Priesthood is forever

North Texas Catholic
(May 22, 2024) Local

Monsignor Xuereb elevates the Eucharist

Monsignor Publius Xuereb celebrates Mass on April 10 at Holy Redeemer Church in Aledo. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

As three diocesan priests approach retirement, Bishop Michael Olson reflected, “Each of these priests has influenced many to live the Catholic faith through their fruitful priestly ministry during their many years in the Diocese of Fort Worth. 

“Monsignor Publius Xuereb is the last active diocesan priest ordained in 1968 to serve in the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Fort Worth in 1969.

“Monsignor Joseph Pemberton and Father Karl Schilken retire as the last active priests ordained by Bishop John Cassata, the founding bishop of Fort Worth. 

“Priesthood is forever, and while no man ever retires from being a priest, these men retire from the burdens of administration that they have faithfully discharged for many years. We pray for them during this transition in their lives and thank them for their service.”

Monsignor Publius Xuereb

Call it a coincidence, call it God’s providence, or call it a miracle, but a chance encounter changed the life trajectory of young Father Publius Xuereb and impacted the newly established Diocese of Fort Worth.

The priest was visiting his brother in Dallas in 1969 when he met Fort Worth Bishop Cassata, who suggested Fr. Xuereb move to Fort Worth.

Ordained in his native Malta in 1968, Monsignor Publius Xuereb has served the Diocese of Fort Worth under all four bishops, with assignments as pastor or assistant pastor at 11 parishes.

He said he still feels indebted to the parishioners from an early assignment, Our Lady Queen of Peace in Wichita Falls, who were patient with him while he learned English.

When he retires August 1, the priest will leave a lasting legacy at Holy Redeemer Parish in Aledo. 

When he became shepherd of the Aledo parish in 2009, construction had just been completed on the church. The pastor designed stained-glass windows featuring the sacraments and native plants, as well as two large statues of the Holy Family. An accomplished artist, Msgr. Xuereb likes to paint and to repair and refurbish damaged religious statues.

He also began a monthly Mass of Healing on the first Sunday of each month, which offers Adoration, Benediction, and anointing of the sick. About 250 attend each month, dedicating prayer for the unity of the family, those with special needs, those who are ill and their caregivers, and vocations.

But his biggest impact on the parish, said Deacon Steve Dixon, is the “tight community” at Holy Redeemer. “A big part of that is him.”

“He’s one of the most caring, compassionate priests — no, men — I’ve ever met,” said Dcn. Dixon. “He has a genuine love for his parishioners, and he is very well loved in return.”

The mutual love is evident at the end of every Mass, when a throng of parishioners line up to greet their pastor, who is known for his sense of humor and booming laugh.

A highlight in his 56 years of priesthood came in 2012, when the Holy Redeemer pastor received the papal honor of monsignor from Pope Benedict XVI for his service to the Church. The announcement came on the anniversary of his mother’s death.

“I know my mother had something to do with it. The timing could not have been better,” he told the North Texas Catholic at the time.

He credits his parents with teaching him about the importance of hard work, faith, and serving God.

He remembers that as a young boy, he knelt on “cold, hard marble” at Mass and listened to his mother whisper the Anima Christi prayer after Communion. More than seventy-five years later, he still prays the Anima Christi after Communion. “The prayer that I heard her pray will be forever in my heart and keeps me united with my mother.”

Deacon Scott France called Msgr. Xuereb a “beautiful man and friend, a father figure to me.” 

The pastor, who turns 82 this year, will always be considered family and will be dearly missed, added Dcn. France. “Bishop [Michael Olson] blessed us by letting us keep him until this age.”

Early in Msgr. Xuereb’s retirement, he will probably visit family in Malta and take a cruise, said Dcn. Dixon. Growing up on an island nation, Msgr. Xuereb has always loved the ocean.

However, the deacon expects Msgr. Xuereb will return to Fort Worth to celebrate Mass and provide sacramental ministry. With the administrative tasks of being a pastor behind him, “He’ll be free to do what he was called to do — be a priest,” said Dcn. Dixon. 

Msgr. Pemberton preaches homily
Msgr. Joseph Pemberton celebrates Mass at Most Blessed Sacrament in Arlington on Sunday, April 7, 2024. Msgr. Pemberton has been a priest for 47 years and will retire soon. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)

Monsignor Joseph Pemberton

Monsignor Joseph Pemberton joked he’s leaving a “well-oiled machine” to the next pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament in Arlington. He quickly deflected any credit however, saying he followed Monsignor Joseph Scantlin, “a tremendous community builder, so I stepped into a wonderful community.”

The advice he leaves for the next pastor is secondhand, he acknowledges, something he was told by the late Monsignor Joseph Schumacher when he replaced him at St. Michael Parish in Bedford — “just show the people that you love them.”

“That’s a key element to being a good pastor, to help enable the people to know not only am I here to serve you, but I love you. You’re my family while I’m here,” Msgr. Pemberton said.

That practice has enabled Msgr. Pemberton to say each of his 12 parish assignments “has been a blessing. They’ve all been a very positive experience, and they’ve helped me to grow in my priesthood.”

Growing up in Fort Worth, Msgr. Pemberton attended St. Rita Catholic School, St. George Catholic School, and Nolan Catholic High School. He was ordained April 29, 1977, at St. Rita Parish in Fort Worth with great and lasting support from his family.

In his 47 years as a diocesan priest, Msgr. Pemberton has noted many changes: the growth of the Hispanic community; an influx of people moving to Texas from the Northeast and California; and the empowerment of the laity.

