88-year-old Mitchell priest ministers to nursing home residentsRetirement doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the Rev. Charles Joseph Duman — that is, if he played cards, which he does not.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Retirement doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the Rev. Charles Joseph Duman — that is, if he played cards, which he does not.
Father Duman, 88, officially retired in 1996 but is still in harness, working as the resident priest at Avera Brady Health and Rehab, a nursing home and assisted living facility in Mitchell. He came to Mitchell six months ago after working in Salem in semi-retirement for the last dozen years. He works with Avera Brady’s chaplain, Sister Deanna Butler, ministering to the needs of about 50 Catholics at the facility and anyone else in need of spiritual guidance.
“Prior to a few years ago, we always had a priest here who could say Mass daily, but when Father Tom McPhillips passed away, there wasn’t a priest who wanted to move to Mitchell,” said Avera Brady Administrator Veronnica Smith.
“So when Father Duman was available, it worked out great for him to live in one of our apartments at Bishop Hoch Villa,” Smith said.
In effect, Duman operates a small parish on the Avera Brady campus, though he’s not an Avera Brady employee.
He lives in the independent living apartments at Bishop Hoch Villa, which are connected to the Avera Brady complex and were originally built as a retirement option for priests. Retiring clergy have more options available today and many priests choose to live elsewhere. Duman’s decision to move to Bishop Hoch Villa has been good for all concerned, Smith said.
“Our residents enjoy it very much to have Mass every day,” she said. “It’s a win-win. He’s sort of retired, but he gets to continue in his ministry and vocation and our residents have access to more spiritual leadership than Sister Deanna’s part-time hours allow.”
The movement to nursing care doesn’t mean a resident loses his or her desire to participate in church or services, explained Smith. Protestant services are also available for residents.
During his years in the priesthood, Duman has served in nearly a dozen parishes throughout southeast South Dakota.
On May 3, Duman will celebrate 60 years as a Roman Catholic priest, and two days later he will turn 89. He still suits up in the black garb of the parish priest he has been donning since he was ordained in Sioux Falls in 1952. It takes just an instant to make the transition from informal to formal — a maneuver he demonstrated by fastening the top button of his short-sleeved black shirt and flicking his celluloid Roman collar into place.
“Four of us were ordained that day [in 1952] but only three of us are still living,” he said. “The other two remaining priests are in Yankton.”
It’s there on June 9 that the remaining trio and others will celebrate with an anniversary brunch and a special Mass. The only toasts will be with soft drinks.
“We don’t want any scandal,” Duman said with a quick laugh.
When Duman entered the priesthood, Mass was said in Latin and priests performed their liturgical duties with their backs to the congregation.
In 1962 the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, changed that. Called by Pope John XXIII, Vatican II initiated sweeping changes that, among other things, encouraged greater lay involvement in the church and the use of the congregation’s native language in the celebration of Mass. For the first time, the priest faced his congregation and spoke the words of the liturgy in English.
“It was hard for a lot of people, but I welcomed the changes,” Duman said.
But he had a few reservations.
“A lot of laymen have taken over the priest’s jobs,” he said. “I never thought there would be a time when they would be handing out the Holy Eucharist, but that seems to be the trend.”
Born in Hartington, Neb., Duman later moved to Wynot, Neb., where nuns at the local parochial school encouraged him to pursue a religious vocation.
“The nuns took a shine to me, but when you’re just an eighth-grader you think, ‘I could never do that,’” he said.
When Duman was 13, his family moved to Vermillion, where his father found work with a local cattle feeder. He had four sisters and a brother. His brother and one sister are still living.
Attending a religious retreat at Mount Marty College lowered his early resistance toward a religious vocation. He was 19, but Duman remembers the moment that changed his life.
“Toward the end of the retreat, during a quiet moment in one of the parlors I picked up a pamphlet by Daniel Lord (a popular Catholic writer of the time) and I was zapped by the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Two weeks later, his mother accompanied him to Sioux Falls, where he enrolled in St. Bernard’s Seminary. The campus is now the location of the Veterans Administration hospital. He moved with the seminary to Brighton, Mich., and later finished his studies at the seminary in St. Meinrad, Ind. Only eight of his graduating class of 28 are still living, he said.
He said his parents — especially his mother — were proud he chose the priesthood. Duman promised his dying father that he would care for her, and he honored that pledge. His mother followed him to his first four parish assignments. She died in 1980.
Parish life has been good, Duman said. He especially enjoyed the eight years he spent in the city of Scotland, where he had the opportunity to sing in the community chorus and to work closely with the local ministerial association.
“I think some parishioners thought I was becoming a Protestant minister,” he joked.
During his stint at Estelline, he found time to pull a few walleye from Lake Poinsett. In the ’80s, he worked at the state hospital in Yankton and later at the federal prison camp.
Duman survived a six-bypass heart operation in 1989. “I haven’t had any trouble since,” he said.
Life is quieter today, and it’s sufficiently busy for the veteran priest. In addition to celebrating daily Mass, Duman visits with Avera Brady patients several times a week.
“Mostly it’s light conversation,” he said, but he believes his small flock is comforted by the fact that he’s there to provide the sacraments and, eventually, the last rites of the church.
Duman said spiritual comfort isn’t a one-way street. He receives as much as he gives.
“You’re like a wounded healer, and you can also get comfort from others. Many of those I counsel have had much harder lives than I.”