Capuchin priest’s ministry filled with diverse assignments

By | January 20, 2011

Fr. Samsa grew up in Kingsford, Mich., near Iron Mountain. He attended public schools and wasn’t thinking of a life in ministry. But he was a young teenager caught up in World War II.

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Capuchin Fr. Bertin Samsa


“We all had brothers and sisters in the service,” Fr. Samsa says. “With all the killing, suffering and dying, we spent a lot of time in church praying. The pastor took an interest in us.”

When two young men in the parish entered seminary, the pastor asked him if he also wanted to go. Fr. Samsa entered St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary in 1944 at age 13. During a summer break, he was injured working on the railroad and spent six to eight weeks alone in a Chicago hospital. “It was like a good retreat,” Fr. Samsa says, and he decided to become a Capuchin priest like those he had met at seminary.

“I liked the total dedication of the Capuchins,” he says. “I enjoyed them. I liked their spirit and thought I’d go that way.”

He was ordained Oct. 10, 1956. After two years at St. Joseph Parish in Appleton, he began his travels.

“My most difficult assignment and change was going into prison (ministry),” he says. “Going from the wide open spaces of Montana to prison wasn’t my ideal. It’s a very hard job. The prisoners are not all angels, but they’re not all wicked, either. It’s a very restrictive life. You’ve got to be careful to keep all the rules or you’ll get in trouble.”

However, Fr. Samsa says, “I did some of my best work there. I introduced to the prison lay military people. It was a big breakthrough. I started a prayer group that met every Sunday night, and it’s still going. The military people come in as civilians and it gives the prisoners a contact, a sense of the civilian community. Very good work still is being done. I marvel at it.”

He retired from the Army in 1994 and wanted a new position closer to Appleton to be near his aging mother. He was assigned to the parishes in Weyauwega and Manawa.

“The parish will miss his leadership, his smile and jokes and his presence, especially the children,” says Ss. Peter and Paul Parish pastoral council president Mary Jane Baehman. “He’s a good friend. But we do wish him all the best in his retirement.”

“I’ve had a great life,” Fr. Samsa says. “I enjoyed every assignment. I’ve traveled the world around a couple of times and I’ve never been lonely. Most of my work has been parish work, even in the military. There’s a family there as close to you as your own family.”

Fr. Samsa has a sister living in Hawaii, another in Rockford, Ill., and two brothers in Appleton. One of his brothers is Fr. John Francis Samsa, who worked in missions in Nicaragua and Honduras for 40 years and now is retired. Fr. John Samsa helps with Hispanic ministries at St. Therese Parish in Appleton and lives at St. Fidelis Friary, the same facility where Fr. Bertin will live.

“I’m proud to be a priest,” he says. “I don’t think I could have lived a better life. What an opportunity to help people. You don’t become a priest for yourself. You become a priest for others. You’re actually serving the church. Being a pastor is the greatest thing. That’s where the action is. You’re working with people. That’s the epitome of the priesthood. We all do the same work — bringing the faith and keeping your parishes going. I did my job.”

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