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Bishop Michael D Pfeifer, OMI
...To Say Good-bye...
Originally published in 2012 when the announcement of his pending retirement was first heard. Appropriate to highlight once again.
by Kat Rowoldt
Christian Reporter News Editor
I will never forget the moment when I learned that Bishop Pfeifer would be leaving San Angelo soon. My heart sunk and so did my co-worker’s. Bishop Pfeifer has been a solid mainstay in our community for the last twenty-eight years. He’s one of the first people that the media turns to in times of crisis, in times of social issues, and in times of celebrating our special holidays throughout the year. He’s always been there when we needed him. He has been a “Good Shepherd.”
I knew immediately that I had to seek out an appointment to interview him. I wanted to say thank you for everything he had contributed to our community, I wanted to hear his story, and I had some questions that I hoped to get answered. After a few weeks of working around both of our schedules, we finally had the opportunity. I have to admit, though I went in to do an “interview,” I ended up having a delightful “chat” with a friend this is dear to my heart that I’ve known for about eighteen years.
I am not Catholic. I do not have a background in understanding the structure of the Catholic Church, so this was my opportunity to ask questions and learn from someone who has given his working life to the Catholic Church. Bishop Pfeifer, as always, is most gracious in helping people understand the working structure and doctrine of the Catholic Church.
…and so we began!
The Catholic Church requires its Bishops to submit a “Request of Resignation” to the Pope when they turn seventy-five years of age. Bishop Mike turned seventy-five in May and complied with the Church doctrine and submitted his request to resign. There is a time delay in hearing back from the Pope with a determination. Once he does hear back, he will be leaving our community and a new Bishop will be assigned to our Diocese.
He shared that while he was at a meeting of Bishops from the United States back in June, he met another Bishop who had sent in his Request of Resignation. That Bishop had turned seventy-five in the previous September and he was still waiting to hear in June. Hopefully, we too can enjoy several more months before his departure.
Bishop Pfeifer will leave our community so the new Bishop can step in and lead without people still seeking out Bishop Pfeifer’s opinion or presence. He will turn over the reins and allow the new person the freedom to lead with his own style and preferences. He will leave some really big shoes for his predecessor to fill.
Bishop Pfeifer is from the Rio Grande Valley, born near McAllen, Texas in a small town called Alamo. He knew at a very young age that he potentially was being called into the priesthood. His big brother was attending seminary in San Antonio and would come home sharing great stories about his school and football. His interest began to grow with each story and at the age of fourteen he entered high school at St. Anthony’s Seminary in San Antonio following his brother’s footsteps. The Seminary was under the care of the religious community of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The process began. He completed the four years of preparatory high school seminary and then entered a two year junior college seminary. In listening to the process, everything is taken one step at a time, testing the commitment of the young man. After the two years of college, they were sent away for one year to a remote place as a novice to spend more time in prayer and meditation. The novitiate where the novices studied and prayed was located south of Mission, Texas. If their commitment is still there to move forward, then the novices take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for one year. They re-enter college and have a three year study and training in the various aspects of philosophy.
At the end of the first year, once again they are asked about their commitment. If they are still committed, then they commit to doing the second year. Again, they are asked at the end of the second year about their commitment before they begin their third year of study. At the conclusion of their third year, to move forward, they make a Perpetual Vow and begin a four year study of Theology. When they complete their studies, they have what is equivalent to a Doctorate Degree in Theology.
Upon completion, the young priest was sent to Mexico. He would spend the next sixteen years working in Oaxaca and Mexico City. Pfeifer’s older brother was also working in Mexico and spent years serving in that country. From Mexico he was sent back to San Antonio where he was over the Southern America territory for the Oblates. During that time he had the joy of opening a mission in Zambia, Africa. He would serve in that position in San Antonio for four years.
I discovered that there are two basic ways priests serve in the Catholic Church. There are those that are part of a Diocese and operate within that Diocese territory. Then there is a group that belongs to what is called a religious Community. They are not bound by territory but can be sent anywhere to serve. This group consists of the Monks, Priests, Hermits, and also includes nuns. They report to a Superior who assigns them where to serve. You’ll notice that Bishop Pfeifer’s name is followed by OMI. That is the community that he is a part of – Oblate of Mary Immaculate.
It was while he was serving in San Antonio that he got word that he was becoming a Bishop and would serve in San Angelo. I asked what his reaction to this honor was, as only a few are ever chosen for this position. He immediately replied, “I never aspired to be a Bishop.” Now for the last twenty-eight years he has so graciously and honorably served in that capacity for our community and region.
As a non-Catholic, Bishop has impacted my life as one of our community leaders. He has always made himself available when called upon. His fingerprint is forever ingrained into the culture and future of our community. He has worked tirelessly at creating a sense of community amongst the various Christian Churches here, along with opening the doors at Christ the King Retreat Center for other churches to use as well.
When 9/11 happened, he joined other community leaders on that first anniversary for a Memorial Service on the land where Tree of Life Church was planning to build their new facility. They had placed over 3000 crosses representing the lives that had been lost. TLC raised funds with those crosses to go towards the 9/11 Monument here in San Angelo that Bishop Pfeifer was working to bring into fruition. TLC was able to give the first gift toward that lasting monument that we now have here in San Angelo, located close to our Celebration Bridge.
I asked him, “You’ve seen a lot of changes here in San Angelo over the years. What do you think is still needed?” He expressed a need to form a sense of family in our community. There are too many broken families and youth that are impacted. We need to have a strong focus on family, develop educational tools for families, and need more people from the community involved in working to build “community.” We need to come together as a whole family – in spirit and unity.
Another question was, “One of the questions that have run through the non-Catholic community for years has been, are you Spirit-filled with the evidence of speaking in your heavenly language?” He quickly replied, “Yes! For forty years. I don’t understand how someone can be a Christian without the Holy Spirit.” He went on to say that the only gift Jesus promised was the Holy Spirit. He never promised us a house, a car, but He promised us the gift of the Holy Spirit if we would receive it.
His love of the Holy Spirit is what has prompted his giving of what he calls the Medals of the Holy Spirit. This is a small medal token with the symbol of the Holy Spirit on it. I asked if he knew how many he has given out over the years. He estimated that total to be somewhere between 35,000 to 40,000! Wow!
“What is needed to impact our world today?”
1. Prayer – both individually and family prayer, calling on the Holy Spirit and using the Word of God in our daily life.
2. Preach and Teach – we have to reach the youth and let them know the power that is available for them with the Holy Spirit.
“Where are you hoping to go and what would you like to do?” While he loves San Angelo and has many roots here, he would like to go to San Antonio so that the new Bishop could more freely carry out his service. He’s looking forward to getting away from Administrative duties and being able to reflect more and have more time to spend in prayer. He would like to help in some prisons and to serve the sick and the youth, and in various other ministries.
“A final word or thought?” Bishop Pfeifer’s heart spoke as he talked about all of us being children of God. Even though we look different, from different backgrounds, we are all first a child of God. We need to learn this and learn to love God in return and share that love as far as possible.
When all his days are said and done and God has called him home, our friend, our community leader, our Bishop, will be returned to San Angelo to be buried. He has chosen San Angelo as his final resting place. “This is where I shepherded my sheep.”
May his days be many before he is called home! The love of the Lord shines so brightly through him and there are still so many lives that he needs to touch with that love. I for one am thankful that I can call him a friend and that our paths in this life have had the opportunity to cross.
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