By Katie Chrisman
Retired Bishop Arthur Tafoya and Cathedral of the Sacred Heart rector, Msgr. Leonard Racki celebrated their 50th priesthood anniversaries in May. Both were among the clergy honored at a Mass at the conclusion of study days on May 3 where Bishop Tafoya was the principal celebrant and homilist.
Also honored were Father Richard Becker for 40 years and Deacons John O’Hare and John Stroop both celebrating 25 years.
Bishop Tafoya was ordained to the priesthood on May 12, 1962 at St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe. Before becoming a bishop he served as pastor of several parishes in New Mexico and finally as rector at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Santa Fe and vicar general of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
He was ordained a bishop for the Diocese of Pueblo on September 10, 1980. In his 29 years as bishop, Bishop Tafoya ordained 20 priests, began the diaconate program, rebuilt numerous churches including construction of two new churches and initiated lay ministry programs, among other accomplishments
“I’ve been blessed to serve as a priest for 50 years,” Bishop Tafoya said. As he reflected on his priesthood anniversary, he noted that it’s been a challenging time for the Church following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. He also noted both difficult and joyous moments particularly in his ministry as Bishop in the Diocese of Pueblo. Among those that stood out for Bishop Tafoya was an especially painful memory of Fathers Thomas Scheets and Louis Stovik, who were killed in 1996, but that a “great blessing came because it really united people.”
One of his most joy-filled moments was seeing a priest of Pueblo, then Father Dave Ricken ordained as the bishop of Cheyenne, Wyo. and then as the bishop the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis. He also remarked about how special it was for him to ordain men whom he also confirmed years earlier when they were in high school.
He is settling into retirement in Albuquerque and joked, “I thought I would not do too much. The more I’m around, the more I’m invited to do missions and retreats. It’s very satisfying.”
Msgr. Leonard Racki was ordained May 26, 1962 and like Bishop Tafoya, considers Vatican II the most significant milestone which affected his priesthood. Msgr. Racki points out that even after the first session of the council in December of 1962, he had to “unlearn” some of the things he learned about Church in seminary. “I can truly say that Vatican Council has defined my priesthood,” he said.
“Though commonplace today, I remember how exciting it was to celebrate the Mass in English for the first time in a language which people could understand, to experience lay men and women proclaiming the Scripture at Mass and serving as Eucharistic ministers,” Msgr. Racki said. His ministry has included periods of time at St. Francis, St. Anne, St. Pius, St. Joseph and the Cathedral all in Pueblo and several assignments on the chancery staff, including vicar general. At the urging of Bishop Tafoya, he came from retirement back to active ministry.
“I firmly believe that the best is yet to come in the Church – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I’m thankful to God for the opportunity to have been a priest during these exciting years.