
“I could have never imagined the depth of the commitment and the love and patience and the desire to serve the Lord that I’ve found in ministering to the priests of this diocese,” he said.
Fr. Kreul recently packed up his pudgy blue fish, sewn for him by his parishioners in 1982, and is heading north to do for a while what he’s been helping other priests do: minister in a parish.
“I am an itinerant preacher,” he noted. “As a member of a religious order and especially as a Dominican, you don’t stay in one place for very long.”
With a background and education in preaching, ministering in parishes, leading retreats and missions, and counseling families, Fr. Kreul in 2012 answered Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos’ call to minister to the priests of this diocese.
Bishop Gaydos saw that having priests from all over the world spread out over his 22,000-square-mile jurisdiction presented distinct challenges to helping all of them excel in their ministry.
He, Fr. Kreul and the leader of his Dominican province agreed for Fr. Kreul to serve as minister to priests here for three years. Thereafter, they would decide year-to-year whether he should continue.
With Bishop Gaydos’ retirement last fall and Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s installation in February, the Dominican leadership thought this would be a good time for Fr. Kreul to begin a new ministry.
“It’s a natural time of transition,” said Fr. Kreul.
Bishop McKnight has appointed Father Mark Porterfield JCL to serve as vicar for priests. He and Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki VG will take on many of what had been Fr. Kreul’s responsibilities.
“God working in them”
Fr. Kreul said that in his time here, he has encountered the depth and breadth of holiness that God bestows on His people through His priests — their gifts, their desires and even their shortcomings.
“I’ve gotten to see how they actually live their Priesthood and grow in it,” he said.
He’s witnessed newly ordained priests become better ministers and pastors through experience and ongoing formation.
“You see the Word becoming enfleshed in how they learn to live out the Priesthood,” he said. “There’s no doubt for me that it’s God working in them, through what they encounter in their ministries.”
The seminary helps prepare priests for many for situations they will encounter, but not all of them.
“In whatever situation, you have to be the presence of Christ,” said Fr. Kreul.
He believes priests become more effective ministers over time as they accumulate experience, personal and ministerial.
This is all the more likely if they consistently work at learning and improving.
“For instance, when someone is grieving, most priests know how to be supportive,” he said. “But they themselves have to encounter many of those same situations in this life in order to be able to really reach down into the depths of their ministry at any given moment.
“The difference is the lived reality as opposed to the intellectual knowledge of the reality,” he said. “We have to discover the intellectual reality of the faith, but then we have to live it.”
“You helped them get there”
Sister Kathleen Wegman SSND, chancellor for the diocese, said she appreciates the distinctly Dominican charism Fr. Kreul brought to his ministry and to the people he worked with in the diocesan Chancery offices.
She believes he’s been especially helpful to priests from other countries.
“Your dedication to them and your concern about their wellbeing has been invaluable,” she said.
Father Gregory Meystrik, moderator of the curia for the diocese, especially lauded the compassion and assistance Fr. Kreul gave to priests who were dying.
“Our brother priests who are hopefully now in heaven are so grateful for having had you take care of them,” said Fr. Meystrik.
“You helped them get there. You have really been the face of Christ for so many of my brother priests, our brother priests.”
Preacher in a parish
Fr. Kreul plans to spend the next year living in community with 10 other Dominican priests and serving as parochial administrator of St. Rita parish in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“I’m going back into regular ministry for a short time, where I’ll be preaching and ministering in the regular primary life of the Church for a priest,” he said.
He’s looking forward to helping the people there reach a deeper understanding of the reality of God’s Word; practice actively applying that reality to concrete situations; share what they’ve learned and experienced among the people closest to them; and help people outside the faith community learn to do the same.
“I’m not a parish priest,” he pointed out. “I’m a preacher who will be working in a parish.”
He hopes the people here will remember him in prayer.
“For me the best way you could pray for me is to pray that the people that I serve will be as diligent and caring for me as the people I have served here have been caring for me,” he said.
“Care for your priests”
Even more important, he wants the people of this diocese to keep looking out for and praying for their priests.
“Your responsibility here is to care for your priests and one another,” he said. “Maybe remember me, but direct your attention to the people who are here before you, and have a certain generosity toward them.”
He said it’s important for parishioners to be present to and share their faith with their priests.
Praying for them — and being completely open to how God responds — helps priests thrive in their ministry.
“Pray for your priest’s own relationship to God to be deepened,” Fr. Kreul suggested. “Pray for him also to see his work as being fruitful for the Lord.
“Also, pray that as he struggles with whatever difficult situations he’s faced with, he’ll ask for help not only from God but also the people in the pews.”