Ed.: Bishop George Leo Thomas will celebrate his 35th anniversary of priestly ordination on May 22. A feature on his priestly ministry will appear in the June edition of The Montana Catholic.

Ten priests in the Diocese of Helena are celebrating ordination anniversaries of 50 to 65 years this spring and summer. Here are brief profiles of each priest.


65 YEARS

FATHER JOSEPH OBLINGER

Until he fell ill with pneumonia in 2007, Father Joseph Oblinger never had been admitted to a hospital.

Father Joseph Oblinger “I don’t plan on going again,” he said this month as he edged toward his 90th birthday on May 25, and the 65th anniversary of his ordination as a priest for the Diocese of Helena, on May 30. His plans do include more ministry, more hiking on the mountain trails that he loves and perhaps writing a fourth book.

On senior status since 1991, Father Oblinger lives in Bozeman and is the sacramental minister for Our Lady of the Pines Parish in West Yellowstone and St. Joseph of Big Sky Mission. This winter, he got busy finishing his book about the late Diocese of Helena Bishop Joseph M. Gilmore, and therefore went downhill skiing only once.

Father Oblinger said his upcoming projects might include a book drawing on columns he used to write for the diocesan newspaper. His autobiography “Fisher of Men,” published in 2006, soon was followed by “Rescuing Vanishing Manhood,” about the challenges presented by fatherlessness. Father Oblinger is awaiting publication of the Gilmore book, possibly around Father’s Day. He said that in writing it he was thankful for the help of diocesan archivist Sister Dolores Brinkel, editorial assistant Marilyn Barnhardt and Steve Buckner, a Bozeman deacon candidate who provided technology assistance.

Born in Big Valley, Alberta, Father Oblinger grew up in Montana and was a college student when he felt the priesthood calling seriously. “I love the Church,” he told The Montana Catholic in a 2005 interview. Soon after earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in the state university system, he studied philosophy at Carroll College and then went to St. Edward’s Seminary near Seattle.

After ordination, he served in the Diocese of Helena chancery for five years, three as chancellor. Next came pastoral assignments at St. Ann Parish in Butte and St. John the Baptist in Frenchtown. Father Oblinger returned to the chancery and served there for 17 years. He was the chaplain at Good Shepherd Home for girls; pastored at the Cathedral of St. Helena and was vicar general; chaired the diocesan pastoral planning office; served as a liaison for Catholic Charismatic Renewal; and was the Montana-based director of the diocesan mission in Guatemala.

Father Oblinger was diocesan administrator between the departure of Bishop Raymond Hunthausen in 1975 and the arrival of Bishop Elden Curtiss in 1976, and served as retreat director, highlighted by 14 years as director of Christhaven.

A party celebrating 65 years in the priesthood is set for May 29 in Big Sky.


ARCHBISHOP RAYMOND G. HUNTHAUSEN

As a student at Carroll College, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen liked chemistry and math, and thought that eventually he might pursue a career as a chemical engineer.

Father Raymond G. Hunthausen “I didn’t have an intention of becoming a priest when I went off to college,” he said recently, but he did consider the possibility at the same time that he considered engineering. His Carroll spiritual director, Father Bernard Topel, helped him design an undergraduate education that “prepared me for the seminary just in case I wanted to go,” he said.

The seminary did indeed draw Archbishop Hunthausen, and on June 1, 1946, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Helena. He said he is astonished by the passage of 65 years since his ordination, and equally astonished by his longevity. His 90th birthday is on Aug. 21.

“My sentiments are fundamentally gratitude to God, that I would have been so privileged as to be called to be a priest and to serve in this diocese where I came to know and love so many people, my brother priests especially,” said Archbishop Hunthausen, born and raised in Anaconda. He said he is grateful, too, for having served in the Archdiocese of Seattle.

He became the president of Carroll College in 1957 and was named a monsignor the following year. Installation as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Helena came on Aug. 31, 1962, and within two months he went to Rome for the opening session of the Second Vatican Council. He was installed as archbishop of Seattle on May 22, 1975, and retired in 1991.

