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La Liga de Las Americas

“I’m retiring in July to join the circus,” says Father Richard Notter


By Alan Abrams

La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Now that Father Richard Notter has said he will retire from SS. Peter and Paul Church in July 2008, the big question is whether his decision is indeed written in stone.


“The bishop is aware that’s my intention,” says Notter, but he concedes that what still isn’t locked in is the priest that’s coming to Toledo to attempt to fill a pair of pretty big shoes.


“I could have retired five years ago, but I felt I wanted to serve here a little bit longer,” adds Notter.

He’s 70 now, and he says he wants to do a few other things.  July is probably as good a time as any for him to choose for his retirement, because by then he will have served as pastor of the historic South Toledo church for 14 years.


He says another reason he didn’t leave when he turned 65 was because no one in the Diocese wanted to take over his position. “But this time they’ve recruited a priest from México,” he explains.


Actually, this is his third go-around flirting with the idea of retirement, but this time it is clear that he means business.


“This has been a good experience and I’ve enjoyed my time here.  I’m optimistic the parish can continue for a long time,” says Notter, who next year will have been a priest for 45 years (he was ordained May 15, 1963). However, he has been actively involved with the Latino communities since he was a student in the seminary near Columbus, beginning in 1960.


He adds that parishioners have been supportive of his decision to retire. “I will continue to be available to help and to participate in Hispanic celebrations, weddings, and quinceañeras.


“I’ll be living in Toledo so I’ll be in town, helping out. But during the cold weather I plan to be in South Texas. I have friends there, and that’s where I can park my trailer,” says Notter.   


But what he really hopes to do is more ministering to the circus, something he’s only been able to do now in his spare time.


“This is my first year as chaplain for the Circus Fans of America (CFA) national organization,” says Notter, who recently returned from a three week vacation he spent ministering to circus people.  “I was preparing a couple for their wedding sacraments in Florida,” he explains.


Circus and traveling show ministries have received more attention from the Catholic Church in recent years. In the United States, there are several nuns who have this fulltime responsibility through the Bishop’s Conference. There are also members of the clergy assigned to carnivals and the auto racing circuit, as well as a chaplain for bull riders.

Father Notter was honored in 2002 when he was one of four chosen to receive the Archbishop Silvano Tomasi Award.  Father Notter received his award for Extraordinary Service in Migrant and Traveling Show Ministries, which also recognized his role in the forefront of .justice for immigrants/migrants.


Indeed, there are similarities in the two fields of endeavor to which Father Notter ministers. And it was through his work with the one group that he encountered the other.


Notter recalls that he was with farmworkers in Florida when he found himself near one of the circus winter bases in Ruskin.  As he tells it, “It was after Saturday night mass when a Central American lady who had left home to be with the circus that told me I was needed in Tampa to baptize a baby.”


He credits the now retired Bishop Albert H. Ottenweller, former Bishop of Stubenville, Ohio, with paving the path for his Spanish-language ministry.


“I was a summer minister to farmworkers because there was no separate Spanish ministry at the time, and I heard that some priests were coming in from México for the summer. The Diocese needed chauffeurs for them so I applied. We went to Norwalk and to Wauseon, and it was then that I fell in love with the people and their culture.


“I asked Father if our bishop could send me to México for language school next summer

And it happened. After that, I became more and more involved with the community,” recalls Notter.


He played a key role in the 1967 origin of the creation of the regional office for the Hispanic Ministry.  “Several of us met and we decided that we needed a representative sitting in South Bend, Indiana on the Hispanic Catholic Commission, this covered about five or seven states.


“We were based in Lansing, Michigan and then in Notre Dame, Indiana. We attended national meetings in other areas and as a result, in the 1970s a national organization for people in farmworker ministry was created – the Catholic Migrant Farmworkers Network.


“I was a part-time director for two or three years prior to coming to Toledo and I sat on the board, although today I am a consultant. We were there when they organized the workers in Bono as well as at many of the early FLOC campaigns,” says Father Notter.


The weeks before Christmas are traditionally a busy time for Father Notter and the church. December 12 marked the observance of the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Starting on December 16 at 7 pm and continuing daily until Christmas Eve at 11 pm are the Posadas. The last Posada on Christmas Eve leads into the celebration of the Midnight Mass.


But this year’s celebrations will be tinged with a degree of nostalgia, for these will be the last Posadas to be conducted by Father Richard Notter at his beloved SS. Peter and Paul.






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