Longtime missionaries' return is a cross to bear

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Fr. Halpin

Maryknoll Father Joseph W. Halpin was made for parish work, and Most Precious Blood Parish in Guatemala City was the right fit.

"I just liked the work with the people -- nice people, you know," Father Halpin said. They are warm and family-oriented, no pretenses, "very simple people," he said.

Father Halpin returned to his hometown of St. Louis Sept. 15 for kidney dialysis and now is at the Maryknoll health care facility in New York. "I'd rather be down there," he said of his parish. A lot of tears were shed when he said goodbye for the last time.

A St. Louis native, Father Halpin attended St. Louis Preparatory Seminary and entered Maryknoll Minor Seminary in Clark's Summit, Pa., in 1943 and was ordained in 1952.

He was assigned to the Maryknoll mission in Guatemala. He studied Spanish and served as assistant pastor in the Soloma mission in Huehuetenango in the Cuchamantan Mountains.

As pastor of a handful of parishes, along with his pastoral duties, he worked with other Maryknollers on agricultural and health care cooperatives, supervised construction of a rectory and hospice for catechists, built a new church and more. He served for 28 years as pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish (La Preciosisima Sangre).

His parish certainly kept him in contact with people. It has some 60 eucharistic ministers, several lectors, many altar boys and girls, catechists, women religious, 25 groups, including prayer groups. It was a smooth operation, now led by a priest who is a native of Guatemala.

His biggest project was opening and running a school. His philosophy was to give poor children a private education, keeping tuition as low as possible.

He has a sister in St. Louis, Rita Halpin, and a brother-in-law, sister-in-law and 17 nieces and nephews living all over the U.S. The Maryknoll residence where he lives is very nice, he added.

Msgr. David Ratermann spent 52 years in Bolivia, returning to his native St. Louis in 1988. He was a classmate of Father Halpin.

Father Halpin had a model parish in Guatemala with a lot of involvement from laypeople and extraordinary success in education, Msgr. Ratermann said. Father Halpin has a great sense of humor and sense of dedication, he added.

Msgr. Ratermann said leaving a mission land after serving there so many years is comparable to a divorce. "You're heartbroken. It's another way I had to deal with the cross of Jesus. It comes into our lives in lots of ways. And if you deal with that honestly, then you can let go and you can get on with your life. That's more or less what I've had to do."

His advice applies to anyone experiencing change and loss. The only way to handle it "is to put it in the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus ... given over to God, " Msgr. Ratermann said.

He doesn't refer to his return to the United States as coming home, because to him Bolivia was home. The high altitude in Bolivia was giving him health difficulties and he no longer could keep up with the work, which required walking, driving a Jeep and standing up under a certain amount of pressure.

Living at the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests in Shrewsbury, he has been able to do a limited ministry and especially enjoys being a confessor on ACTS retreats.
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