Over the years, Archbishop Hunthausen became known as a strong advocate of peace efforts, and expansion of Catholic social outreach and advocacy for the poor. Carroll now has the Hunthausen Center for Peace and Justice and annually confers the Raymond G. Hunthausen Award for Community Service.

Of the decision to enter the priesthood, he said, “When I came to the moment, I knew that this was where I belonged. It was the grace of God.”

He said a solid Catholic upbringing that included education in Catholic schools gave him a foundation for his life’s work. His education at Catholic institutions continued well beyond high school. In addition to the undergraduate years at Carroll, he studied at four other Catholic campuses: St. Louis University, The Catholic University of America, Fordham University and the University of Notre Dame.

Physical limitations restrict Archbishop Hunthausen’s activities, but he still hears confessions once a week in East Helena. He lives in Helena with his brother, Father Jack Hunthausen.


60 YEARS

FATHER GREGORY BURKE

Father Gregory Burke of Butte is retired, sort of. He went on senior status in 1998, but five days a week he provides pastoral care at St. James Healthcare in Butte, and he’s available to serve an additional two days if the hospital calls.

Father Gregory Burke “I love it, and I am able to help a lot of good people,” said Father Burke, 85 and for 60 years a priest.

He was born in Ireland’s County Cork and arrived in Montana at the age of 22. Ordination was about four years later, on May 16, 1951, at the Cathedral of St. Helena.

“I love my Catholic faith and I give a lot of gratitude to my parents, who were good, staunch Catholics,” he said. “I came from a good Catholic home, which I think is an ideal basis for vocations.”

His message to young men considering the priesthood: “Pray, pray and go for it.”

Diocese of Helena parishes Father Burke has served as pastor are St. Ann in Butte, Holy Rosary in Bozeman, Immaculate Conception in Deer Lodge, St. John the Evangelist in Butte and Holy Family in Three Forks. He served those parishes during the span from 1968 to mid-1997, finishing at St. Ann and then transitioning to senior status. Father Burke’s earlier assignments were in Eureka, Browning, at St. Patrick Parish in Butte and at St. Paul in Anaconda. Those assignments followed a faculty position, received in 1951, at Cathedral High School in Helena.

Father Burke said he enjoyed all of his Montana assignments. Looking at the broader Church, he believes the Second Vatican Council had “a real positive effect. It changed our Church for the better” by making it more accessible to people.

He studied at St. Finnbarr’s College, Mount Melleray College and St. Patrick’s- Thurles, all in Ireland, and at St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, Wash.

Father Burke still speaks with an Irish brogue and has returned to his birth country many times over the years. In 2004 he was one of the grand marshals for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Butte.

St. James Healthcare planned a jubilee reception on May 19, from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.


55 YEARS

MSGR. JOSEPH HARRINGTON

Msgr. Joseph Harrington remembers “practicing” Mass as a boy at an altar that was in his Butte home, courtesy of an aunt who thought it would be a nice gift.

Father Joseph Harrington “Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a priest,” said Msgr. Harrington, ordained at the Cathedral of St. Helena 55 years ago, on May 19, 1956. He was appointed episcopal vicar for Carroll College in 1978, was named monsignor in 2000 and was appointed episcopal vicar for seniorstatus clergy in 2005, a position he continues to hold.

He had good models of religious life when he attended Catholic elementary school with Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary as teachers, he said, and during his years in Butte’s public high school, he was a server in Mass. Most of his high school teachers were Catholic women.

Much of his service during his 55 years as a priest has been at Carroll College, where he held a variety of administrative positions and in 1969-74, served as president. In the classroom, he taught microbiology and other science classes at the diocesan college. Msgr. Harrington retired from teaching in 2000.

A Carroll alumnus, his graduate and post-graduate studies were at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. At CUA he reportedly was known as “Blast Off Joe” because as the hour for class approached, he would say “time to blast off,” according to a homily on the occasion of his golden jubilee in 2006.

Msgr. Harrington entered the field of education following brief assignments in Conrad and Eureka soon after his ordination. As a seminarian, he said, he expected to be in parish work for many years. He has done a lot of substitution service in Diocese of Helena parishes, and continues to celebrate Mass when asked.

