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May 7, 2017

Father Askar celebrates 50 years of priesthood: ‘I am so thankful’

Father George Askar was ordained to the priesthood on May 20, 1967, at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immacuulate Conception in Lafayette. He served in the Lafayette diocese for 40 years before his retirement.

Father George Askar was ordained to the priesthood on May 20, 1967, at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immacuulate Conception in Lafayette. He served in the Lafayette diocese for 40 years before his retirement.

By Caroline B. Mooney

KOKOMO — Father George Askar, 83, who served in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana for 40 years, is celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood on May 20.

“Being a priest has just been a great honor,” he said. “I am so thankful, and I would, of course, do it again. I have received so much more than I have given. I appreciate being called ‘Father’ — it really humbles me.”

Upon retirement 10 years ago, he moved to his hometown of Port Huron, Mich., where he lives in his childhood home.

“I spend my days praying as much as possible,” Father Askar said.

Retirement hasn’t slowed him down.

He serves as part-time associate pastor at St. Mary Parish in Port Huron; has put in more than 4,000 hours as a volunteer chaplain at area hospitals, and is chaplain to Knights of Columbus Council 11756.

“Father George is such a compassionate man,” said Cindi Dortman, St. Mary’s secretary. “He leaves the fragrance of Christ’s love behind him everywhere he walks in this world. I adore him! We are so blessed to have him here. At his ordination celebration, we are focusing on vocations. It just doesn’t get better than a Father George jubilee!”

“Father George is a wonderful priest — always smiling,” said Father Zbigniew Zomerfeld, pastor of St. Mary Church. “This man is so precious. He is obedient and ready to help. He respects everyone and never wants any attention for himself.

“Father George is so gentle and humble that I am afraid to ask him for anything because he always says, ‘Yes,’ and I have to look at his 80-plus years,” he said.

“He loves his priesthood and really wants to serve. He is a great example of dedication and sincerity, a great example of humankind, a wonderful person and friend,” Father Zomerfeld said.

George Fred Askar Jr. was born Nov. 30, 1933, in Port Huron, Mich., to George Fred and Irene Harris Askar. They are both deceased, as is his only brother, D.J. His sister, Linda, lives near him, along with several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Father Askar attended Catholic schools and first went to seminary with the intention of being ordained for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

He found the archdiocese to be “too hectic,” and left the seminary, enrolling at Eastern Michigan University in 1955.

He eventually met a priest visiting at his parish — Father Leonard Reemmer, a Detroit native, who was ordained in the Diocese of Lafayette. They talked about Indiana and the priesthood.

“After praying, a couple years later, I thought this place (the Diocese of Lafayette) might be a real good fit,” Father Askar said.

“Bishop Carberry sent me to seminary in Kentucky,” he said. “I met Father (Duane) Craycraft there (the men were ordained together.) It was also there that I met my favorite priest of all time, Joe Koss, ordained for the Indianapolis archdiocese. He did it all — parish work, hospitals, schools. It dawned on me one day that I liked to work in institutions, be it hospitals or nursing homes.”

Ordained on May 20, 1967, by Bishop Raymond J. Gallagher at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Father Askar’s first assignment was as associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in West Lafayette.

He served with the founding pastor, Father Donald Hardebeck, and Msgr. John Duncan was in residence at the parish with the new priest.

“Father Askar wanted to help Father Hardebeck and to learn from him about the priesthood and parish ministry,” Msgr. Duncan said. “His devotion was very genuine and very deep. A lot of people admired him because of his very devout life.

“He is a very cheerful man, even when bad things come along,” he said. “He saw the will of God and humor in everything. Father Askar was always very kind — I never once saw him angry. He was also extremely kind; a very good man.”

In 1972, Father Askar was named pastor of St. Joseph, Winchester, where he built a new church building.

“I enjoyed it immensely,” he said. “That was a thrill, much more than I thought it would be. The parish really came together and really supported it.”

He was named pastor of Sacred Heart, Remington, in 1980, where he built a parish center and named it after then-Bishop George Fulcher, who dedicated it the summer before he died.

In 1985, he was named pastor, St. Mary, Dunnington; 1987, chaplain, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Lafayette; 1991, associate pastor, St. Mary, Muncie; 1992, senior associate, Blessed Sacrament, West Lafayette; and in 1995, chaplain, St. Joseph Hospital, Kokomo.

“I really enjoy working in hospitals, but I could say it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love. It’s very demanding, challenging and very fulfilling,” Father Askar said. “You really feel like you’ve accomplished something.

“The Diocese of Lafayette was a good choice; I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It is very, very dear to me. There was so much support there. I enjoyed retreats with brother priests and I really appreciated the bishops and priests who were so good to me over the years.”

As to the future, Father Askar said he wants to keep on doing what he has been doing.

“I hope to stay active if it’s God’s will, and live each day. I’m very thankful to still be around,” he said. “I really miss the priests and the laypeople of the Lafayette diocese. I wish we were closer. I appreciated everyone. We will all meet in heaven, hopefully. I look forward to it.”

In celebration of Father Askar’s golden jubilee, St. Mary Parish is holding its first annual parish picnic to raise awareness for vocations on May 20. It will be preceded by a Mass in the priest’s honor.
 

In lieu of gifts, Father Askar requests prayers. Cards can be sent to: 901 Edison Blvd., Port Huron, MI 48060-2117.

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