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Year for priests: Pastor maintains balance of ministry and recreation

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

By David Eck

SIDNEY DEANERY — Father Patrick Sloneker never became the motorcycle cop he wanted to be as child, but today the priest does buzz around his northern area parishes on his jet black 1000cc Kowasaki.

A fan of the outdoors, Father Sloneker, 43, finds time to fish and camp while also ministering to three parishes. He has been pastor of St. Lawrence, Rhine, and Immaculate Conception, Botkins, since 2002, and was also named pastor of St. Joseph in Wapakoneta last year, forming the Petersburg pastoral region.

While being a pastor to three parishes — particularly ones that cross deanery boundaries — takes organization and hard work, it also has its rewards.

 Father Patrick Sloneker
Father Patrick Sloneker in the chapel at Lehman High School in Sidney, where he serves as chaplain. (CT/David Eck)

“I’ve been inspired by the people of God and people of the parishes as they work together,” Father Sloneker said. “It’s simply a matter of sharing. The people of St. Joseph have been open to the gifts and challenges of sharing.”

An 8 a.m. Sunday Mass at Immaculate Conception was dropped, for example, and now about 40 families from the other two parishes attend the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph. Likewise, St. Joseph parishioners attend St. Lawrence and Immaculate Conception, especially for holy day schedules.

Immaculate Conception and St. Lawrence have been sharing a pastor for more than 20 years and an entire staff for seven years.

“It was a blessing for me to go into two parishes that had already worked together,” Father Sloneker said. “They taught me.”

To help him with the workload, Father Sloneker is participating in the “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program, a training course for priests.
 
One aspect of the 18-month course is designed to help priests identify their own leadership strengths and apply them in various areas of the parish, including one-on-one work, teams, staff and as the parish leader.

The program, provided by the Catholic Leadership Institute, meets 29 days over 18 months, including one 4-day and five 3-day residencies. It is structured to allow priests to study leadership issues in-depth.

Father Matthew Lee, associate pastor of the Petersburg region, said Father Sloneker is flexible, open to new ideas and empowers the laity to handle programs.

“We have a very solid working relationship. We complement each other quite well. He’s a very good mentor,” said Father Lee, who was ordained in 2009. “I think the people in all three parishes have been pleased with the way things have been developing.”

A native of Hamilton who was raised in St. Ann Parish, Father Sloneker first felt called to the priesthood while still in grade school, but also wanted to be married. He attended Badin High School and was active in extra-curricular activities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Pontifical College Josephinum, but wasn’t sure about going to the major seminary.

He taught at John XXIII School in Middletown, was active in hospice, volunteered as a Big Brother, became involved in a singles group and dated. “However, the priesthood was still in the back of my mind,” he said.

He entered the seminary and was ordained in 1997.

“It took me many years to discern that the Lord was calling me,” he said. “It was a very careful decision and a leap of faith.”

He enjoys the varied ministries the priesthood provides, from serving as a high school chaplain to ministering in a hospital emergency department to helping a couple prepare for marriage.

“The priesthood is awesome because it is so varied,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”

Though he was raised in a small city, Father Sloneker enjoys his assignment in a rural area and has come to appreciate the values that are more evident in the country, such as family meals and devotion to family.

It also doesn’t hurt that the area allows him to indulge in fishing, gardening and other outdoor recreation.

“The northern area just happens to be sandwiched within three lakes,” he said. “It’s a beautiful [experience] to be out on a lake.”

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

 

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