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Published: 12/27/2008

Opening a window on life of priests

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Most lay Catholics see their parish priests only at weekend Mass, confession, funerals, weddings, and baptisms.

What do the clerics do the rest of the week?

"Parishioners have almost no opportunities to talk to their priests," said the Rev. Frank Nieset. "People can only wonder what a priest's life is like."

Father Nieset knows well, having been a priest in the Toledo Catholic Diocese since he was ordained by Bishop George Rehring in 1956.

Today, he is retired and living at the Rosary Care Center in Sylvania. But that doesn't mean Father Nieset has been idle.

In addition to his hobbies of playing piano and organ, watercolor painting, and playing bridge, Father Nieset has become an author.

And the reason for writing, he said, is so that people - especially young men considering the priesthood - can get an inside glimpse at what it's like to be a parish priest.

He wants to do his part in alleviating the growing shortage of priests, hoping that readers who get a real look at a priest's life will be encouraged to take a step toward ordination.

His first book, Guys in Roman Collars, was published in 2005, and Father Nieset has just published the sequel, More Guys in Roman Collars (Author House, 360 pages, $19).

"I wrote it mainly for guys 15 to 50, but it's really for anybody," Father Nieset said

He got the inspiration to write Guys in Roman Collars at his seminary's 40th class reunion after hearing colleagues swap so many interesting stories.

"I thought, 'Here's a book!' and I started to write," he said.

It was the first book for Father Nieset, who grew up with five siblings in Millersville and Clyde, Ohio.

His father "wasn't extra devout," he said, but he went to Mass ever week. His mother worked the 11-to-7 night shift as a nurse and went to Mass after work at 8 a.m. in Fremont.

"There was always somebody at my side, praying for me," he said.

Rolling back and forth in a wheelchair in his room at Rosary Care Center in Sylvania, Father Nieset said he had been an altar boy and knew at 10 years old that he wanted to go into the priesthood.

He enrolled at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, where he studied for 12 years.

An English teacher at the seminary wrote a comment in the margin of an essay, "This is pretty good," and asked Father Nieset if he would consider working as a proofreader for the school newspaper.

That eventually led to some writing opportunities, and Father Nieset has honed his skill at working with words.

After ordination, he served as assistant pastor at St. Mary Parish in Sandusky, then as high school principal.

His also served at Calvert High School in Tiffin and Cardinal Stritch High School in Oregon; was pastor at St. Clement, Toledo, and St. Paul, Norwalk; was chaplain at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Oregon, and administrator at St. Aloysius, Bowling Green, and St. James, Toledo.

Father Nieset was granted a leave for health reasons after 38 years as a priest, and helped at parishes in Arizona and California before returning to the Toledo area four years ago.

His books provide frank and honest examples of the demands and joys of the priesthood.

For example, in the opening chapter of More Guys in Roman Collars, he describes the challenge of a young priest arriving at a new parish where the pastor is a monsignor.

Monsignor Benninger is quick to assert his seniority and authority over Father Bill, making comments on everything from how much soup to eat at lunch to what kind of liquor he prefers and who should exit the room first.

The monsignor advises the young assistant to only turn on the lights in the front of the church and not to use the speaker system for early-morning Mass, thereby forcing people to sit toward the front.

Then in the middle of a busy day, Father Bill gets a call that a woman injured in an auto accident has asked for a priest.

Father Nieset covers a wide range of scenarios in the two books, from providing prenuptial counseling, to helping a father whose young son is on drugs, to what it's like when a fellow priest decides to leave the priesthood.

"Priests are usually tight-lipped, except when they're around other priests," Father Nieset said.

"More Guys in Roman Collars" is available for $19, including shipping and handling, by calling 1-888-280-7715 or online at moreguysinromancollars.com.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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