November 2, 2018

Vocations Supplement

‘Being with the people’ is at the heart of priest’s ministry

Father John Hall stands on Oct. 10 in St. Anne Church in New Castle. He serves as pastor of St. Anne Parish in New Castle and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Cambridge City. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father John Hall stands on Oct. 10 in St. Anne Church in New Castle. He serves as pastor of St. Anne Parish in New Castle and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Cambridge City. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

NEW CASTLE—Pope Francis famously said two weeks after he was elected in 2013 as bishop of Rome that priests should be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep,” remaining close to the people to whom they minister.

When Jim O’Connell, a member of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli, thinks of this evocative image of the priesthood, his mind turns to Father John Hall, who served as his pastor from 1989-2001.

O’Connell worked with Father Hall on the parish council, helping to start charitable organizations in Orange County, sharing in ministry to patients at a local hospital and reaching out to parishioners in need.

“When Pope Francis says that pastors should smell like the sheep, Father John definitely smelled like the sheep,” O’Connell said.

Father Hall said that “being with the people” drew him to the priesthood as a youth, and has been a focus of his priestly life and ministry since being ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1980.

Over the course of nearly four decades of priestly ministry, Father Hall has served in rural and small-town parishes across central and southern Indiana. He currently ministers as the pastor of St. Anne Parish in New Castle and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Cambridge City.

In addition to parish ministry, he has also placed himself among the people by serving at different periods as a local volunteer firefighter and serving as chaplain for police and fire departments and for a public high school’s football team.

From time to time, Father Hall pauses to consider the effect he has had on people in their everyday lives through his priestly ministry in such a wide variety of settings. He has a hard time believing that a man as simple as himself would be given such tremendous opportunities.

“It’s awe-inspiring in just the little things that you’re called upon to do,” he said. “I have to be aware of the fact that I am bringing Christ to many different people. We’re human beings. The leadership of the Church—whether it’s a priest, an archbishop, a sister—we’re human beings leading the people on this journey of faith.”

Valuing priestly fraternity

It was the humanity of priests that Father Hall came to know as a youth in Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis that drew him to the consider that God might be calling him to that vocation.

This happened early on when he would volunteer for tasks around the parishes.

“Being around the priests more than just at Sunday Masses helped me see them in a different light at times, kind of their humanness,” Father Hall said. “As I went through the seminary, I saw them in their stressful times in ministry. But, still, there was a happiness about them.”

Nurturing that connection with other men with the same priestly vocation has been a priority for Father Hall as far back as when he was a high school seminarian in the early 1970s at the Latin School, the archdiocese’s former high school seminary in Indianapolis.

At the time, Father Hall had difficulty in some academic subjects and received help from archdiocesan college seminarians. Looking back on it, he seems to value more the fact that they reached out to him than in the actual assistance they gave.

“They showed an interest,” Father Hall said. “It kind of set a tone. I kind of picked that up to show an interest in people, to be encouraging to them.”

Throughout his priestly life and ministry, Father Hall has encouraged his brother priests and nurtured relationships with them.

Father Thomas Schliessmann has on numerous occasions ministered in parishes that neighbor those served by Father Hall.

During those times, they frequently got together for lunch and helped each other in ministry in their respective parishes.

“His outreach to fellow priests is just wonderful,” said Father Schliessmann, pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis. “I appreciate it a whole, whole lot. There has always been a joy in his faith and in his voice.”

Today, the two priests are not as close geographically. Father Hall still keeps up their connection, and his relationships with other priests, by sending them encouraging text messages, usually on a weekly basis.

Father Hall calls this dedication to priestly fraternity “a labor of love.”

“We need each other,” he said. “We need to be encouraging of each other. The support that I’ve received from many different priests … has been an influence to show an interest in my brother priests.”

‘Be there with the people’

It’s not just priests that Father Hall has sought to encourage and be present to over the years. That extends to all the faithful whom he has been called on to serve.

Father Schliessmann has seen that simply in the places where his friend has taken him to share lunch.

“He’ll just go to the mom and pop places in town,” Father Schliessmann said. “Then he’s always introducing me to the police chief or to the mayor or somebody else. They’re the places in the town where a lot of people are, where a lot of the people know him. He gets involved and is visible in his community.”

“I just have wanted to be there with the people,” Father Hall explained.

In his priestly ministry, Father Hall has sought to bring Christ into the high and low points of people’s lives.

“Our hands are anointed with chrism,” said Father Hall about a ritual that takes place during a priestly ordination liturgy. “Through the anointing of a priest’s hands, we’re bringing Christ to the people. Through our listening to them, Christ is listening to them.”

He also seeks to help the people to whom he ministers see Christ’s presence in the ordinary happenings of their daily lives.

“They can do that no matter where they’re at, whether it’s on a farm, driving 30 minutes to work, being in an office or domestic work at home,” Father Hall said. “You live out the Gospel the best you can. You’re not going to be perfect. But how are you going to do it the best you can?”

Being present to the parishioners he serves has been challenging for Father Hall, who has been assigned to multiple parishes at a time for most of his priestly life and ministry.

“It’s like being a parent with multiple children,” he said. “Each child is unique. You’ve got to respond to the one that needs the most without showing the others that they aren’t loved. They are.

“This parish might need more attention today and so you give it. But you’re thinking about the other. Maybe tomorrow that parish will need more attention.”

In any faith community that he serves, its sacramental life is a priority. Even in that, though, Father Hall seeks to make himself available to parishioners.

“He was a man of prayer,” said O’Connell of his time at Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli. “He had Mass every morning, but I couldn’t make that Mass. But he would pray with me in the morning and give me Communion before he celebrated Mass. He was always available for that.”

Father Hall knows that the liturgy is at the heart of the faith of the people to whom he ministers.

“I try not just to say Mass,” he said. “I try to really offer it and get myself into the Mass. It might be my third Mass on a Sunday, but for them, it’s their only Mass, maybe the only Mass during the week.”

Just as Father Hall has focused on “being with the people” in his priestly life and ministry, he advises men considering a possible priestly call to be present to priests and parish communities.

“Find a priest that you look up to,” Father Hall said. “Offer to help out at his church, serving Mass, being a lector, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. Don’t be a stranger around the parish. See what life is like as a priest.”

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit www.HearGodsCall.com.)


More about Father John Hall

  • Age: 64
  • Parents: John and Mary Hall, both deceased
  • Home parish: Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood
  • Education: The former Latin School of Indianapolis High School; the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad; Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad
  • Favorite Scripture passage: Psalm 23
  • Favorite saints: St. John the Apostle and St. Peter the Apostle
  • Favorite prayer: The Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours
  • Hobbies: Following sports, especially football

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