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Journal Entries - Priesthood

Excerpts from Personal Journals of Philip Roets

March 27, 1983.
Palm Sunday! This was the beginning of a week I dreaded for years. All through the seminary days, 13 years, this was a week of retreat. Usually the retreat master was the dregs of the barrel because all the good speakers were working elsewhere. At the seminary we had the unabridged ceremonies & the retreat master was expected to participate.

After I was ordained I was sent to all the “out-of-the-way” places the first three years because I wasn’t going home for Easter. In Rome, I was disgusted more than ever with the hypocrisy of the Roman clergy in this “holy season.” Then for 10 years I was in Minneapolis every year for the whole week. The surroundings were pleasant but we sat in the box 7- 9 hrs a day either being nibbled to death with peccadillos or “gassed” to death with alcoholic yearlings. Old J.D. Donphy, the pastor, would set up a temporary in the sanctuary but only for the deaf, Old people would come to him. He commented on the penitent’s life with grunts and groans of amazement which could be heard through the whole church. When nobody came, he would stand up and stare over his confessional and say very diplomatically, “Oh, my God - all the Twin Cities.” Then, he would leave.

Then there was the scrupulous lady in D.C. who went all over the District picking up the Palm and bringing it to Donovan. We were supposed to sort out the blessed palm and keep it.

March 28, 1983.
This weekend was a good relaxing time for me. I took a good nap Saturday afternoon. I had two good walks. I shoveled snow twice. I read a novel, browsed through the Books of the Bible, read part of the book on old customs in Iowa, and did a lot of reminiscing with you. It seems almost impossible that much of what I was recalling happened 35-50 years ago. I was really full of “piss & vinegar” in those days. I was quite bold, sometimes brazen, but seldom rash.

I enjoyed most of what I was doing. I always enjoyed working with people and still do. I often felt cramped by the structure that made the work possible. The good part is that I can look back, enjoy what I did, and keep on working and enjoying it today. Fortunately, I pulled out before I was bitter. So many of the priests and religious had become embittered spiteful men by the age of fifty. There was a sort of vengeance in all they did.

April 1, 1983.
Hebdomeda Sancta is rolling full force. We always sang the Passion in 3 parts and I had the high part. Most of the time I could keep within my range. One year, in Minneapolis, J.D. Donphy was sitting on his Monsignoral throne and we were singing away. For some reason, Bill Coates went sharp and raised all our parts. I did all right until I hit one part, I screeched and squeaked to a halt just as J.D. in a loud rumble said, “Oh my God! he’s choking.” We took a new note and continued to the end.

Another time in the seminary I was an acolyte. I was standing next to Bill Fitz, the subdeacon, holding the book. Bill Murphy was singing the Exultet. As Murphy paused for breath and some ritual, Fitz stomach started to growl. Fitz started to laugh and the growl got worse. We managed to get to the end. After the service, Murphy said he was afraid Fitz would end it all with a loud fart. - Now it doesn’t seem very humorous but in the confines of the seminary chapel, at a solemn service, at the end of retreat, is was hilarious.

January 13, 1995.
I can imagine dental or bodily pain. I haven’t an inkling about hot flashes although I have heard one or the other cuss out the whole arrangment of bearing children. At a women’s retreat at the Cenacle in Milwaukee, years ago, one woman wrote a note for the Discussion Period. It started, “I dare you to read this.” She had 6 boys, all grown and responsible young men. She described periods and then gave a lengthy, very graphic, detailed description of menopause. She concluded “If God had been a woman or had a woman co-worker, there would have been some fairness and justice in this picture.”

As retreat master, I read the note. There was a chorus of agreement and I was left to defend God. Needless to say, I didn’t try. I did agree the picture did leave something to desired on the score of wisdom and justice.

August 12, 1996.
You mentioned stories. I could write a book just on the parishes where I helped out in St Louis area, Wisconsin, DC-NY area. Some of the stories deal with the trip to and from. Some have various pastors at the center. Some are the priest houses themselves and stories attached to them.

