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Father Sherman Steps Down From Pulpit

Beloved Priest Will Stick Around

Lee, Stephen J. "Father Sherman Steps Down From Pulpit." Grand Forks Herald, 11 June 2003, 1.


Father Sherman, longtime and legendary parish priest at "St. Mike's," will retire this month, it was announced over the weekend at the north-side Grand Forks church.

The Rev. William Sherman has been a priest 48 years, the last 27 at St. Michael's, the largest parish in the Catholic Diocese of Fargo. Sherman turns 76 next month.

As usual, he brushes off any attempt to make a big deal over him, begging off a photo and downplaying the retirement angle.

"I tell you, I'm not really retiring. I will be around town a lot. I just don't have to be pastor anymore," he said Tuesday night, late, after leading an inquiry class for novice Catholics.

By all reports and measures, Sherman is about the most beloved clergyman around, based on sheer numbers and years - and fields - of service.

St. Mike's has 5,000 members, larger than any other Catholic parish in the region, and about any other church. Sherman's style, of being a sometimes gruff, no-nonsense defender of old-fashioned, blue-collar Catholicism, while being genial good company to anyone, and wearing his academic accomplishments lightly, attracted many to the parish. It's difficult, if not impossible, to find a discouraging word said about Sherman, a fairly remarkable fact about any member of the clergy who stays in one spot a long time.

The Rev. Gerald Potter, retired UND religion and philosophy professor and also a diocesan priest, has been in Grand Forks since 1957 and was at St. John's College with Sherman.

"He's a unique combination," Potter said. "He's very pastoral, a parish pastor, but he's also a scholar. He's done remarkable research, and he's really the father of ethnic studies in North Dakota."

"We don't always agree," Potter said with a chuckle. "But they are always pleasant disagreements."

A mentor

Sherman's vast experience in parish ministry running the diocese's largest parish proved a good school for young priests to get their feet on the ground after seminary, said Bishop Samuel Aquila, head of the Fargo Diocese.

"We are certainly grateful for Father Sherman's years of service," Aquila said Tuesday. "He's been devoted to the people of Grand Forks for 26, 27 years, at St. Michael's."

Such tenure is unusual. Fewer than 2 percent of American clergy of all denominations stay in one place for 25 years or more.

And it will become very rare indeed in Catholic churches under a new policy Aquila has instituted: A priest will be assigned for six years to a parish, with a possible renewal of another six years. Then, a transfer will be in order.

"The U.S. bishops decided to make the maximum 12 years in one parish," Aquila said.

This month, in fact, St. Michael's is going to see the very unusual case of a complete turnover of pastoral staff.

Sherman's associates, the Revs. William McDermott and Thomas Krupwich also are leaving. McDermott will go to Langdon, Minn., replacing the Rev. Michael Schommer, who will take over for Sherman at St. Mike's.

Krupwich is going to the Carmelite monastery near Wahpeton, N.D.

He came to St. Michael's as a new priest right out of seminary in 1988, Krupwich said, one of many new priests sent through Sherman's parish to get some hands-on training.

"He's a great example," Krupwich said. "He's kind of like a fatherly priest, the old-fashioned kind who never takes a day off. He used to say, 'You guys don't get a day off. Does a father of a family get a day off?'"

It's hard to follow that commitment, Krupwich said. "He always wanted people to know they can call St. Mike's any time of the day or night and get a priest."

Krupwich came back to St. Mike's a year ago.

"Looking back, I can see all these things I do probably came from him," Krupwich said.

Taking it easy

Sherman and his brother, also a priest, and sister, a nun, have a lake cabin south of Fergus Falls, Minn., where he expects to spend more time this summer.

Sherman makes clear he has no intention of retiring, but only taking the opportunity of being freed from the pulpit to spend more time researching and writing.

His newest book, on Arabs in North Dakota, officially will hit bookstores this month.

He's got more to come, more than he can remember off the top of his head. But they include the tale of a mysterious North Dakota priest, now dead, who led a life of derring-do as a Polish war hero, priest and espionage agent during and after World War II. He's hired Russian, German and Polish translators to help in the research.

There will be a "wiener roast," as he calls it, for Sherman on Monday at St. Mike's, but as usual, he's ducking any ceremony.

"No speeches, no program, no nothing," he said. "In a sense, this is not a goodbye because I will be floating around the community."

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