September 23, 2011

Grant allows priest to reconnect, follow in footsteps of St. Paul

Besides trips to Greece, Turkey and Canada during his sabbatical, Father Rick Ginther plans to ride his bicycle often during visits with friends and family across the United States. (Submitted photo)

Besides trips to Greece, Turkey and Canada during his sabbatical, Father Rick Ginther plans to ride his bicycle often during visits with friends and family across the United States. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Father Rick Ginther has already traveled to Colorado for a silent retreat, spending eight days trying to sharpen his ability to find God in the everyday realities of life.

His travels also include a pilgrimage to Greece and Turkey, where he is following in the path of St. Paul to gain a better understanding of the saint who turned his life toward Christ.

He also plans a road trip to Canada to deepen his friendship with a college classmate.

And there’s the journey he will make to Poland—actually the name of a small community in Indiana—for the annual family reunion with his six siblings that’s called “Siblings Weekend.”

“It’s a chance to walk and talk, to eat together, to remember,” says Father Ginther, who leads the parishes of St. Margaret Mary and St. Patrick in Terre Haute. “We tell stories and we laugh a lot about growing up at home, remembering Mom and Dad and the things they taught us. It’s just a time to support each other.”

All those adventures are part of a nearly four-month sabbatical for Father Ginther that has been made possible by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. and its 2011 Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations.

“The program allows pastors to step back from their busy schedules and renew their spirits for challenges ahead,” according to Lilly Endowment official Gretchen Wolfram.

Since Father Ginther began his sabbatical on Aug. 1, he has been following his goal of reconnecting with his family and friends, re-energizing his faith, and refreshing his body and his spirit. It’s all part of a journey that has the theme of “Connections.”

“I was very, very tired, and I knew I needed something to renew me,” he says. “I think this is an excellent opportunity to reconnect with myself as a priest, as a human being and with the Lord. There’s a point where you have to stop for a while and just rest. I’ve been doing two jobs for 18 years, just like many diocesan priests have had two jobs for years.”

Father Ginther also sees this journey as a “thank-you tour.”

“If I had to describe myself in a brief statement, it would be, ‘I work, therefore I am.’ Just being is hard for me,” he says. “I have had the gift of working with, enjoying and having the support of many people. I am so immersed in what I do that I don’t give them the time, the energy and the sense of connection I would like to give them. It’s said that everyone you encounter in life changes you or adds something. I’m convinced that’s true. It’s not just about you. I’m trying to reinforce in myself to stay connected.”

Another goal of his journey is to connect with his faith ancestors. During the retreat in Colorado, he focused on the approach to life adopted by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

“It starts with finding the Lord in the present, in the reality you live,” Father Ginther says. “Ignatius wanted his followers to be able to identify how the Lord intersected their lives as individuals and also as ministers—to bring the Gospel to others. I came to the realization that the Lord dwells within me and invites me to dwell within him.”

He hopes for a similar breakthrough as he makes his first trip to Greece and Turkey to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul during a

10-day pilgrimage that began on Sept 14.

“This pilgrimage offers me the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture, the time, the faith and the growing understanding of St. Paul,” he says. “Also, Paul spoke to specific communities about specific issues. He was fighting their culture and trying to lead them to Christ. In that sense, he is like a pastor. I want to understand him a lot better. I want to find a way to preach on Paul and break that open for people.”

Father Ginther knows that insights about life can come in many ways. For him, they sometimes surface during the bicycle rides that are part of his life and his sabbatical schedule. He also found a sense of perspective in a greeting card that he received during his silent retreat in Colorado.

As he opened the greeting card that celebrated his 61st birthday on Aug. 25, Father Ginther experienced an overwhelming reaction.

In his mind, he suddenly could see nearly every person who has influenced his life—his parents, his siblings, friends, former teachers, old classmates, mentor priests, and parishioners from the past and the present.

“It was the most profound 15 to 20 minutes of the entire retreat,” he recalls. “I had this overwhelming sense of thanksgiving, of realizing the blessing of my life. It led to a great sense of peacefulness.”

He wants to have that same perspective when he returns to Terre Haute and his ministry as a pastor on Nov. 21.

“This will give me the energy to go on,” he predicts. “I hope to return and have the ability to refocus things, to change some things. I hope I’m a more focused preacher in terms of Paul and also in sharing particular spiritual insights. It should make a difference in my own spirituality and how that connects with others.”

(Father Thomas Clegg and Father Steven Schwab were also awarded grants through the 2011 Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations, which is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. Father Clegg was featured in a story in the Aug. 26 issue of The Criterion. The story of the planned sabbatical of Father Schwab will be featured in a future issue.)

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