All three trends are evident at Most Blessed Sacrament, which is home to about 1,700 families, “a mixture of young and old, all kinds of nationalities and cultures. It’s very much of a United Nations parish,” Msgr. Pemberton said.

At the Arlington church where he’s been pastor since 2016, parishioners live their baptismal call to follow Christ and make Him present in the world, generously giving their resources, gifts, and time to serve God and the parish, he said. Involvement of laity in ministries and programs is essential for a parish to thrive, he added. 

“My main role as your pastor is to bring you closer to Jesus. And if I have done that by helping you live out your baptismal call and know your gifts, then I've done what God has asked me to do … to bring the community closer to Jesus,” he said.

Msgr. Pemberton is a healthy, active 75, but “I know in my heart that now is the time,” he said of retirement. He plans to be a supply priest, providing sacramental ministry in parishes when their priest is on vacation or ill.

With more freedom in his schedule, he will travel, read, enjoy music, and “really focus on my spiritual life,” spending more time in prayer and attending retreats. He knows he may have decades of life ahead of him, but “I want to be spiritually ready, whenever that moment comes, to meet my Lord.”

He has kept his priestly life nourished and strong through a devotion to the Eucharist and the practice of a daily Rosary.

“I ask our Lord every day to help me fall in love with You. Not just to love You, but to be in love with You as You are in love with me. So my love for the Eucharist, my devotion to the Eucharist — it’s very key to any priest,” he said.

Mary has been a powerful intercessor, he said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t say the Rosary. I do it because I believe that Mary is the mother of God; she’s also our mother, but she’s a special mother to priests because the priest is in persona Christi, another Christ.”

Retirement will shift his daily responsibilities but not his love for God and His people. “There is nothing I would rather do in my life than be a priest. I know it’s my calling, and I absolutely love being a priest,” said Msgr. Pemberton.

Father Schilken preaches homily
Fr. Karl Schilken delivers his homily during a Spanish Mass at St. Bartholomew Parish in Fort Worth, on April 7, 2024. Fr. Schilken will be retiring soon. (NTC/Ben Torres)

Father Karl Schilken

When Father Karl Schilken retires in July, he is planning to head west, but he will not ride off into the sunset. The pastor of St. Bartholomew Church in Fort Worth will move to a favorite vacation spot: Taos, New Mexico.

There, the priest of 44 years will continue to serve the Church and the less fortunate. The local parish priest in Taos doesn’t speak Spanish, so Fr. Schilken plans to celebrate a Mass in Spanish each weekend, as well as provide sacramental ministry in Spanish as needed.

Fr. Schilken learned Spanish early in his seminary years at the direction of Bishop Cassata. He explained, “I actually really learned Spanish. I can think in Spanish; I can preach without notes in Spanish. …  I am fortunate that I’m able to do that.”

The priest will also devote time to teaching adults how to read — “there’s a tremendous level of illiteracy” — and to helping people earn their GEDs. 

If requested, added the canon lawyer, he will help the Diocese of Santa Fe by writing cases for the marriage tribunal and by celebrating Masses at neighboring parishes. 

Sounds like a busy retirement, but Fr. Schilken looks forward to stepping back from the daily responsibilities of shepherding a large parish. “My attitude is I want to quit while they say, ‘I wish he had stayed longer,’” he said with a laugh.

Turning more serious, he added, “Priests need a chance to retire and to have a different stage of life. … There are some things that need to happen to you between the ages of 70 and 85 as far as growing in maturity and slowing down — having age and wisdom affect your religious life and your spiritual life.”

Ordained March 29, 1980, at St. William Parish in Montague, Fr. Schilken has served at a dozen parishes, as well as assignments to the tribunal and as vicar general and moderator of the curia for three years.

Looking back, he appreciates the priesthood for the opportunity to administer the sacraments, mentioning Holy Communion, baptisms, and weddings. In fact, he’s done every baptism during his seven years as pastor of St. Bartholomew. 

Plus, he said, “I enjoy preaching, and I enjoy celebrating Mass.”

But the “quiet, private” sacrament of reconciliation can’t be overlooked. “Probably, in many ways, the most important thing that I do as a priest is to hear confessions. I have a lot of people that come to me for confession,” he said.

Administering the sacraments gives priests a unique role in the Church, he explained, but “my call to holiness is the same as yours because of baptism. Because ultimately and profoundly, baptism is our call to Christian mission, and it’s also our call to holiness. And that I share with everyone.”

A vocation, whether to the priesthood or married life, is challenging, he said. “I have not found priesthood to be particularly easy. … All my married friends will tell you that marriage is not easy. If you’re living [your vocation] authentically, there’s going to be some great moments in it. There’s going to be, sometimes, some very difficult times too.”

In the last decade, Fr. Schilken has observed selfishness growing in society, especially since the pandemic. He noted our culture has become “so self-centered it is just absolutely astonishing. No concern for the common good.”

However, he added, “This is yet another opportunity for us to live and profess the faith.”

He said the next pastor of St. Bartholomew will find a “very good staff,” including Sister Teresa Rodriguez, who is a tremendous help with the vibrant Hispanic community, and a congregation who will accept the new shepherd with “generosity of heart.”

He hopes he leaves his congregation with “a profound understanding of our commitment to the poor and the most forgotten in society,” a segment of the population he will continue to serve.

Priest, retirement, Father Karl Schilken, Monsignor Publius Xuereb, Monsignor Joseph Pemberton, trending-english