Msgr. Larry Stuebben, coordinator of papal visit and longtime pastor and archdiocesan administrativ
March 28, 2017 | posted by Archdiocese of San Antonio
Topics: Breaking News
Msgr. Larry Stuebben, coordinator of papal visit and longtime pastor and archdiocesan administrative leader, dies at 84
Msgr. Lawrence J. Stuebben, who coordinated the papal visit of Pope John Paul II to San Antonio in 1987 -- a landmark event in the history of the Archdiocese of San Antonio -- and was a beloved pastor and archdiocesan administrative leader for many decades, died March 28 at the age of 84 in San Antonio. In hospice care, he had been battling a variety of serious illnesses in recent months.
He was born on April 4, 1932 to George and Clara Henzen Stuebben. He had two brothers, Msgr. George Stuebben (also deceased), who served as a Chaplain Colonel in the U.S. Army, and Thomas L. Stuebben. His mother, who passed away in 2004, was known as “Mom Stuebben” to generations of priests and religious in the archdiocese.
“I guess if I could summarize my more than 50 years in ministry,” said Msgr. Stuebben in a 2008 interview with Today’s Catholic archdiocesan newspaper, “I was happy every place I went and every job I had.” Happy is a word that definitely characterized this people-oriented priest who has served the Archdiocese of San Antonio in so many ways over the years ― and continued to serve them in his retirement.
A San Antonio native, Msgr. Stuebben graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy and Central Catholic High School, before entering St. John’s Seminary and, later, the new Assumption Seminary, which was to play a large role in his life and ministry. Ordained as a priest for the archdiocese in 1955 in San Fernando Cathedral by Archbishop Robert E. Lucey, Msgr. Stuebben started and ended his official career as a parish priest, a ministry he dearly loved. His first parish was St. Cecilia.
The following year he was appointed secretary to Bishop Stephen A. Leven. “I really had a magnificent opportunity, early on, to get to know the diocese,” Msgr. Stuebben said. “I knew every parish. I knew every priest. I knew every road in the diocese.” From those years until 1965, he was also with the archdiocesan Matrimonial Tribunal and a chaplain and theology professor at Incarnate Word High School.
After that came his role as vocation director for the archdiocese. “I was all over the place, visiting homes,” he recalled. “I found the dirt roads, the untraveled roads!” He also served as a faculty member at St. John’s and Assumption seminaries.
Along the way, he received a master’s in education at Our Lady of the Lake University and later spent a sabbatical studying at the North American College in Rome. He returned to parish work in 1969, pastoring at St. Patrick in Bloomington (now in the Diocese of Victoria), St. Louis in Castroville for several years, and then at St. Matthew in San Antonio. “I love people,” he said, “so, a deep commitment to parish ministry, to the development of the parish as a faith community.” He quoted Pope John Paul II’s words, spoken on the papal visit in 1987 (which he coordinated), “A parish is a family of families.”
“Being a part of the life of those people,” he said, “walking with them through good times and the tough times ―the joys and sorrows in their lives, really being related to them, being part of their families, that’s been a really big thing.”
His favorite subject was the priesthood and his love and awe of preaching God’s word. “I’m not sure most people realize what a gift it is,” he said, “to give people the Lord in the Eucharist, or to be able to ask God to forgive their sins, heal them, welcome them home, open the door for them, help them to come to know who they are, the gifts we share, the promise that’s ours. That’s a fantastic thing!” Over the years, in all his jobs, he tried to maintain close contact with parish priests, noting “that’s where the rubber hits the road.”
He returned to Assumption Seminary as rector from 1981-87, also serving it through the years on its Board of Directors (including as its chairman) and in the Alumni Association. He was a member of national and state vocation committees and co-chaired the successful campaign that raised funds for the Archbishop Patrick F. Flores Residence Hallat the seminary.
“I’ve been aware that others helped my brother and me through the seminary,” he said. He always credited his older brother George for inspiring his priestly vocation.
