Fr. Samter dies; ordained after 31 years as Episcopal priest

ALLOUEZ — Fr. Jim Samter, who served the Hmong and Laotian communities during his 14 years of active ministry in the Diocese of Green Bay, died Dec. 12 at age 86.

Fr. Samter was born on April 1, 1931, in Argonne, Wis. Two years later, his family moved to Wheaton, Ill. His father, Gerry, died of a ruptured appendix in 1937. Fr. Samter relocated to Stevens Point in 1943 when his mother, Mary, an educator, joined the faculty at what is now UW-Stevens Point.

Fr. Jim Samter, pictured in a 2012 file photo, was ordained a priest for the Episcopal Church in 1956. Thirty-one years later, he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay. (File Photo | The Compass)

During a 2012 interview with The Compass for the 25-year anniversary of his ordination to the Catholic priesthood, Fr. Samter humorously described his faith background as “checkered.”

He was baptized Methodist, but attended Sunday school at a Presbyterian church. In Stevens Point, he became a member of the Episcopal Church. Following graduation from Lawrence University in Appleton, Fr. Samter attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. to study theology. He was ordained a priest for the Episcopal Church on Dec. 19, 1956.

Fr. Samter served in Fond du Lac and Sheboygan Falls before becoming pastor of Christ Church (now Divine Temple Church of God in Christ) in Green Bay, where he remained until becoming a Catholic.

Fr. Samter said that he first became interested in the Catholic Church in the 1950s while in seminary, but didn’t explore it. His interest grew in Green Bay through his friendship with Norbertine Fr. Norbert Manders when they both served on the Human Rights Council.

On June 16, 1986, Fr. Samter was received into full communion with the church and was confirmed by Bishop Aloysius Wycislo. Fr. Manders was his sponsor. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Adam Maida on Oct. 24, 1987, after completing private studies.

Fr. Samter was appointed Hmong catechetical developer for the Refugee Office of the Diocese of Green Bay in 1986, prior to ordination. His first Catholic priestly appointment, in November of 1987, was as associate pastor at St. Jude Parish, Green Bay, with part-time ministry to the Hmong community. From 1991 to 2001, he served in full-time ministry to the Hmong and Laotian communities, while continuing to serve at St. Jude.

Fr. Samter learned tocelebrate Mass in Hmong, and community members translated his homiles. He offered weekly Hmong liturgies in Green Bay, Appleton and Manitowoc until his retirement in 2001. Learning the language was a difficult task for Fr. Samter. He once quipped, “My tongue gets tired just trying to say the words and make those sounds.”

Fr. Samter served on many civic and community boards and committees including United Way of Brown County, the Brown County Clergy Association, the Hmong Association Board and the Ecumenical Center at UW-Green Bay, where he was a founding member of what is now the Mauthe Center.

He is survived by an aunt, Virginia Shorey, Fort Atkinson, Wis.; cousins, including Bill (Nancy) Shorey, Jefferson, Wis., and Linda Shorey (Pat) Connelly, Lake Geneva, Wis.; and close friends, including Fr. Bob Rhyner and Barbara and Paul Biebel and their family.

Visitation and a prayer service led by Fr. Rhyner were held on Dec. 19 at St. Jude Church in Green Bay. The funeral Mass was celebrated on Dec. 20 at St. Jude with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau as the celebrant and homilist. Burial will be at a later date in the family plot at Greenwood Cemetery in Platteville.