My dad was a master story teller but so were all the boys in his family, especially Jack. There was no TV and they did not turn on the radio when company came. The women visited and told their stories. The men visited and told their stories. On the way home we would hear both sides of the record.

The Lohkamps (Phil’s mother’s side) were not storytellers. They talked more of politics and crops and prices and church events, and sermons. Both sides (Roets and Lohkamps) played a lot of cards in the cold or wet weather. The Lohkamps zeroed in on cards & only grunted now and then. The Roets took time for full scale stories and then the card games resumed.

March 31, 1996.
Palm Sunday! This was one of the Sundays I detested as a priest. People came out of the woodwork to get their blessed palms. As the priest distributed them, he was supposed to let people kiss his hand. I got pretty good at snatching my hand back before their lips could touch me. Once in a while someone was too fast.

Mom was a great believer in palms. She braided and curled and coiled and tied them. There had to be palm in every room with enough left over to burn a bit in every storm. She lit the blessed candle, prayed to a couple of saints, lit the palm and then went back to work.

One time I got in trouble because I had taken the palm down from our room and was using it to tickle my brother under the nose while he was asleep. Mom caught me and told me what a terrible sin that was and I had to tell it in confession. I told it but the priest didn’t seem upset.

This was also the day on which they sang the Passion in 3 parts in the seminary. It was really nice but it was really long. My last year in Oc-Oc (Oconomowoc), I was one of the 3 singers. I had the high part which meant I was the narrator with the longest part. Some of the students maintained we set a record for speed, if not music, that year.

In Rome, most of the Churches had a big procession outside. This was one of the days Italians went to Church.

April 7, 1996.
Happy Easter! Freoliche Ostern! Or, as we said in the seminary - “Gladsome Oysters.” This desecration of the German made Treinen mad so we delighted in saying it in his hearing but not to him. If he butted in to correct us, we said it rightly to him and then said it our way to the next person. Treinen approached Father Flanagan to get him to stop us. Flanagan’s answer: “They are not good linguists, especially in German.”

August 4, 1984.
For me, (Pope John XXIII) Roncalli fits in with the great people in my life - Joe Flanagan, Leo Hagemann, John Zeller, Ben Lenz, Charlie Heinz. (All CSsRs) These were men of achievement whom I knew touched my life and helped to form me in the principles and talents I have.

None of them succeeded in everything they tried. All of them met fierce opposition from life and were often frustrated but they succeeded in establishing a lasting progress for the people around them. I think Roncalli was one of the most victimized men ever caught up by the Vatican. He knew they were relegating him to the outposts of civilization in Turkey but he really did a tremendous work there. He was considered at all times a person to be hidden by the diplomats of the Vatican. Then John’s greatness pushed him into the breach in France and his momentum never stopped until he died.

I detest the church officials for what they did to him but I find John the kind of hero that makes hope possible - just as I thrill at Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson & Roosevelt when I stand at the foot of Rushmore. They inspire me to do what I can where I am.

October 30, 1984.
I did a lot of thinking during and after the movie, last night. I have tossed and turned the ideas, ideals, plans and setbacks over in my mind hundreds of times. As I saw the bottom squeezed out of John XXIII’s goals, I knew I couldn’t accept the structure any more. I still wanted to do the good for others that I had set out to do from the 7th-8th grade on. As years go by, I find myself more and more convinced of the way the Jewish plan worked and was adapted by the first Christians. Ideals succeed only in small groups. The Jews limited this influence to 20 adults, then the new group had to be formed. Some one person can coordinate the activities of hundreds or thousands of these groups. But the authority and effectiveness has to stay in that small group.