“If I’m able to do it, I do, almost anywhere they ask me to go,” said Msgr. Harrington, who is 80 and lives in Helena.

Young men contemplating the priesthood “should realize that it’s a great way to serve the Lord and to serve people,” said Msgr. Harrington, uncle of Father Robert Hall at Butte Catholic Community North. “I did it mostly through teaching young people.”


FATHER WILLIAM GREYTAK

Father William Greytak and early priests of the Diocese of Helena share a Belgium link. A number of those early priests came from the tiny European country, and it was in Belgium that Father Greytak studied for the priesthood and then was ordained, on July 1, 1956. He likes having that connection.

Father William Greytak Attending American College at the University of Louvain “gave me an opportunity to get a wonderful education and see a lot of Europe,” said Father Greytak, rector at American College from 1978-83. Today he ministers in Boulder at St. Catherine Parish, where he has been the pastor since 1992. His background includes pastoral service at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Helmville, beginning in 1986.

At 80, Father Greytak is working in what ordinarily would be the retirement years. “I enjoy doing it, so why not do it?” he said.

As an undergraduate at Carroll College, the Butte native anticipated studying law. He felt the pull of the priesthood, though, and he remembers some exemplary priests who served as models for his vocational path.

A historian and a teacher, he said the academic year just ending marks the first time in many years that he did not instruct a class at Carroll.

History is his field, but soon after ordination he taught Spanish at the college. He subsequently studied romance languages at the University of Michigan and later enrolled at the University of California- Berkeley when it was a hotbed of student activism. “I was a student from Butte. Would I ever cross a picket line?” he asked rhetorically. He transferred to the University of Colorado, where he earned a doctorate in history.

At Boulder, he is proud of St. Catherine’s relatively new pastoral center and its availability for use by community groups or other churches. The center “should be shared,” he said.

In the summer, the historic church housing St. John the Evangelist Mission 15 miles southeast of Boulder is open, and Father Greytak celebrates Mass there as well as at St. Catherine. The mission church takes on a family reunion air, he said, as young adults who have moved away return home for summer visits, and worship with their families.

In his service as a priest, he said, he sees over and over “how supportive and good people are. They’re so appreciative of whatever you do for them.”


50 YEARS

FATHER JIM HOGAN

On the eve of what was to be his ordination as a sub-deacon in Washington, Father Jim Hogan backed out. The next day, men who were his classmates at St. Thomas Seminary near Seattle were ordained and the 25-year-old with second thoughts returned home to Montana, confused about his direction in life.

Father Jim Hogan Today, Father Hogan is 76 and preparing to celebrate 50 years in the priesthood.

He lives in Missoula, as he has for most of the years since he was ordained a priest on May 27, 1961, at the Cathedral of St. Helena. He went on senior status in 2006 after 22 years as pastor at Missoula’s Christ the King Parish and as director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Montana.

His work at Christ the King followed a year of pastoring Little Flower Parish in Browning. Earlier he was the founding pastor at Holy Family Parish in Missoula and Spirit of Christ in nearby Lolo, serving both for 10 years. His background also includes supervision of the Religious Education Center in Helena; pastoral service at the cathedral, St. Anthony Parish in Missoula and St. Ann Parish in Butte; and teaching at Catholic schools in Missoula, Butte and Helena.

Father Hogan grew up in Anaconda and attended Carroll College, where his basketball coach was Father Raymond Hunthausen, who later became the Diocese of Helena bishop and then the Seattle archbishop. Father Hogan said that in his post- Carroll period, thoughtful counsel amid the struggle about ordination came from Father Hunthausen and influenced the return to seminary and the walk to the priesthood.

Father Hogan has the seminary equivalent of a master’s degree in theological studies. He also holds a University of Montana master’s in educational administration and from Loyola University in Chicago, a master’s in pastoral studies.

His outreach beyond the parish community has included serving on committees and boards that worked to establish a new Missoula jail, to evaluate municipal goals and to guide the Poverello Center in its assistance for Missoula’s homeless and hungry. In 2000, Father Hogan received the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center’s Peacemaker of the Year Award for exemplifying commitment to social justice and nonviolence.