He returned to work at the chancery in 1986 to coordinate the papal visit, as the Holy Father was undertaking a nine-city tour across the United States. The following year, on Sept. 13, 1987, Pope John Paul II celebrated a two-and-a-half hour Mass for a crowd of 330,000 in a field in west San Antonio that is now the site of John Paul Stevens High School. The number of faithful gathered at the liturgy still holds the record for the largest gathering in the state of Texas.
Msgr. Stuebben went on to serve as administrative assistant to Archbishop Patrick F. Flores, heading the department of administration and subsequently being appointed vicar general and moderator of the curia.
During his time at the Chancery, he sang “Happy Birthday” to all employees on their special day. If the birthday person was out of the office, he would record his greeting on a phone message for them.
Along the way he was instrumental in the founding of Catholic Television of San Antonio, recalling the archdiocese had been approached early on regarding the coming of cable TV to San Antonio and the chance to sign up for their own station. Fifty thousand homes had to be wired for cable before anything could take place, however, and by the time the “magic number” was approaching and the archdiocese notified, new management was in place and unaware of the earlier agreement. Msgr. Stuebben, Father John Yanta (now bishop emeritus of Amarillo), who was editor of Today’s Catholic at that time, and Father Daniel Hennessey, then pastor at St. Luke, swung into action though.
“The three of us,” said Msgr. Stuebben, “put our heads together and said, ‘Well, look, we’ve got an opportunity. We need to at least see if we can run with this thing.’” Father Hennesey quickly set about raising funds, while Father Yanta dove into digging up the necessary equipment to operate a television station out of Today’s Catholic old downtown office on Arden Grove. Msgr. Stuebben’s task was to contact the parishes to develop programming. They succeeded and the station went on the air as scheduled when the time came.
Among the many religious and civic organizations to which Msgr. Stuebben belonged – “I really like to do almost everything, and that’s a problem,” he would joke – were serving as: parish and district Catholic chaplain to the Boy and Girl Scouts; archdiocesan moderator of the Holy School Sodality Union; cofounder of the Texas Vocation Directors Conference; member of the Senate of the Archdiocese of San Antonio; president and executive director of the Provincial Conference of Priests Councils of Texas; co-founder and president of the Texas Catholic Conference on Ethnic and Community Affairs; member of the Board of Trustees of Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary’s University, and Ursuline Academy; member of the National Bishops’ Committee for Priestly Life and Ministry; member of the Board of Directors for the Consultation Center for the archdiocese; member of the Coordinating Committee for the National Assembly of Rectors and Ordinaries of Catholic Theological Schools; member of the Ad Hoc National Committee for Hispanic Vocations and Formation Programs for Hispanics; chairman of the Seminary Department for the Texas Catholic Conference; chaplain for the Serra Club of San Antonio and Knights of St. Gregory for the archdiocese; member of the St. Joseph’s Society; member of Alhambra Bejar Caravan No. 56; member of the Board of Directors for the Ecumenical Center for Health and Religion; spiritual director for the Catholic Life Insurance Union; chairman of the Assumption Seminary Board of Directors; member of the Bexar County Detention Ministry Board; chairman of the Administration Department of the Texas Catholic Conference; Board member of Catholic Charities; Board member of the National Diocesan Fiscal Managers Conference; and chaplain for the San Antonio Legatus chapter.
Honors were also bestowed upon Msgr. Stuebben during his life, some including recognition from the National Conference for Community & Justice; Seton Home for Unwed Mothers; and Assumption Seminary with the institution’s Leadership in Faith and Service Award.
Msgr. Steubben celebrated his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood with a Mass of thanksgiving on May 25, 2005, at St. Matthew Church. Ten bishops and six of his priest classmates served as concelebrants at the joyous liturgy.
Later that fall, after experiencing some serious health problems, he returned to his first love, pastoral work, assisting at St. Margaret Mary Parish following his retirement as head of administration, vicar general, and moderator of the curia, staying there a year and a half before retiring from “active” ministry.
