Philanthropy Perpetuates Priestly Ministries

From left to right: Father Michael Johnson, Father James Himmelsbach, Father Michael Skluzacek, Father Michael Kueber, and Susan Lavely. Photo courtesy of Michael Lavely.

Most philanthropists are not prominent public figures or top-ranking executives. In fact, they often wear a clerical collar.

Members of the clergy frequently include charitable giving as part of their personal faith journey.  Some priests even choose to perpetually extend their ministries of faith-filled service through the power of endowment.

Two examples of priestly philanthropy in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis can be  found in Fathers James Himmelsbach and William Paron. They each turned to the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota (CCF) for prudent, faith-aligned stewardship of their charitable gifts. Today, those gifts  — and the memories of these beloved priests — continue to impact our community.

A Retired Military Chaplain’s Legacy Endures

While serving in the Vietnam War, James Himmelsbach met military chaplain Father Martin Fleming. Their relationship proved providential. James followed in Father Fleming’s footsteps by becoming a priest in 1977,  working as a military chaplain, and eventually partnering with CCF to facilitate his charitable giving.

Father Himmelsbach served all over the world during his 21-year career as an Army chaplain. He often invited his  friend Father Michael Skluzacek to join him.

Father Himmelsbach truly cared for and served the soldiers, Father Skluzacek says. He would celebrate Mass at up to five different sites in one day — sometimes from the bumper of an Army Jeep.

“As a chaplain, you’re often moving to a new site, and he was really good at getting to know people and forming connections,” Father Skluzacek says.

Their travels to South Korea, Hawaii,  and numerous U.S. military forts took them far from Welch Village, where then fourth-year Deacon Himmelsbach, a certified ski instructor, taught first-year seminarian Skluzacek how to ski. They formed a friendship that would last 45 years and include annual kayaking trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota.

After retiring from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 2001, Father Himmelsbach served as pastor  of St. Joseph Catholic Community in Waconia and the Church of the Annunciation in Minneapolis.

Father Lawrence Blake became the parochial administrator at St. Joseph following Father Himmelsbach’s pastorship. Father Blake recalls how Father Himmelsbach’s strong leadership fueled a successful capital campaign that helped sustain the parish’s newly opened Catholic school and demonstrated to him the powerful impact of lasting gifts.

Father Himmelsbach established a donor advised fund with CCF that converted to a perpetual endowment upon his death on Ash Wednesday in 2021. He also made estate gifts to the fund.

While Father Himmelsbach was private about finances, Father Skluzacek, who was at his friend’s bedside the day before he died, knew that he wanted to leave a legacy for Catholic education and the poor.

Father Skluzacek notes, “He saw Catholic education as being very instrumental in forming the character of young people.”

A Beloved Priest Lived Simply and Gave Greatly

Father William Paron knew how to live simply, foster relationships with others, and empower parishioners. He established that legacy during his 39 years of priestly ministry, which extended into his retirement in Waconia.

School Sister of Notre Dame Esther Wagner met Father Paron when he served at the Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids from 1974 to 1982. She remembers how he worked to involve parishioners and immersed himself in budgets to bring parish finances into good order.

Top: Father Paron with St. Wenceslaus School students on Read Across America Day. Bottom: Father Paron, second from left in the middle row, with the St. Wenceslaus staff softball team. Photos courtesy of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church.

“The people really appreciated his leadership,” Sister Esther says. “He planned so well, whether it was for the school or parish.”

Jim Cappelleri worked with Father Paron on the finance council at the Church of the Epiphany and later became his financial advisor and good friend.

“He was — not only in his finances, but in his whole life — very clear and intentional about what he did with his time,” says Jim.

When Father Paron was assigned as pastor at St. Wenceslaus Church in New Prague, Jim helped him form connections to spearhead a large capital campaign for school improvements and establish a fund at CCF, which was later endowed to perpetually support the parish and school ministries. That positive experience led Father Paron to establish his own endowment fund with CCF in 2011, benefiting the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Catholic Relief Services.

“He had this idea to touch the lives of people in a broader way that he could not do by himself,” says Sister Esther, noting Father Paron’s passion for genealogy and the global Church.

After serving at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Carver, Father Paron retired in 2008. Even so, he continued to generously serve others. He regularly celebrated Mass at nearby parishes and senior homes and ministered to the sick, poor, and homebound.

Father Stan Mader, pastor at St. Joseph in Waconia, remembers Father Paron as a generous man whose approach to philanthropy embodied how he and other priests consider their legacies.

“How do we want the work of the Church to continue?” muses Father Mader, who established a donor advised fund with CCF in 1990. “Planned giving is a good way to continue the work that we’re a part of.”


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