The 50th anniversary of Father Hogan’s ordination will be celebrated on May 27 at Christ the King Parish. Liturgy will be followed by a meal.


FATHER JIM HAZELTON

Father Jim Hazelton remembers thinking the 24 months of car payments looming before him more than 50 years ago were a reason to sideline thoughts of studying for the priesthood. Finish paying for the car, he figured, and then examine whether he should move from classroom teaching, which had been his work for eight years, to life as a priest.

Father Jim Hazelton But those car payments notwithstanding, he discussed vocations with Diocese of Helena Bishop Joseph M. Gilmore, for whom he had been a boyhood trainbearer years earlier at the Cathedral of St. Helena. Father Hazelton recalls the bishop saying, “Well, Hazy, how do you feel?” The reply: “I think I should be doing more with my life than I am now doing.”

This month, Father Hazelton celebrates 50 years as a diocesan priest, most of those years as a missionary in Guatemala. May 27 marks the anniversary of his ordination in 1961 at the cathedral.

He recalls that in the conversation with Bishop Gilmore, the talk moved quickly to the priesthood, with the bishop declaring “you are going to be a diocesan priest” and the two then discussing seminaries. Father Hazelton said he liked mountain settings. The bishop told him that St. Thomas Seminary in Denver came with a view of the peaks, and that to avoid being distracted while at the seminary, he should stop thinking about mission work.

In an email to The Montana Catholic, Father Hazelton said he left the visit with Bishop Gilmore “wondering what I had done” and how he was going to steer clear of the priesthood, given the bishop’s expectations. As it turned out, their talk was “the most important and blessed 5-minute interview of my life,” Father Hazelton said. “Now I am celebrating 50 years of diocesan priesthood, and I was still able to fulfill one of my early dreams—being a missionary priest.”

The Diocese of Helena’s mission in Guatemala was established in 1963. Father Hazelton arrived in 1964, 37 years old and a newly minted pastoral assistant from St. Joseph Parish in Butte. Now 84, he has worked tirelessly to make education available to Guatemalan children, many from families that thought schooling was beyond reach. He directs the mission school established in 1996. Father Hazelton regularly celebrates Mass in the mission hub of Santo Tomas la Union and in outlying areas.

Born in Helena, he received a bachelor’s degree from Carroll College in 1949 and studied at St. Thomas in Denver.


FATHER THOMAS O’DONNELL

Father Thomas O’Donnell, the pastor at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Parish in East Helena, remembers that the priests and nuns he knew as a boy in Helena were marvelous models for life in a Catholic vocation.

Father Thomas O'Donnell “They were great mentors,” said Father O’Donnell. From that mentoring and presence in his youth, he said, his life as a priest “took root and blossomed.”

With May 27 the 50th anniversary of Father O’Donnell’s ordination as a priest, “I look back and thank God for the call to the priesthood, for God’s presence and guidance in my life all these years and for all the wonderful people God has put in my life.”

He was ordained for the Diocese of Helena on May 27, 1961, after seminary studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He and the diocese’s Father Ed Stupca, who also celebrates his golden jubilee this month, traveled there by train from Montana and roomed together for three years.

After a diocesan parish appointment for a summer, Father O’Donnell joined the faculty at Carroll College, his alma mater, in 1961 and was there until he entered graduate school at St. Louis University four years later. Pastoral work at St. Anthony Parish in Missoula followed the graduate studies, and in 1982-83 he was the rector at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. Father O’Donnell subsequently co-pastored St. Richard Parish in Columbia Falls, directed the pre-seminary program at Carroll, worked in the field of continuing education for priests, pastored Risen Christ Parish in Kalispell and served as the diocesan vocations director. Fifteen years ago, he became the pastor at Ss. Cyril and Methodius.

Today, people considering religious vocations sometimes lack the family support that strengthened him as he discerned his path, said Father O’Donnell, 76, “but the basics are the same…and that is to persevere in seeking God’s will, to seek out guidance and support and pray, faithfully and with faith that God’s will will be done. Who knows where that might lead? God will give all the help that people need to find their way.”

At Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Father O’Donnell’s ordination jubilee will be commemorated on May 25, when there will be a Mass followed by a parish dinner and social gathering.


