He was ordained for the Diocese of Marquette and eventually transferred to Austin, Texas. Msgr. Elmer spent much of his priesthood working in the seminary at the North American College and at the Casa Santa Maria, which is the graduate house of studies for American priests studying for advanced degrees.
It was in Rome at the Casa Santa Maria that I met Msgr. Elmer, who was a real spiritual father to the 80-some priests studying there at the time.
It was there that I got to know a priest who had a tremendous influence on the priests in the United States more than any other priest or bishop. Names you may recognize are Fr. Dan Felton, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc; Fr. Thomas Paprocki, now bishop of Springfield, Ill.; Fr. Alex Sample, now bishop of Marquette; and Fr. Bernie Hebda, now bishop of Gaylord, Mich.
He had a tremendous influence on all of us and showed a personal interest. At the time I was trying to lose weight, which is my perennial challenge it seems, Msgr. Elmer challenged me to walk with him every day at 5 a.m. We went seven different directions from the center of Rome, one direction per day, every day of the week for at least an hour and 15 minutes. He had very long legs and l had to walk very fast. At times I even had to run to keep up with him.
During our walks he regaled me with stories of Rome and the “old monsignor stories” about priests he knew who had done something memorable. I treasured those daily walks and getting to know monsignor, who I kept up with through the years. What a blessing then (I lost a lot of weight). I got to know the city so much better and got to know a wonderful priest, Msgr. Charlie, who was a dear friend and a real priest’s priest.
The other priest is someone known to so many of you whom I call a people’s priest. That was demonstrated by the packed funeral for Fr. Tony Dolski at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. What a priest! He loved doing the basics of priestly life and ministry.
There was nothing flashy about his ministry, but he loved celebrating the Mass and the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation. He loved reaching out to people and he always had a word of encouragement for others. He remained very dedicated to the Blessed Mother and encouraging people’s prayer and devotional life.
Fr. Tony helped out very generously at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help and at the cathedral and countless other situations where he was so known and loved. Though officially retired, he never slowed down when it came to exercising his priestly ministry for others. Fr. Tony was a true gift to the diocese and to the people of God. I am sure we will be hearing Fr. Tony stories for many years to come. I wish I could have known him longer.
These two men of God fulfilled their mission on earth through their vocation, each in his own way according to God’s will. Let them be a sign to us of God’s tremendous love and mercy for his people. Pray for your priest and pray for more young men to join them in one of the statistically proven happiest professions in the world.