By Jay Nies
Reading, learning new things, figuring out the electronic devices he already owns, and discovering new members of his extended family.
These are just some of the things Monsignor Donald W. Lammers PA hopes to pursue now that he’s giving up the daily responsibilities of a pastor.
Filling-in for priests around the diocese and offering weekday Masses in Jefferson City, he hopes to continue “collecting cousins.”
“In my family kinship, I have many, many blood relatives,” he noted. “So in most parishes I’ve been assigned to, I’ve been able to find people I’m kin to, either closely or distantly. This has been fun for me.”
Effective July 1, Msgr. Lammers, 83, will retire from being a pastor and will take up residence in the Cathedral of St. Joseph rectory in Jefferson City.
“It will be hard for me to give up all the fulfilling ministry involved in being pastor of a parish,” he stated. “On the other hand, the leisure aspect of being retired will feel very good.”
He’s looking forward to living in community with other priests, which he did during his years as pastor of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City, as well as when he was a young associate pastor.
“I think it will be kind of a natural environment for me,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for which I give thanks to God and to all the people involved.”
“Reconciling with reality”
In his 51 years of Priesthood, he has served at Ss. Peter and Paul in Boonville, Holy Rosary in Monroe City, Immaculate Conception in Jefferson City, the Rolla Newman Center, St. Joseph in Salisbury, the diocesan Religious Education Office, St. Cecilia in Meta, Sacred Heart in Rich Fountain and St. Peter in Jefferson City.
He has been at Sacred Heart in Eldon since 2010.
He said he wrestled with the decision to make the leap toward the retirement phase of Priesthood.
Late last year, he thought about what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in 2013 in announcing that he would resign from the papacy.
“He said that he recognized in himself a decline in mental and physical strength,” Msgr. Lammers recalled. “And I think I can honestly say I understand what he meant — the same reality has touched me also.”
It finally came down to “reconciling with reality,” Msgr. Lammers stated.
He’ll continue to offer Mass every day, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and help out whenever available and needed.
Loss and gain
Msgr. Lammers won’t miss going to meetings, although he realizes they’re “a necessary discipline” toward carrying-out the temporal and spiritual works of a parish.
Neither will he miss “the various other necessary administrative things that a pastor has to give attention to,” he said. “I won’t miss paying bills!”
But he will miss presiding at Sunday Mass each week with the same community.
“There’s something wonderful about offering Mass at a parish where you’re pastor,” he said. “It’s so natural, fulfilling, uplifting. There’s a certain sense of ‘we,’ one body, that I experience as a pastor that won’t be quite the same when I’m no longer a pastor.”
He’s grateful that God called him to be a priest, and he’s looking forward to living out that calling in new and perhaps unexpected ways.
He noted that since his ordination, God has never stopped “stretching” him — leading him out of his comfort zone to do things he never thought he’d be doing.
That may well continue.
“Getting older is not for sissies!” he noted. “There’s a huge amount of stretching that happens, even though you wish to goodness that it wouldn’t!
“Accepting that I am no longer able to do some of what I used to do, some of what I used to enjoy, and coming to peace with that involves a certain kind of stretching — spiritual and emotional,” he said.
Time enough at last
With the stretching will come relaxing.
He’s looking forward to reading and rereading some good books, including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth trilogy; a scripture scholar’s reexamination of the timeframes in which of the books of the New Testament were written; and “biographies and historical books about the personalities and history of the early years of the United States.”
He’d also like to sign up for some “learning in retirement” courses, which he would find more fulfilling than simply learning things online.”
“Spending time with people who are united in pursuing a common interest is fun,” he said, adding that learning has always been an enjoyable experience for him.
He’s gotten to do a lot of traveling as a priest, and he’s looking forward to doing some more, including a sightseeing trip to Mexico with fellow priests later this year.
He offers this advice to priests who are about to become pastors for the first time: “Love the people.”
By that he means the kind of total, self-giving love Jesus preached and modeled in the Gospels.
“Loving the people we’re called to serve through our assignment is very important,” Msgr. Lammers said. “It’s also a discipline that we must pursue, a virtue we have to make an effort to grow in.”
He urged new pastors to notice and enjoy the little things such as “the smile of a child, the affection of an elderly couple for each other.”
He also cautioned against allowing the parts of the Mass to become routine.
“We need to continuously train and discipline ourselves to say, ‘The Lord be with you’ and other acclamations at Mass and mean it from the heart!” he said. “When we give the final blessing, we need to say it like we mean every word of it!”
Msgr. Lammers is certain that God is still calling young men to be priests, but he believes it’s harder to hear the call than it used to be.
“It’s a very different world than when I started in the seminary 60 years ago,” he said.
Back then, he was excited about the opportunity to get a good education, meet new people and explore new horizons beyond his hometown in rural Cooper County.
“The very fact of going off to the seminary was adventurous!” he said. “I think a person has to say ‘no’ to more good options if they’re going to become a priest today than I did when I was young.”