Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

The O’Sullivan priest brothers were some of the earliest priests serving the Diocese of Owensboro. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

The priesthood: Sacrifice, obedience and joy

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The Diocese of Owensboro was established on Dec. 9, 1937, when the 32 westernmost counties of the Commonwealth of Kentucky were separated from the Diocese of Louisville. Louisville at that time became a metropolitan see, that is, an archdiocese.

When a diocese is divided and a new diocese is erected, the priests of the area become priests permanently of the new diocese. When the Diocese of Owensboro was created there were 40 priests assigned to the new diocese. Not all of these priests might have been pleased with this turn of events, while others were very satisfied to know they would serve all their years in western Kentucky.

These 40 priests humorously dubbed themselves the Forty Holy Martyrs. The last of these original 40 priests of the diocese was Fr. Charles Denardi who died in 2010 at the age of 100.

Two sets of brothers found themselves in different dioceses. Fr. George Boehmicke was in Owensboro; his brother, Fr. Roger Boehmicke, was in Louisville. Fr. Henry O’Bryan was in Owensboro; his brother, Msgr. Aloysius O’Bryan, in Louisville.

All priests at their ordination make a promise of obedience to the bishop. In fact, the ordaining bishop asks the candidate, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” The only expiration on this promise comes when one goes to Heaven.

Fr. Charles Denardi, one of the self-dubbed “Forty Holy Martyrs” of the early Diocese of Owensboro, lived to 100, passing away in 2010. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

The Rite of Ordination of a Bishop also includes a promise of obedience. The candidate is asked, “Do you resolve to render obedience faithfully to the successor of the blessed Apostle Peter?”

If you ask most priests if their promise of obedience ever presents a burden, most would say that it does not.  At the same time, this promise might present a challenge when priests receive their parish or ministry assignments. It is safe to say that over the course of a lifetime of service, every priest will likely be asked to accept an assignment that might not have been his first choice. I can surely attest that every assignment I ever accepted would not have been my first preference. I can also say, however, that every assignment I have ever taken has presented blessings and happiness and growth that I might not have found if my first choice had always been honored.

The last Sunday in September is promoted as Priesthood Sunday. I encourage you to express your appreciation to your priests. Like every imaginable vocation, priesthood entails some sacrifice.  Any husband or wife, father or mother knows the meaning of sacrifice. We can say this of every career and vocation – consecrated religious, teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, public servants. This list truly is infinite. The word sacrifice comes from the root words “to make holy.”  We make ourselves holy when we accept and even embrace sacrifice.

Tell your priests that you appreciate their particular sacrifices to serve the Church.

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro

Originally printed in the September 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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