BOTKINS — When the Rev. Patrick Sloneker concludes his sermons on Sunday, July 1, he will be saying goodbye to his “family” of 16 years.
Sloneker, who serves as pastor for the Petersburg Parishes, will continue his religious journey at the Incarnation Parish in Centerville. He has been the pastor at Immaculate Conception in Botkins and St. Lawrence in Rhine for 16 years. Eight years ago, St. Joseph in Wapakoneta was added to his church responsibilities. St. John the Evangelist in Fryburg joined his church family four years ago.
Sloneker, who has been a priest for 21 years, said many parishes in the U.S. are joining together because of the lack of priests to serve the churches.
“Our region has four parishes,” said Sloneker. “Something is always happening at the parishes no matter what size it is. The larger churches might have more staff than the smaller churches. I’m fortunate that I have good staff at all the parishes.”
When he arrived in Shelby County, IC and St. Lawrence were already “regioned” together.
“St. John was the last church to region into Petersburg Parishes,” said Slonekcr. “All four churches had change to their Mass schedules.”
Sloneker said he has been blessed as everyone worked together for the churches to be regioned.
“I think with the regioning of the churches, the congregation gets a greater sense of what the church is,” said Sloneker. “The parish is a big, important factor of the church. Regioning can bring more meaning to the parishes.
“This process has brought all the people (from the different churches) closer together,” he said.
When the churches regioned, IC in Botkins dropped its 8 a.m. Mass.
“We had some members who were staunch in their desire to attend that 8 a.m. Mass,” he said.
Some of the IC congregation now attend the 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph in Wapakoneta, said Sloneker. Some chose to attend Mass at Sacred Heart in McCartyville.
The path to the priesthood lead to some soulful thought on Sloneker’s part.
“I was attracted to it as a person is attracted to being a teacher or a motorcycle policeman,” said Sloneker.”Back in 1984, I went to college at a seminary. That was a great experience and it brought me closer to my Lord Jesus.
“I wanted it to be more for me,” he said. “There are five years of post graduate work to become a priest. I also taught for four years in a Catholic school in Middleton. I thought about all life had to offer — friends, marriage, children. It wasn’t an easy decision to make.”
When he made the decision to enter the priesthood, his family had mixed feelings.
“They were happy and fearful for me,” said Sloneker. “My mom and sister were against it. The worried that if the seminary didn’t work out for me, what would I do for future employment to support myself and a family.”
As he spent more time around pastors, he realized it was his calling to become a priest.
“I loved to do the other things that a priest does,” said Sloneker. “Preaching is like being on a roller coaster. It’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time.
“I love to pray and to be closer to the Lord,” he said. “I want to pray for my people and pray in Jesus’ name.”
The person who enters the priesthood lives a varied life.
“There’s a variety in each day,” he said. “You spend time praying. You spend time presiding before people. You spend time visiting people in the hospital.
“You spend time teaching people about the wedding sacraments,” he said.
Sloneker is proud of his work with the four parishes he leads. There were Life in Christ retreats in which parish members could renew their faith life and parish life.
“We held the retreats for eight years,” said Sloneker. “The staff jumped on board to holding the retreats. It was a renewal program which allowed the parish members to grow in their faith.”
Faith, he said, is like a house plant. It either grows or it dies.
“You don’t notice whether the plant is growing on a daily basis,” he said. “You won’t notice the growth or death right away. It will point to your faith that it is growing. But the devil won’t let you see its dying until it’s made progress in that direction.”
Petersburg Parishes, he said, has multi-generations of family attending the services and are active members of the churches.
“The rural area we live in has strong church values and the younger people are very close to their families,” he said. “They go away to college and get their degrees and then they come back home to get jobs. We are fortunate to have Honda, Crown and Copeland here for our young people.
“We have three and four generations of families in the church,: he said.
The strong Catholic faith, he said, starts at home.
“We have families who stay around in this area. The younger generation has parents who required of them to do more. They had to go to Mass. They had to go to CCD. They had a faith formation that continues today.
“Their parents taught them church comes before a traveling team and that’s awesome,” he said.
He said the most rewarding aspect of his 16 years with the local parishes was the congregations’ response to the regioning of the four parishes.
“The people of God and the staff embraced it,” said Sloneker. “It was a frightening time, but they’ve done an awesome job with it.
“Since I’m leaving, I’ve received many cards from people. One was from a person who wasn’t in favor of the regioning. They wrote in the card that they know people know that they wouldn’t have known if this hadn’t happened.”
Sloneker gives credit to Rachel Barber, who was the regional coordinator during the regioning process.
“Rachel is gifted in that she can bring people together and plan events. The regioning wouldn’t have happened as well without her.”
Sloneker said all the parish members are generous with their time to improve their churches.
“The St. Joe renovation was a neat thing,” he said. “That was a $2 million project.”
As the pastor for Petersburg Parishes, Sloneker has also learned he is human, like those in his congregations.
“I’m disappointed about my own mistakes and weaknesses,” said Sloneker. “The stewardship here is a positive quality of the people in the parish.”
Sloneker said he had told the Archdiocese that he wanted to relocate from Shelby/Auglaize County to the Dayton area to be closer to his family.
“Twelve years is the maximum a priest stays at a parish,” he said. “But if you add parishes, such as we did with St. Joe and St. John, that stay can be extended. At my 12-year mark, I told the archbishop, that I didn’t intend to leave right now, but I did want to move to a parish closer to Hamilton where my mom and siblings live.”
Last year, he applied for the transfer to Centerville and it was approved.
Sloneker will be the pastor of his new church. There is one associate pastor there to assist him.
“I’m looking forward to being in just one church,” he said. “I won’t be driving somewhere, every day to get from my office to one church or another. But I’ll miss the rural area.
“Now I’ll be walking across the parish parking lot to work everyday,” he said.
With his departure, the Rev. Sean Wilson, who has been the associate pastor, will become the pastor for the parishes. The new associate pastor is the Rev. Jarrad Kohn, who just graduated from seminary. Kohn’s first day with the parish will be July 2.
“Father Sean is an awesome priest and very gifted,” said Sloneker. “My joy of leaving is knowing that he’ll be pastor here.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.