SEWARD — Father Rene Guesnier, 82, knows right from wrong and believes in an absolute truth. He’s witnessed death and dying up close in Vietnam, and is abhorred by worldwide tragedies where actions by suicide bombers are tied to a “religion.”
“That’s not religion — it’s a culture of death,” Guesnier said. “Some things are right or wrong under all circumstances. That’s an end of life plan.”
Guesnier’s old-time religious beliefs are built on a lifetime foundation of Christianity. He hasn’t arrived for a solution to suicide bombings, but knows it’s inherently wrong to kill innocent victims for a cause.
Sunday will mark Father Guesnier’s final time to celebrate a Mass on Easter, which tops the religious calendar along with the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth on Christmas Day. His final masses will be celebrated April 3, his last official function at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church of Seward before Father Ted Stecklein assumes responsibility for St. Francis Xavier’s parish.
After 55 years of religious service, Father Guesnier will feel right at home celebrating a traditional Latin Mass Sunday in addition to his regular English Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church of Seward.
After an English Mass is celebrated at 8:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday, Father Guesnier will celebrate a Latin Mass at 11 a.m. Father Guesnier was freed to celebrate Latin masses by Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter in 2007.
Father Guesnier said his pending retirement reminds him of a phrase Lily Tomlin used when she portrayed the phone operator Ernestine on “Laugh-In.”
“Your time is up,” she would say.
St. Francis Xavier celebrated 125 years as a parish in 2011. Father Guesnier celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest several years ago. He has served in Seward for 24 years. The parish operated an elementary school from 1926 until 1965. Students were taught by the Dominican Sisters.
Father Guesnier sees familiar faces at the Latin Masses, generally attended by more than a dozen people from Liberal, Dodge City, Great Bend and Sedgwick County.
“There are not very many traditional Latin Masses. The people enjoy it and some of them never miss,” he said. “The Latin Mass is very dear to their hearts. They are wonderful, deeply committed Catholics. The Latin Mass has the same liturgy and language that has been carried over for centuries. That’s what everyone likes.”
The son of Joseph and Vina (Rickert) Guesnier entered his religious life as a 15-year-old teenager after growing up in the Seward and Radium area. He attended Radium High School, which ironically did not offer Latin as an elective class. He graduated from high school at Our Lady of the Ozarks in Carthage, Mo.
“In the study of St. Thomas Aquinas in Philosophy I came across his teaching about the religious life,” he said. “He said somewhere that it was the most perfect way of life. I felt God was calling me to be a priest.”
Father Guesnier served eight years in the seminary for the Wichita Diocese and later for the Dodge City Diocese. After college, Bishop John Baptist Franz released him to join the Order of St. Benedict at Conception Abbey.
“I loved those first few years in the abbey,” he said. “I loved the example of the Benedictine monks and the abbey’s dedication to the celebration of the Divine Office and the sacred liturgy. Abbot Stephen Schappler was a good holy Abbot and was serious about leading us to heaven. It was a great start.”
Father Guesnier spent part of his younger religious life with the Order of St. Benedict at Conception Abbey.
“My joys were the early years at the abbey and being able to offer the old Latin Mass,” he said. “How beautiful it is! Knowing that Jesus and our blessed Mother love me.”
Father Guesnier served 20 years as a Catholic chaplain in the U.S. Army and spent time in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Each place has its own character, but there was deep religious meaning in Vietnam because people were being killed,” he said.
Father Guesnier recalls two of his favorite scripture passages for his inspiration.
“Obedience trumps everything,” and when things get tough, St. Paul reminds me, “To live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.” (Galatians)
For information, call St. Francis Xavier Church, 620-458-5691; or e-mail email@example.com.