November 17, 2023

Father Joseph Sheets served for 22 years at St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour

By Sean Gallagher

Father Joseph SheetsFather Joseph Sheets, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, died on Nov. 5 at Franciscan Hospice House in Indianapolis. He was 91.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Nov. 9 at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was the principal celebrant, Father Eric Johnson was the homilist.

Burial followed at Garland Brooks Cemetery in Columbus.

A priest for the archdiocese for 66 years, Father Sheets served in parishes across central and southern Indiana. But it was his ministry at St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour that left a mark on him, and he on the faith community.

Father Sheets served there for 22 years, four as associate pastor from 1957-61 and then as pastor from 1983 until he retired from active ministry in 2001. He was also administrator of the former Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown during that same 18-year period.

In retirement, Father Sheets continued to live in Seymour and maintained close ties to the St. Ambrose community, says Father Daniel Staublin, its pastor for the past 13 years.

“This kind of felt like home for him,” said Father Staublin. “He probably spent more time in Seymour than any other place throughout his life. He was always part of the [parish] family.”

Even in retirement, Father Sheets valued those family connections, being present at the parishioners’ important moments.

“He would concelebrate almost every funeral, because he knew the people,” Father Staublin said. “The folks here really appreciated that he stayed connected to their lives even in retirement by a ministry of presence.”

Father Sheets remained attentive to the changing needs of his parish family in Seymour. Late in his time there, there emerged a need for ministry to a then-newly growing Hispanic community at St. Ambrose.

“He was the first one to reach out to the archdiocese to see if we could have a priest who speaks Spanish come here occasionally and [offer] Mass,” Father Staublin said. “He was pastor here at the time. He knew that there was a need developing.”

Today, the Hispanic households are an integral part of the broader St. Ambrose Parish community.

“He left a very good mark on St. Ambrose,” Father Staublin said.

Father Eric Johnson, archdiocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and parish life coordinators, saw up close how much Father Sheets valued serving as a priest in a parish community.

When Father Johnson served as archdiocesan vocations director, he was also sacramental minister for St. Agnes Parish in Nashville. For several years, Father Sheets regularly celebrated Mass there on weekends when Father Johnson’s duties as vocations director required him to spend time in other archdiocesan parishes.

It was hard for Father Sheets when health challenges made that no longer possible for him.

“He got very emotional,” Father Johnson recalled. “The community valued him and cared for him. He loved being at that parish. He loved the opportunity to engage in sacramental and pastoral ministry.”

And as a priest, Father Sheets made spending time with other priests a priority.

“In retirement, he wanted to stay connected to the archdiocese.” Father Staublin said. “He would go on priest retreats and go to the priest convocations. The fraternity of the priesthood was very important to him.”

Joseph Burns Sheets was born on Nov. 25, 1931, to the late Edward and Helen (Burns) Sheets in Columbus.

Baptized and confirmed at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus, he and his family moved to Martinsville.

After graduating from the eighth grade in Martinsville, Father Sheets became an archdiocesan seminarian and received 12 years of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

Father Sheets was ordained a priest on May 3, 1957, by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrad. He celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving two days later at St. Martin of Tours Church in Martinsville.

Father Sheets served in his pastoral assignment from 1957-61 as associate pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour.

From 1961-68, he ministered as associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute while also serving as an instructor at the former Archbishop Paul C. Schulte High School there.

For three months in 1968, Father Sheets served as associate pastor pro-tem of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis. After that, he ministered from 1968-69 as associate pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.

From 1969-83, Father Sheets ministered as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville.

In 1983, Father Sheets began his last pastoral assignment, serving as pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour and administrator of the former Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown until his retirement in 2001.

Memorial gifts can be sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105, or made at †

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