Father Rollie Celebrates 60 Years as a Priest, 58 Years as Pastor
Glenmary Father Rollie Hautz, still an active pastor at age 85, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of his ordination this year. A few other Glenmary priests have reached this milestone. But Father Rollie is the only Glenmarian who has ever served in the missions for 60 consecutive years—and for 58 years as a pastor. Since 1955, he has led many mission communities in Appalachian counties of Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia.
When he became pastor of the Gate City and Dungannon, Va., missions 15 years ago, someone reminded him that he was eligible to retire and could then do what he wanted. "I told him ‘I'm already doing what I want,'" he says. "I love being a Glenmary pastor. And I'll continue as long as my health allows. I've had a wonderful 60 years serving the Lord and the people as a Glenmary priest."
Father Rollie is still ready to respond when people need him. On May 10 he received a 1 a.m. phone request to come to a Kingsport, Tenn., hospital. Two hours later, he was administering the anointing of the sick to a critically ill patient. He finally returned home at 5 a.m. "It was a joy to have the privilege to anoint a man who might have been in the last hours of his life," he says.
Father Rollie knew, even as a high school student, that God was calling him to be a missionary priest. He says that a Scripture passage from Matthew, "'Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations ...,'" really inspired him. After much prayer, he met with Glenmary founder Father William Howard Bishop on April 4, 1944, and entered Glenmary as a 16-year-old high school senior and soon-to-be graduate.
Throughout the years, he has sustained his missionary spirit, spreading the Good News by talking with people face to face, writing newspaper articles, speaking on television and radio programs, and preaching outdoors. And he's always used his storytelling skills to deliver the message.
From 1955 to 1967 in Virginia, for example, Father Rollie preached revival-style from the back of a trailer four to five times a week every summer-in both African American and white communities. In addition, he and two Glenmary sisters organized and hosted Vacation Bible School programs in the same areas.
These efforts resulted in an increase in Catholics and a dramatic decrease in anti-Catholic feeling, he says. "I think I was the last Glenmarian who did street preaching."
In Coeburn and Lebanon, Va., he led the way in the building of new churches, with construction help from his talented father.
But he and the mission communities he's served have also devoted themselves to social outreach. From 1970 to 1981, Father Rollie and several nuns organized and coordinated a Christian volunteer camp in Adams County, Ohio. "We hosted 10-12 groups of 20-30 each year—about 2,500 to 3,000 students and adults from around the country," he says. "They had a great impact on the local community."
The volunteers repaired homes of those in need; visited the poor and aged; helped conduct Bible school and summer camp; collected and distributed food, clothes and Christmas toys for the needy; and helped evangelize to local residents.
On the occasion of his silver jubilee as a priest, now-deceased Father Joe O'Donnell called Father Rollie "the frontline missioner par excellence."
Today, as the last Glenmary pastor in Virginia, Father Rollie leads a congregation of 24 at St. Bernard in Gate City and a community of 18 at St. Patrick in Dungannon, both in Scott County. He has brought many members of both missions into the Church—and people continue to seek out the Catholic Church at the two mission parishes each year.
"I have an especially strong connection with the Dungannon mission," he says, because he also served there as a seminarian in 1946 and as pastor for a few years in the 1950s. "I even remember cutting down trees in 1946 to help build the log church!"
He points out that Glenmary has maintained a presence in Scott County because of the spiritual and material needs there. "I receive up to four calls a day from people who need groceries or assistance with utility bills," he says. "We help in any way that we can."
Father Rollie has scaled back some of his activities. But in addition to his other responsibilities as pastor, he remains active in the local ministerial association and he writes two articles each week for area newspapers. Looking ahead, he's optimistic that—even after he leaves this pastorate and these last Glenmary missions are returned to the pastoral care of the Richmond diocese—the parishes will continue "because our members are very active and strong in their faith and outreach efforts."
T hese missions are small, he says, but they are real church families. "The joy of just being with these folks is wonderful. And my time as a priest with Glenmary and all the people in our mission areas has been a happy ride for 60 years. Thanks be to God!"
This article first appeared in the June 2013 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.