Father James Koressel’s rear-view mirror is about to be full of memories and faces as he drives his way into retirement on June 26.
“I don’t know what emotions I will have that day,” the 76-year-old Koressel said. “But I know I will be leaving behind so many good friends who made me a better priest.”
After just more than 50 years of ministry, with nearly one-half of that time spent in Daviess County, Father Jim, as he is known affectionately as throughout the county, will move into his own residence in Evansville, where he still will be Father Jim, but his ministering duties will be curtailed immensely.
“Waking up on June 27 will seem strange as I won’t be awakening to the responsibilities and duties of leading the parish,” he said, adding he intends to have his belongings in Evansville with him when he officially retires at 12:01 p.m. June 26.
He has served as pastor for 17 years at St. Peter’s Church in Montgomery. That 17-year assignment is extremely uncommon as Catholic priests in the Diocese of Evansville are limited now to a six-year stint in any parish and only could return to a parish for a maximum repeat six-year period.
His extended stay, in part, was of his making.
At age 58, Father Jim was assigned to St. Peter’s, a parish of about 300 families. The assignment came at a time when he felt it likely would be his last before his planned retirement at age 65. While the pastor was correct about his final assignment, he would have no idea how much he would come to love the community.
“I was at a point in my life where I thought I’d serve as pastor at St. Peter’s then retire, but once I was here I fell in love with the people, the place and the community,” he said.
Any talk of moving Father Jim from the parish after six years was nixed as he made it clear he would retire before he would take a new assignment.
His love for the community is also not one-sided.
More than 500 parishioners and friends met on June 12 at the Simon J. Graber Community Center to celebrate Koressel’s 50 years of ministry. While the celebration was intended to be a joyous occasion, some found the event to be bittersweet. While friends and parishioners wish him well, they are sad to see him leave.
“We have had many good priests,” said Maggie Craney, who has been a member of St. Peter’s since 1954. “But Father Jim is the absolute best. I almost cry every time I think about him leaving.”
She is not alone.
Normita Aishe, an Odon resident who has been a St. Peter’s parishioner for the past four years, struggles with her emotions about Father Jim’s retirement.
“He is the one priest I have found who treats me as importantly as every other person in the parish,” Aishe said. “I’m just a housekeeper, but he makes me feel like I am important.”
Making people feel important, helping people grow spiritually and helping build community all were goals of the soon-to-be-retired priest.
“I think I’ve done as much as I could,” he said.
Parishioners would agree. During the 17 years of his assignment, the parish has completed more than $2 million worth of projects and no fundraising efforts were needed to pay for the projects.
But, more importantly to the parishioners, Father Jim gave of himself.
“The greatest compliment anyone has given me was the words, ‘You always were here for us,’” he said.
Father Jim is hopeful his parishioners know he intends to be there for them, even in retirement.
Retirement mostly is driven by the physical pain caused by arthritic knees and a bone-on-bone ankle that make it difficult to be on his feet for long periods.
While he may not be on his feet for long periods in retirement, he certainly will not be idle. In fact, he has planned a long-overdue trip to visit the Notre Dame University campus, courses in drawing and painting, lessons to improve his piano playing skills and even scheduled exercise.
“I think I would have to live to be 200 years old to do everything I intend to do,” he joked.
He reported candidly that in 1973, he cried as he drove away from his first parish, St. Joseph in Jasper.
“I don’t think I will cry when I drive away from St. Peter’s because my heart will be full in the knowledge that I have so many great friends who helped make me a better priest, and I love them for that,” he said.