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Scranton pastor: Vocation 'grew gradually'

Looking back on 50 years of teaching and pastoral ministry, Benedictine Father Denis Soerries particularly values the give-and-take of community and work with children, who he says are "like creation in slow motion."

Published: August 12, 2006   
Father Denis Soerries, OSB, has maintained a connection to Subiaco Abbey since high school. He was ordained a priest in 1956.

SUBIACO -- Benedictine Father Denis Soerries has maintained a connection to his hometown of Hartman and the closed parish, Sacred Heart, where he was baptized, attended school and celebrated his first Mass in 1956.

The fourth oldest of 11 children, Clarence Soerries was born on Feb. 18, 1931.

It was to his hometown that Father Soerries returned along with family members, relatives and friends on Sunday, May 7 for a celebration of his golden jubilee.

As a teenager, Clarence Soerries came to Subiaco Academy for his secondary education and graduated in 1949. He professed his vows as a Benedictine monk in September 1951, receiving the name Denis. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Albert L. Fletcher at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on May 26, 1956.

Father Soerries taught at Subiaco Academy, Laneri High School in Fort Worth, Texas, Corpus Christi Academy in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Saint Bernard College in Cullman, Ala. In 1972, he began a three-decade pastoral ministry serving parishes in Arkansas and Texas.

"Almost every parish had a school," he said, "and although schools are an added dimension of work and worry, I have enjoyed working with school children on both high school and elementary levels. Children are another revelation of the mystery of God. They are like creation in slow motion."

Father Soerries' longest tenure in residential pastoral work was at Sacred Heart Church in Muenster, Texas. While there he was among a group of 500 priests from across the United States sent by their bishops to greet Pope John Paul II in Miami, Fla., in 1952 and to concelebrate an open-air Mass with the pope.

Currently, Father Soerries serves as pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Scranton and its mission church of St. Meinrad in Prairie View. The combined congregations honored their pastor on May 21 with Mass at St. Ignatius Church, followed by a meal in the parish hall.

"My vocation was not a dramatic pounding like St. Paul's conversion," Father Soerries said. "It just grew gradually from a family whose parents took their faith seriously and insisted that their children did too."

In addition to his 17 years of work in the classroom and decades of pastoral ministry, the priest is known as an avid sportsman. He has great appreciation for the outdoors; fishing and hunting were encouraged in the Soerries family, serving as recreation and garnering fish and game for the family table.

"My dad and older brothers taught me fishing and hunting very early in life, and I have continually tried to improve on those abilities and I am still trying," he said.

Living the monastic life himself for more than a half century, Father Soerries said he feels kindness and compassion are the hallmarks of Benedictine life.

"Everyone in the community," he said, "suffers from something and needs others to suffer with him, as the word 'compassion' means, and it is in that giving and receiving compassion that allows the community to grow spiritually."

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