Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
A positive image of God
Fr. George Neumann encourages parents to link with the church
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Father George Neumann can trace his interest in the priesthood back to his youth, particularly to his parents who helped instill a positive image of God in him at an early age.
It's something he tries to share with children today, 41 years after his ordination.
"Talking to children about God is where the image of God starts. I always help them try to get away from thinking of God as the great judge. . . . I emphasize God's love and mercy, his goodness, and how he wants to help us, not punish us."
Neumann's interest in the priesthood also had a great deal to do with spending a lot of time in church in his native Germany, listening and talking to parish priests and visiting missionaries.
"The missionaries would talk about their experiences in different countries overseas, which impressed me very much. Of course, we didn't have television at that time, and that was news to us."
Joining the Pallotine community in 1955, Neumann was ordained in 1961. At that time, Archbishop John MacDonald was recruiting priests to teach in Edmonton's Catholic schools, and Neumann accepted the assignment, arriving here in 1962.
After studying at the University of Alberta for four years, he began teaching at St. Mary's High School. It was a time when both the Church and the education system were undergoing tremendous changes, and he recalls meeting monthly with other members of the Pallotine community to study books about the Second Vatican Council and talk about the changes.
In 1976, Neumann was asked to work for the Catholic Apostolate in Calgary, followed by formation work for the Pallotine community.
A new challenge presented itself in 1990, when he took on the responsibility as parish priest for St. Boniface in Edmonton. The assignment, which was to last one year, stretched to 11, until Neumann moved to Good Shepherd parish a year ago.
Maintaining his interest in education, he now finds himself in contact with half a dozen schools on a regular basis, and focuses his efforts on building a positive relationship with the students and their parents. He has also been able to share his teaching experience as part of the "visioning team" planning for the new Catholic high school being built in the west end.
Neumann sees the challenge of being a parish priest as an opportunity to share his own spirituality. The charism of the Pallotine community is about "bringing our spirituality to whatever situation we are in, and bringing people together, to work together using whatever means are available.
"It is not anything extravagant, it is sound Catholic spirituality.
"It is about motivating people to do good, to assume the responsibility that has been given to us through Baptism."
The extensive involvement of lay people in the parish is a sign of accepting that responsibility, Neumann says, and he shares that message with children through sacramental preparation.
"I will say to them: 'Now you are ready to take another step in our parish community; you can accept new responsibilities, like becoming an altar server.'"
"Our founder would say that everyone who is baptized has the right and the responsibility to work for God's kingdom. And he would say that even at a time when there were still more than enough priests in Rome."
At the same time, Neumann is concerned by the declining number of priests.
"We are missing out on something important if we don't have the number of priests and religious sisters; we begin to miss them and the kind of presence they had in the school and in the parish.
"Teachers are doing good work in the elementary schools; I am impressed by that, and by the kind of celebrations they are doing. But it is also nice to have the priest there, and not just to enhance the solemnity of the occasion."
There is no simple formula to increase the number of vocations, Neumann adds.
"It is important that we pray for vocations and that parishes are supportive of their priests, but I also think it is important that we create an atmosphere where vocations can grow."
His own experience in education has taught him that young people will become involved if they are invited to take part in meaningful projects, and if they know they are needed.
But there is a significant role for parents to play as well.
"Seeing my own family, my parents as people of faith; they had faith to cope with difficult times. There is also a feeling of being connected to the Church, and to the parish priest."
He encourages parents to make contact with their priest and to attend Mass regularly, to "create the atmosphere encouraging young people to think of the priesthood as a career.