The tendency is the opposite. The coordinator becomes the Bishop, the Pope, the Emperor, the Hitler, the Stalin, and brutal enslavement has to follow and destroy freedom, creativity and true friendship

October 31, 1984.
I worked with a lot of high school juniors and seniors in the ten years that I conducted week-end retreats at the CYC in Minneapolis. Almost all of them came from Metro Minneapolis-St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs. I had a lot of people talk with me of their problem and questions rising from deep melancholy. Most of the time I was able to be something of an anchor. I did not know many of the aspects of gifted people as I have now learned. I never patronized them. I made Christian ideals and principles a matter of free, personal choice and interpretation. Of course, most of them I could never follow up. What happened in the next bout of depression, I don’t know.

January 7, 1985.
Your description of the effects of the liturgical ritual struck a chord. I liked chapel and meditation time. It was the quietest place in the house. No one would disturb you ordinarily. I could walk up and down and think and plan. For the 22 years as a priest, I had to be reading the Latin or the English so it was not a time for private meditation for me. I could think about the words but they were not my personal thoughts.

March 6, 1985.
You were talking about genetics, last night. We had a lot about the topic in the 40’s. Of course, it was a very controversial issue at that time and there were a lot of extreme opinions on both ends. The most balanced picture I received was at Catholic U. from a Dr.Cavanaugh M.D. He and (Father) Frankie Connell taught Pastoral medicine. They got along very well. Cavanaugh taught 3 classes a week on “medicine” as it touched human behavior. Connell taught one class a week on Pastoral theology as it advised human behavior. On the 5th day, the two of them discussed or debated the week’s presentations together. They were always both present for all classes. I got a lot of sane approach to human behavior & pastoral counseling at that time. Many practices were verboten (forbidden) in other CSsR monasteries and in most parishes. So I just applied the knowledge as I saw fit.

September 18, 1985.
The funeral is over and it was a pleasant positive experience for me. I was dreading the sermon after that experience in Pella during the summer. However, as I said, this man did a very creditable job both in content and delivery. I find it difficult to listen to anyone if the content is not solidly based, well-organized and well-presented and if the style of delivery is not natural, clear and easy to follow.

December 15, 1986.
Yesterday’s paper had a notice about Christmas Eve services in different churches. I was reminded of how much I hated Christmas Eve as a priest. Several hours were spent in the confessional listening to old ladies’ peccadilloes, little kids’ memorized statements and liquor-begotten resolutions of winos and yearling lambs. Then I had to come from there and preach at the midnight Mass on Christmas cheer. Most of the time I could make the transition. Sometimes I didn’t.

December 26, 1986.
Christmas ‘86 is now a Christmas Past with all that have preceded. Today is the feast of St. Stephen in the church calendar. In 1951, I walked clear across the city of Rome, alone, at 5:30 a.m., in the total dark, past the Vatican and St. Peter’s, to the convent of the Sorrowful Mother Nuns. I was scheduled to say Mass between 7:30 - 8:00 so I wanted to be on time. I was about 45 minutes early. Today, I wouldn’t even ride in a car on such a trip and at that time, I never gave it a second thought. There was an American breakfast cooked by an American at the end of the visit. I think that lured me more than anything.

March 23, 1987.
Seeing some of the hierarchy playing omniscient and infallible on the news & reading the article in the Register, stirred up old memories. However, there is a new touch. I felt very little antagonism and no bitterness. I felt pity for the narrow gauge tracks of their minds. I used to wonder why more of the bishops did not following the example of the auxiliary in St. Paul & leave. I realize that the men who are chosen are already fully brainwashed or quickly become so.

It will really be interesting when the Polish Pope (John Paul II) comes here. The Polish people in Milwaukee & Chicago were avid fans of birth control and abortion years ago. In fact, their pastors refused to allow the parish missionaries to talk on either subject. They did not want the people disturbed. It will be interesting to be an outside observer to see how the Pope plays his two opposing desires: Big donations - and omniscient infallible leader.

May 31, 1987.
I am not being indifferent to the questions you have in regard to your family matters. I’ll be more than happy to help in any way I can but I know from experience it is best to let you make all those decisions alone. I was called on as a priest many hundreds of times to listen in on these questions. I did just that. I listened. My input was almost all negative. I would assure them there was no immorality in their decisions. I did not prove that it was right or in any way make the decision.

