Appointment catches priest’s family by surprise

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | January 8, 2014

‘When he called, I ... didn’t know what to say,’ Bishop-elect Doerfler’s brother recalls

APPLETION — What’s it like to suddenly have a bishop in the family?

On Tuesday, Dec. 17, Tom Doerfler and his mother, Germaine Doerfler, both of Darboy, received a call from Tom’s older brother, Fr. John, telling them that he had been appointed as bishop of Marquette, Mich.

Fr. John Doerfler is pictured with brother, Tom, parents, Germaine and Henry, and uncle, Capuchin Fr. Camillus Doerfler, at his first Mass at St. Mary in Appleton following ordination in 1991. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)
Fr. John Doerfler is pictured with brother, Tom, parents, Germaine and Henry, and uncle, Capuchin Fr. Camillus Doerfler, at his first Mass at St. Mary in Appleton following ordination in 1991. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)

“When he called,” Tom said, “I just kind of didn’t know what to say, because I was caught by such surprise.”

The news had been kept under wraps by the bishop-elect. He had been scheduled to go to Florida in late December, but then told his family that his plans had changed.

“On Friday morning, he called me,” Germaine said. “He was supposed to be on vacation so I asked, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I’m in Green Bay; I have a work order, I had to cancel my vacation.’ …  So I felt bad and I was praying for him.”

Tom, meanwhile, had texted his brother, teasing him about not getting too close to alligators in the Everglades. Uncharacteristically, there was no responding text.

Then the call came and the family was left speechless.

However, in a way, they always knew that Bishop-elect Doerfler might be named a bishop someday. He had received doctoral degrees both in canon law and moral theology; he had worked in the diocesan offices as a marriage tribunal judge, chancellor and vicar general; he’d served as chaplain, parish administrator and as rector at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

As a seminarian, Fr. John Doerfler studied at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a bachelor of sacred theology 1990. He is pictured in Rome with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)
As a seminarian, Fr. John Doerfler studied at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a bachelor of sacred theology 1990. He is pictured in Rome with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)

“At one time, we thought that — that he’d be a bishop,” Germaine said. “People would say that to us. And I’d say, ‘Well, whatever the Lord wants, I’m sure John would do.’ Then he went into teaching more (at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners), and he was very happy teaching. He loved it — he even told us that this was his niche. So (the appointment) was a complete surprise.”

Tom laughed when asked if the two brothers had ever played priests or “pretend Mass” when they were children in Appleton. “No, we played school.” John, of course, he added, was always the teacher.

However, perhaps the die was cast long before Germaine Mancl and Henry Doerfler met at Appleton’s St. Pius X Church in the late 1950s.

First there was the fact that two of Henry’s brothers were priests: Capuchin Frs. Joseph and Camillus Doerfler (both now deceased). Fr. Joe even served for a time in Marquette, Germaine recalled, as a chaplain.

Germaine herself had been a Carmelite at the Carmel of the Mother of God in Pewaukee. Health issues forced her to return home, with the intent of going back to carmel when she was well again. (Her son, John, today is a member of the secular Carmelites.) In the meantime, since she was a trained organist, she began playing organ at daily Mass for the newly founded St. Pius. Henry Doerfler was a daily Mass attendee. Later, he joined the men’s choir that Germaine had been asked to help form. The two grew close.

“My spirituality was very important to me and I thought that, with Henry, we could grow together in our spirituality,” Germaine said. “Henry was a good man.”

The couple married and joined St. Mary Parish in Appleton, where Germaine later became director of liturgy and music. She served at the parish for 24 years. Henry also volunteered as an usher and a trustee.

“She was there many years and many, many, many hours,” Tom recalled. “Especially at Christmas and Easter; she would hardly be home at all.”

Fr. John Doerfler officiates at the marriage of his brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Lisa, on Aug. 28, 1993, at St. Mary Church, Appleton. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)
Fr. John Doerfler officiates at the marriage of his brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Lisa, on Aug. 28, 1993, at St. Mary Church, Appleton. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)

Germaine agreed. “A six hour day just doesn’t happen in parish ministry. …. If I didn’t have the support of the family, I couldn’t have done it. They were very generous. If they had complained, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Not only did they not complain, her sons became involved in the parish as well. They attended the grade school and youth activities. One day, John came to his mother and asked for help in forming a youth choir to involve both St. Mary and the nearby St. Joseph Parish.

“They didn’t do just music,” Germaine said. “They did social things, too: hay rides, sleigh rides, canoe trips. They raised pumpkins one year to sell.”

Tom was in the group as well and remembers one trip on the Crystal River in Waupaca.

“I remember going on the canoe trip and getting stuck,” Tom said. “John and his friend were down the river and they waited for us to come. … And then they tipped us over.”

Typical big brother behavior.

After high school, John became a seminarian. During those days, his world expanded and he travelled to India to work in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying. He also went to Africa and, when he came home, made the family and their parish priest — Fr. Bob Schiavone — a traditional ethnic meal.

“You just put everything in the middle,” Germaine said. “You pass around the same bowl — he did have napkins. … That was an experience for all of us.”

It was just one of many meals that the bishop-elect has cooked for his family. He loves to cook and his mother believes he finds it relaxing. Tom and wife Lisa’s son, Bryan, has a special request for “Uncle John’s Pasta,” an Italian dish Fr. John picked up during his years of schooling in Rome.

Even after his new appointment, he cooked for the family: a pot roast on the Sunday after Christmas. His mother said that the priests in Marquette, hearing of his culinary skills — which have been shared at many parishes in the Green Bay Diocese — have asked him to cook a meal for them sometime after the Feb. 11 ordination and installation.

Due to health issues, Germaine now lives with Tom, Lisa and Bryan. (Henry died in 1998.) Lisa’s dad, Lester Hartzheim, also lives with the family. It makes for a happy combination. Tom is a finish carpenter and Lisa an accountant. Following the family’s musical heritage — the Bishop-elect plays the guitar — Bryan (14), is an accomplished drummer.

“When we were expecting Bryan,” Tom said, “I went on my own (as a carpenter). We didn’t want to push Bryan into day care. … So my mom and Lisa’s parents, they helped. They took care of Bryan. … Now we just feel that we’re returning to them what we can, because they did so much for us when Bryan was young. If we can help out, we can help out.”

As Germaine considers both of her sons, she sees God at work in them: the bishop and the carpenter.

“I think of Tom and Lisa giving witness to the church of love and caring,” she said. “Every day, I see the hands of Jesus in them. They’re caring for me and Lester. I know it isn’t easy and they’ve given up a lot, but I see the hands of Jesus working here with love and care and concern.”

“So I see John also being the hands of Jesus in a different capacity,” she went on. “Both are good and both are needed in the church.”

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