FATHER ED STUPCA

People called Father Ed Stupca the “roamin’ Catholic” when he served Madison County Catholic Community in the 1990s. Dividing his time among the county’s burgs of Sheridan, Laurin and Ennis, he traveled a lot.

Father Ed Stupca Today Father Stupca is on senior status and lives in Butte. He said that as a boy growing up in Anaconda, he anticipated becoming a priest. On May 27 he will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

After graduating from Carroll College, Father Stupca studied theology at The Catholic University of America. Then he joined the Carroll faculty, in 1961. Several years later he began pastoral work that took him to St. Anthony Parish in Missoula, followed by service at St. Patrick and St. Joseph parishes in Butte, at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Dillon, and again at St. Anthony. In 1991 he began the Madison County assignment, which he held until taking senior status in 2006.

“The priesthood is a wonderful way of life,” said Father Stupca, 75. “People share their lives with you in ordinary times, in sad times and happy times. You really get to know people and love them. That’s the main thing about the priesthood—serving people in the name of the Lord.”

Cheerful and quick to laugh, Father Stupca said he likes “to experience different things in life,” an advantageous attitude even as he reeled from a heart attack about three years ago. Doctors in Butte determined he should go to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, which necessitated flying in a helicopter—something Father Stupca always had wanted to do.

“I’d never been in a helicopter, and I was just so happy to be up there in the air,” he said. “I didn’t have sense enough to panic.”

His guides have included the priests and women religious who were a steady presence in the Anaconda Catholic schools of his boyhood, “a wonderful milieu for considering the priesthood,” he said. He recalls warmly the counsel of the late Msgr. Denis Meade, at St. Anthony Parish, and Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. Father Stupca said he also has good memories of working in Dillon with Father Ed Kohler, and in Missoula with Fathers Jim Hogan and Tom O’Donnell, Sisters Veronica Kirscher, CHM, and Ursula Keough, CHM, and with Terry Jimmerson, currently pastoral assistant at St. Anthony.

Father Stupca’s ordination jubilee will be commemorated May 27 at Holy Family Church in Anaconda. A meal and music will follow the 6 p.m. Mass.


FATHER TOM FLYNN

Father Tom Flynn tells his students at Atlanta’s Emory University that they may call him at home as late as midnight. He encourages communication, and if that means taking late calls, Father Flynn is happy to do so.

Father Tom Flynn The Diocese of Helena priest this summer celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination is a philosophy professor at Methodist-rooted Emory, where he began teaching in 1978. His reputation as an academic is international.

“I’d always wanted to be a priest, since I was a little kid,” Father Flynn said by phone this month while in Helena for a meeting of the Carroll College Board of Trustees, on which he has served since 2009. “I also wanted to be a teacher.”

Father Flynn, who grew up in Anaconda, received a doctorate in French philosophy from Columbia University in New York, in 1970. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Carroll in 1958. Between working toward the degrees at Carroll and Columbia, he earned a licentiate in theology from Gregorian University in Rome. That was in 1962, as the Second Vatican Council was emerging.

“Shortly before I left Rome, I paid my last respects to St. Peter’s Basilica and saw the desks set up for bishops from all over the world, in preparation for the Council,” Father Flynn told Carroll Magazine five years ago as the college prepared to present him an with an honorary doctorate.

“Vatican II taught us that we must not only teach the modern world, we must also learn from it.”

Father Flynn taught at Carroll, Columbia and The Catholic University of America before joining the faculty at Emory.

In a previous profile in The Montana Catholic, he said that his work at Emory provided opportunities to interact with people “who wouldn’t normally talk to a priest or know a priest otherwise. I have a chance to show them that priests are human, they also have a spirituality that they can share.”

His service in the Archdiocese of Atlanta has included assisting in Mass at several parishes.

Father Flynn, 74, said that as a young man, he considered what he could best do with his life and the priesthood ranked first. He was ordained on July 16, 1961. “I love being a priest,” he said. “It’s a very fulfilling life.”


Published in The Montana Catholic Online, Volume 27, No. 5, May 20, 2011.