Local priest reflects on faith, fellowship and his parish family


Monsignor Ken Schaefer lights the candle of Braden Burris, of Energy, while Johnston City resident Blake Gualdoni, with cross, and Gavin Shramm, of Herrin, observe prior to a Lenten ceremony of Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 24, 2017, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Herrin. Born in Belleville and raised in the St. Clair County village of Millstadt, Schaefer was ordained a priest on June 8, 1974. The priest has presided over the southern Illinois parish since 1994. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

By Jacob Wiegand

Even as a child, 68-year-old Ken Schaefer was considering a life dedicated to God.

Schaefer has been a Catholic priest for 43 years and serves as the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Herrin.

A typical day for the monsignor, an honorary title given to some priests in the Catholic Church, begins with morning prayer.


“It’s a chance for me to pray for all the people who are suffering,” he said. “And all the people, the needs of people who are hurting. And for bigger needs, for the need for peace in this world.”

Born in Belleville and raised in the St. Clair County village of Millstadt, Schaefer was ordained a priest on June 8, 1974.

The monsignor has presided over the southern Illinois parish since 1994 and said most priests move from place to place more than he has during his career.

Schaefer said being the pastor of a parish with a school allows him to form relationships with hundreds of children.

“Teaching children to respect themselves and others is a huge thing,” he said. “If we can get that message across and they carry that message into their adult life, then we’ve been successful.”

­Mary Russell, a second grade teacher and parishioner at OLMC, said her students are drawn to the monsignor who has been instructing the students in preparation for their first Holy Communion which they received Sunday.


“He’s so good with the kids and is able to put real-life experiences with that sacrament for them,” Russell said. “And they also are very inquisitive. They want to know what it’s like to be a priest.”

Schaefer said there have been times when he looks back and thinks he could have gone in a different direction with his life.

“I would say those times are certainly overshadowed by the decision I made to do what I’m doing,” he said. “Because needless to say I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.”

Jolene Yancey, of Energy, has been attending OLMC since she was a child and is from the same hometown as Schaefer.

“He’s a wonderful person and he really gets things going,” Yancey said. “He has done wonders for this church and the people really, really respond to him.”

Sam Garnati, a 93-year-old who has attend OLMC his entire life, said he has known Schaefer since the priest started at the church 22 years ago.

“He’s a great leader,” Garnati said. “He’s outgoing and gracious. … He just seems like he doesn’t meet a stranger.”

Schaefer said the most difficult part of his job is seeing the struggles people go through such as death, divorce and sickness. However, he said he enjoys being a priest because of the effect his role has in people’s lives.

“In ministry, when you see people growing in their faith, it’s sort of like a parent watching their child start walking and talking,” he said.

Photo and multimedia editor Jacob Wiegand can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jawiegandphoto.

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