Father Mark Niehaus Honoring #HeroPriests

Father Mark Niehaus, St. Patrick Parish, Whitewater, WI

Submitted by: Abigail McCallum

From the beginning of the pandemic through current times, Fr. Mark has diligently supported and connected the community. Not long after quarantine was in place, he began to live-stream Holy Mass. This made St. Patrick's one of the only in the area to have local Mass streamed. Fr. Mark recognized the need for communication and began to call parishioners, focusing on those who were elderly and/or living alone. At one point he mentioned how he would spend all afternoon making phone calls trying to reach people and check in on them.

As quarantine continued, it was evident that there was a need for more connection. The parish office staff has a tradition of gathering for the Angelus each day, so he began to livestream the prayer every day at noon. Diligently for months every day he would tune in for 5 minutes to pray and gather the community. There was still a need for the opportunity to pray with and for one another, so a parish project - the Holy Spirit Project - was extended beyond the planned 40 weeks to 50 weeks. This was a call for our community to pray for one another and be aware of God working even in the hardest times of the pandemic. Around mid-April outdoor "parking lot" confessions were opened back up. Rain or shine, Fr. Mark would sit outside the parish waiting for individuals to arrive, and slowly but surely the word got out of the opportunity and they came.

When Masses were opened back to the public on Pentecost, the joy that could be seen and heard through him outpoured. The majority of the community being older also brought its challenges. Fr. Mark lead the task of offering in-person attendance, live-streaming Mass, and even setting up a local radio station that could be heard in the parking lot for those who are too vulnerable to attend distantly and receive the Eucharist. The various opportunities continue through the time that I am writing this, and the joy of attending Mass is seen on the faces of all who have taken advantage of it.

Currently in the works is a new project to succeed the Holy Spirit Project, a 9 month process of discovering where fruits of the project are found in our lives. This project comes directly from the creativity of Fr. Mark and will focus on bringing the community together in 27 different "bundles" of families to promote studying a fruit, praying for one another, and in general building and strengthening the community even more.

The parish was and remains in good hands throughout the pandemic, Fr. Mark has managed to keep the community feeling connected. The part that amazes me even more is he is doing all of what I mentioned and more while being the Schoenstatt Father's of America's superior and leading the community remotely through hardships, planning an ordination, and trying to keep the priests healthy and organized.

Fr. Mark has been the administrator for St. Patrick Parish since late 2014. After having several "fill-in" priests over the course of 2 years, the community was in need of a Shepherd that would stay for longer than a few weeks or months. God heard the community's pleas and Fr. Mark decided to stay at the parish for an initial 2 years. That 2 years has been extended to 8 with Fr. Mark now staying until 2022. During the past 6 years, the graces in the community have been overflowing. Numbers have grown, involvement has gone up, and before restrictions, the pews were filled at nearly every Mass. Fr. Mark is a person who inspires respect and love for our Lord. He acts as a spiritual director for countless people, young men who were in his campus ministry at the beginning of his priesthood, local parishioners, men and women who are part of the Schoenstatt Movement, the list goes on of people who desire to seek his advice and friendship.

On a personal level, Fr. Mark has acted as my spiritual director for the last few years and has walked beside me with difficult decisions, hardships, and my journey to find where my vocation is fulfilled. A few months ago he connected me with another spiritual director because of more and more responsibilities being added to his load. Despite not having the time to meet regularly, he is always open to talk and makes time for myself, or anyone, in need of counsel. He inspires me to be attentive and live in a manner of service to those around you, he is an unmatched example in how one is able to live to lead souls to the Father.

It takes an extraordinary person to be able to bring a community together, be endlessly creative, seemingly be two places at once, and continue towards the future with hope and faith. For these reasons I believe Fr. Mark Niehaus is truly a #heropriest and deserves the recognition of the "In Service of One Another Catholic Humanitarian Award"