Reader's Retrospective: Fr. Stephen J. Umhoefer

This story appears in the Reader's Retrospective feature series. View the full series.

by Julie Gunter

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Editor's note: Introducing NCRonline's blog series "Reader's Retrospective": A special project that commemorates NCR's 50th anniversary by telling the stories of readers who have been faithfully subscribing to the National Catholic Reporter since its beginning. ​Read about the project's origins here.​​​

All early NCR subscriber Fr. Stephen J. Umhoefer ever wanted to be is a parish priest. "It's exciting in the sense that you never know what you are going to be asked to do next," he said. "But even more than that, [parishioners] are the ones who keep me in the church because the more you really serve people as a pastor, the more you are impressed by their goodness."

Ordained in 1966 in Madison, Wis., Umhoefer has taken on various teaching and pastoring roles in the state over the years, including teaching German at Holy Name Seminary. He has also directed diocesan communications and filmmaking projects.

Umhoefer first dabbled in filmmaking while still a seminarian and later directed a movie about priesthood.

He went on to produce, with help from other ministers, "The Ultimate Fuel," a weekly local interfaith cable television program. For one show, Umhoefer recalled rounding up three actors and taking on the role of interlocutor to interview the Virgin Mary, St. Peter and Pontius Pilate "about their feelings on the Passion." He also directed occasional Christmas, Lent and Good Friday shows.

Now at Nativity of Mary Parish in Janesville, Wis., where he has served since 2002, Umhoefer also participates in Madison's ongoing "sister diocese relationship" with the Navrongo-Bolgatanga diocese in Ghana. Madison is one of the first U.S. dioceses to enter into this type of partnership sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. Umhoefer has traveled to Ghana three times, was present at the ordination of Bishop Alfred Agyenta in 2012, and speaks of the warmth and hospitality of his friends there with great fondness. Umhoefer describes Agyenta as "a brilliant, humble, and hardworking man who is so easy to talk with."

Set to retire in July, Umhoefer cited NCR's extended coverage of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic church as especially significant, adding that NCR's articles on wide-ranging topics consistently "ring true for what I know." Looking forward to an upcoming vacation, he also enjoys teaching Bible stories to children in the parish, taking photographs, and singing with local choral groups.

A version of this story appeared in the Feb 27-March 12, 2015 print issue under the headline: NCR a reader's retrospective: Fr. Stephen J. Umhoefer.

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