October 24-26, 1987.
Each time I see a room in the dormitory, I think of the priest from Switzerland who was at Catholic U. my first year in 1948-49. He lived on campus and had a room at Caldwell Hall about half the size of U.of Iowa dorm rooms. He spoke English fairly well but was shy and knew absolutely no one. He was in a class with 12 of us. He belonged to an obscure order working only in Africa. After 4 weeks he stopped me and asked if he could come over to the CSsR house for a few hours. I asked why and he said, “Ich bin ganz allein, ganz allein fur ein Monat.” (I am all alone, all alone, for a month.)

I went up to his room and looked. It was neat as a pin, barren and lonely. I told the rest of our class. Three of them lived in Caldwell so they invited him out of his room and things leveled off. He was quite a nice man.

November 1-2, 1987.
The temperature, this morning, is a warm 60- warm for the 2nd of November. As I wrote the date I recalled there were four birthdays in the seminary on November 2 and all four men are dead. Three died in car accidents - Joe Ostrander, Jim Breitenbeck, Pete Hoffman and one died of a heart attack - Sparky Tobin. That is really a coincidence.

This was a day welcome in the big parishes in Chicago. Each priest could read or sing 3 Masses and take a stipend for each. St. Mike’s ran high Masses every half-hour from 5:00 to 1:00 and from 6:00-9:00. Each Mass included the Libera and some of the old timers could finish with 5 minutes to spare. The organist was unbelievable on other days but it was truly a disgrace on Nov 2. He brought his newspaper, thermos, and lunch up to the organ. He started singing on the 1st stroke of the entrance bell and was finished with the Introit and Kyrie as the priest opened the book. The Dies Irae took about 30 seconds if he had a cold. - The Requiem High Mass with the Libera brought a stipend of $50 to $100. On Nov 2, only the Rector and the church Prefect knew the exact amount. Such a business!

December 8, 1987.
This was also the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. This was probably one of the most controverted dogmas in the history in infallible pronouncements. It was the statement that really made my belief shake. I saw the far-fetched arguments from Scripture that were used as the basis. Then there was one even shakier argument from tradition. Finally, Pius IX went into seclusion and prayed for enlightenment and came out with the official pronouncement in 1854. Theologians had been adamant against it and the next day, they were fawning over the Pope’s statement. I always felt it made the greatness of Mary less when they had to romanticize her by an immaculate conception and a virginal conception and birth. I never preached or taught either statement.

December 14, 1987.
When I wrote to John Kolanko last night, I thought of Bill & Ty (all 3 priests of Milwaukee). The emotions were not of attachment or loss. As Ty said, he was fundamentally a coward. He found all kinds of objections to the institution but he was content to let it carry him. Bill was the man who suffered. He did much to help others but he found no safety or solace in the structure. He just closed off part of his mind and kept going.

February 14, 1988.
As I was watching "Faulty Towers" (British sitcom on public TV) last night, I realized who the Spanish character reminded me of. The CSsR's had a Brother Juan. He had been with the order over 40 years when I first met him. He had always been stationed in San Antonio.

One year, when I was giving the Brother's retreats, he came to Glenview to join the group. He came to my room before the retreat started to apologize for his lack of English. He understood almost nothing and, therefore, would probably sleep through the conferences. So he did. After the retreat, I saw him in a group of 10 or 12 brothers, regaling them with stories and being - in general - the center of attention. I mentioned the fact to (Father) John Glennon and a couple of the monks and they laughed uproariously. Brother Juan had slept through every sermon ever given. He always approached the retreat master with an excuse that fitted the occasion.

He's the same guy who was approached by a prostitute in San Antonio. Without batting an eye, he replied, "Not during Lent." His age also varied with the occasion.

More Entries about Phil's priesthood will be added as all of his journals are reviewed.

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