Scenes from the Retirement Celebration for Msgr. Michael Woster, held June 10, at Black Hills State University Newman Center.
The gift of priesthood – Msgr. Woster to retire after 40 years
By Becky Berreth
“I am always aware that my priesthood is a pure gift and I have done nothing to deserve it,” said Msgr. Michael Woster reflecting on his time as a diocesan priest. “I love presiding at Mass and the sacraments. I really like spiritual direction and counsel, crisis counseling and marriage counseling too. I love to help a person find a new beginning in life as God did for me.”
Msgr. Woster was ordained on June 11, 1982, by Bishop Harold Dimmerling and was assigned as pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Martin with a mission at Batesland. Being assigned immediately as a pastor meant he didn’t have the opportunity to serve with a more established priest after his ordination to learn the workings of a parish.
“A priest’s first assignment as a pastor is where he begins to put his stuff together and learn how to be a priest the way God wants him to be. Our skill sets, our talents are all different,” he explained. “Normally you spend time as an associate. You’ve got someone there to guide you and teach you what they can’t teach you in the seminary.”
Although he was never an associate, he has had several newly ordained priests as associate pastors to mentor.
“It’s a great privilege to be able to be a pastor with an associate pastor to continue that mentoring that goes on, to help them watch at least the way one pastor works, knowing that they are going to learn and receive from you and then they will take that and make it their own.” he said.
In 1985 he studied Canon Law in Canada and upon graduation became the Chancellor and Judicial Vicar for the diocese along with parish assignments of St. John the Evangelist, New Underwood and auxiliary chaplain for Ellsworth Air Force Base. In May of 1989 he was appointed Vicar General, Judicial Vicar, and Moderator of the Curia until 2000.
“This was during the tenure of Bishop Charles Chaput, and I served him in these offices until he became Archbishop of Denver in February 1997. I was elected Diocesan Administrator by the priests and oversaw the life and ministry of the diocese until Bishop Cupich became our bishop in July 1998,” he explained. “I loved my time as administrator. It was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying times in my life.” In 1998, he was appointed rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City, with a mission at Hermosa. In 2004, Msgr. Woster was appointed pastor of Immaculate Conception, Winner, and oversaw his first major construction project completed in 2010. The church was emptied and remodeled. His second project was building the Newman Center at Black Hills State University.
“That was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced,” he said. “this is a relatively small community and it was hard to do an almost $4 million dollar project. I’m very proud of the people and what they did here, at St. Paul in Belle Fourche, and the people in Newell. The people worked very, very hard to make it possible. It took us five years to do that,” said Msgr. Woster.
During the past 40 years as a diocesan priest, he has served as the director for many diocesan organizations including the Rural Life, Catholic Social Services, and Finance Committee. As part of a team of diocesan and lay volunteers, he helped raise the initial funds to start the Western South Dakota Catholic Foundation and is currently the president of the WSDCF board. He was given the honorary title of Monsignor by Pope John Paul II on March 27, 1995.
While he plans on reconnecting with family when he he retires, there are several things that he will miss about being a full-time pastor.
“Holy Week was an emotional time for me. I probably won’t preside over Good Friday & the Easter Vigil again. There will be fewer baptisms, weddings, and funerals — the bread and butter of the pastor’s ministry. I will miss all these things very much,” he said.