Priest credits prayers of St. Bridget for his ministry

By Amanda Lauer | For The Compass | July 18, 2017

Fr. Farrell says prayers recited by his mother and father gave him impetus for pursuing vocation

APPLETON — In 1979, Fr. Tom Farrell was introduced to the prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden. This is a set of 15 prayers each preceded by one Our Father and one Hail Mary which, if said every day for an entire year, equal 5,475 prayers — one for each of the blows Jesus suffered during his passion, according to what was revealed to St. Bridget. Those who complete these prayers are granted 21 promises from the Lord.

Fr. Thomas Farrell is celebrating his 25th jubilee of priesthood this year. He was recently appointed pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano. He previously was pastor at St. Pius X in Appleton. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“I remember my mom said to her cousin she was going to be praying them and I thought, ‘It’s going to be a cold day in heck before I pray that long,’” said Fr. Farrell. “But every time I went to their house, my mom and dad were praying them. Finally I said, ‘Just give me that stupid book.’ I started praying them and I thought, ‘Wow, these are powerful prayers.’ It took me over an hour to pray them every day — you are so moved by it — and I wanted to be sincere when I prayed them. It changed my life.”

Fr. Farrell attributes those prayers for giving him the impetus to pursue the priesthood.

“I was thinking about becoming a priest when I was in second grade at St. Nicholas in Freedom,” Fr. Farrell said. “Fr. Al Hietpas just loved kids and had that charism about him. He was a good priest.”

He was also inspired by a cousin, Fr. Norman Verhagen, who was a Maryknoll priest serving in Mexico.

“I went to Sacred Heart Seminary for two years. I struggled with academics — especially biology. They felt I was more reserved — I got over that,” said Fr. Farrell.

Because of those factors it was decided that the seminary was not the right fit for him at that time and he finished his last two years of high school in his hometown of Wrightstown. After graduation, he joined the work field and spent 12 years at Rich’s Bakery in Appleton.

“When I started saying the prayers of St. Bridget, that got me back on track with seminary. I enrolled at Silver Lake College at the age of 29 while I still worked at Rich’s. I did that for one year and I entered St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, in the fall. They had an undergrad program which other seminaries didn’t,” he explained.

This year, Fr. Farrell is celebrating 25 years of priesthood. The first four years, he was an associate pastor at St. Bernard Parish in Appleton and then spent another year as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart in Shawano. His first appointment as pastor was at Holy Trinity in Casco/Slovan. He was then pastor and administrator at SS. Peter and Paul in Green Bay. For the last 12 years he has been pastor at St. Pius X Parish in Appleton.

There is something in common with all of Fr. Farrell’s assignments.

“I did not want to go to any of them,” he noted wryly. “They all were hard transitions. It wasn’t their issues, it was my issues. When I was assigned in Shawano, I was hoping to get a parish instead of being an associate for another year. But Shawano was a good experience. I put in for New Holstein and got Casco. I actually loved Casco. They redid the sanctuary at SS. Peter and Paul and it was an amazing experience, and the people I met there, I can’t say enough about them. My first assignment with Fr. Orville Janssen (at St. Bernard) was such a blessing. He was so supportive and he gave me self-confidence. I didn’t have that at all. I can’t thank him enough. He worked with the poor and helped me understand the poor. I loved all of my assignments.”

This month, Fr. Farrell started his duties as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano and priest celebrant and priest moderator at St. Martin Parish in Cecil. Changing parishes is never easy, he said.

“It’s always difficult to leave. The only difference with this assignment is that because it was so busy at St. Pius I was kind of in a way relieved to move,” he said.

While he didn’t take the typical path to priesthood, Fr. Farrell was glad he experienced life in the secular world before taking his vows.

“It was an advantage for me. I wasn’t looking for something after I was in the priesthood,” he said. “A lot of guys think they missed what’s out there, but you don’t miss what’s out there when you’re working 10 hours a day and you put in the time and you’re in relationships. I had to sell my car when I went to the seminary to help with the schooling and all that. I was there two weeks and had nothing and I thought, ‘I couldn’t be happier.’ I knew God called me; I just knew this is what I had to be.”

IN JULY 14 PRINT EDITION, find other 2017 jubilarian priests.

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