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(Editor’s note: In conjunction with the Year for Priests, The Criterion is publishing a monthly feature titled “Faithful Fathers.” We plan to profile a priest from each deanery during the next five months.)
MARTINSVILLE—Father John Hall is the pastor of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville, and the administrator of Our Lady of the Springs Parish in French Lick and Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli, all located in the Bloomington Deanery.
He was ordained in 1980 and is 56.
Born in Beech Grove, Father Hall grew up a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood.
Meeting priests—Father Hall’s priestly vocation was nurtured at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish and at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, where he had relatives who were members.
As he grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, both parishes had many priests serving as associate pastors or in residence there.
“I got to know the different styles of the priests,” Father Hall said. “I was exposed to different priests, their interests and hobbies. It was kind of like, ‘OK, I can fit in here.’
“I remember even in grade school days serving maybe three or four Masses on a Sunday at St. John. Weekday Masses was my turn to serve at Our Lady of the Greenwood, and on weekends I was up at St. John’s.”
Becoming a seminarian—This observation of several diocesan priests led Father Hall to become a high school seminarian in 1968 at the former Latin School of Indianapolis.
That was a time of great change in the Church, especially in the liturgy.
“As the Mass was being changed, we would have training sessions for the priests [at the seminary],” Father Hall said. “We were on the front lines with that, being involved in the sacristy. The vestments and the style of the Mass were changing. We in the seminary were involved in all of that.”
Msgr. Charles Koster—Msgr. Charles Koster was perhaps the most influential priest for Father Hall. He was pastor of St. John Parish when he was a seminarian, and hired him as a janitor for the parish during his summer breaks from Saint Meinrad College in the 1970s.
“He allowed me to work there,” Father Hall said. “And when he was teaching at Saint Meinrad in my college days, he would take me out for supper.
“And from that, I’ve learned to make it a habit of writing letters to our college students from the parish. Once in the fall and once in the spring, we send care packages to them and I write them a letter.”
Putting out fires—It was in getting to know Father James Wilmoth, who was an associate pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish during his youth, that Father Hall gained an interest in firefighting.
Father Wilmoth was a chaplain for the Indianapolis Fire Department at the time.
As a high school seminarian, Father Hall became involved in a Boy Scouts Explorer post run by the Indianapolis Fire Department in which he received some basic firefighting training.
As a college seminarian at the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, Father Hall served on the local volunteer fire department there.
He served as a firefighter, first responder and chaplain for a volunteer fire department while serving as the resident pastor of the parishes in French Lick and Paoli from 1989 until 2001.
“Being a volunteer department, there was only a small number of people available during the day time,” Father Hall said. “So I was helping fight fires. I had the gear. I knew how to put on the mask and bunker pants and turnout coat and helmet. But I wouldn’t be rushing in. I’d stay more on the outside.”
Father Hall doesn’t fight fires anymore—“Not at 56 years old!”—but he serves as the chaplain for the Martinsville fire and police departments.
Ministry of presence—Being a chaplain for emergency personnel is just one part of what Father Hall sees as his ministry of simply being present among the people of his parishes and the broader community.
“Whether it’s in the parish or in the community, whether it’s at the store, at a restaurant, at a parish dinner, whether it’s at a social event or a religious event in church, celebrating the sacraments—it’s being with the people and bringing Christ’s presence, being someone who cares for them, someone who is walking with them.”
For most of his priestly life, Father Hall has served at small parishes in the countryside or in small towns that make such a ministry more easily possible.
“You get to know the people,” he said. “You’re able to walk with them and maybe spend a little bit more time with them in their situation. You have the freedom and a little bit more time to be involved in the community.”
But wherever he is ministering, Father Hall feels most like a priest when he is simply present to people.
“I think it’s when I’m being with people at the times of the sacraments, the Mass,” he said. “[I like] listening to people, maybe not knowing the answer, but listening to them … and being present to people, whether it’s a tragedy or whether it’s a ballgame. People can see that there’s someone there caring for them.”
Advice for those discerning a priestly vocation—“Be open to it,” Father Hall said. “Pray about it. It is a good life. Yes, there are demands. But there is a lot of goodness in it.
“You’re involved with parts of people’s lives that really no one else is involved with. There are struggles. But which lifestyle doesn’t have struggles? There is a lot of reward. You just have to be there.”
(To read previous installments in the “Faithful Fathers” series, log on to www.CriterionOnline.com.) †