He then resided at Casa de Padres, the priests’ retirement center near Leon Springs. “It was the right decision,” he said. “We have a tremendous community there.” Geared for independent living in individual duplex apartments, but with community facilities and fellowship, Msgr. Stuebben, as do the priests there, continued to serve the archdiocese in a variety of ways. “We take the place of priests who are sick or on vacation or away from the parishes,” he said, and noted that they also go out to give confessions, retreats, days of recollection, talks, Masses in convents, hospitals and colleges.
In addition to recreation with the other residents at Casa de Padres, Msgr. Stuebben in later years had time to visit friends he had not seen in years and had gotten to do some traveling. He enjoyed entertaining and was able to cook meals for visits from family and friends in his apartment.
A typical week for the “retired” monsignor could involve presiding at six weekend Masses at a local church, traveling to a mission parishes to do services they would not otherwise have had, and celebrate Mass with family.
“The diocese has been very good to us,” he said, summing up retirement, “and we appreciate that and we want to be present. We sense the support and the care and the interest and the love of the people of the archdiocese and our brother priests and the people we’ve worked with. We’re not on the shelf.”
In 2010, in a column celebrating the Jubilee Year for Priests, Msgr. Stuebben wrote: “Many years ago, as a seminarian, I came across a line in the Scriptures which says, ‘What will I give back to God for all that he has given to me?’ That phrase leaped out of the Bible and into my mind, heart and life. It is there now as I write these words. As I grow older and enjoy retirement, I thank God daily, often, for his love, his call, his gifts and his presence. I know he has been very good to me and very generous to me. I also believe that he has been very good and generous to all of us. Hopefully, we will pause long enough to realize that and let him into our lives as we say ‘yes’ over and over and over again. God is good and we are blessed.”
Recalling that Scripture in a taping of a CTSA “Heroes and Treasures” documentary episode about Assumption Seminary last year, the monsignor became very emotional when quoting the verse, and the powerful interview, which was the closing segment of the program, drew praise from many viewers.
In recent times, said Msgr. Stuebben in another Today’s Catholic interview with staff writer Carol Baass Sowa just a couple of years ago, what he most yearned for during some frequent hospital stays was to come home; home being his residence at Casa de Padres. “It’s the best place I’ve ever lived in all my almost 60 years as a priest,” he said. “We’re not religious. We haven’t grown up in a community. And to put us together and to develop the relationships and the support and the care, the friendship, the spirit, has been absolutely wonderful.”
He remembered his mentor, Msgr. Roy Rihn, talking to him about retirement. “Larry,” he told him, “The best day of your life is when you look at your calendar and there’s absolutely nothing there.” Msgr. Stuebben managed to stay busy in spite of this. He read, conducted a telephone ministry and was heavily involved in the centennial of the seminary. Until recent illnesses, the monsignor was helping on weekends at parishes, giving talks and attending gatherings of various kinds.
His special ministry was visiting the elderly and homebound, once at the heart of their parish but now forgotten. “They come to a point in their life where nobody knows they’re there,” he said. “They get lost in the shuffle and I find them. That’s my job. That’s what I’ve chosen to do.”
He noted the need for the Casa arose due to people living longer and more priests coming from other parts of the world, who often had no family or place to return home to. Before, there were not many old priests that were not still working. “They worked until they died with their boots on!”
He added, “I keep telling people, ‘I think I’m the happiest priest in the whole world, but if I find one who’s happier than I am, that’s wonderful!’”
Msgr. Stuebben is survived by his brother Thomas, sister-in-law Jane Stuebben, and numerous nieces and nephews, as well as many grandnieces and grandnephews.
A vigil will take place on Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m., at St. Matthew Church at 10703 Wurzbach Road, with the reflection given by Father David Garcia, director of the Old Spanish Missions.
St. Joseph Church downtown at 623 East Commerce Street will be the location of the Mass of Resurrection on Friday, March 31, at 9:30 a.m. Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, will be the presider, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette will be the homilist. A reception will follow at the San Fernando Cathedral Hall.
The funeral liturgy will be broadcast live on CTSA, Spectrum Cable Channel 15, and will also be livestreamed on the Catholic Television of San Antonio Facebook page and the Archdiocese of San Antonio Facebook page.