Msgr. Jerome Buchheit has much to be thankful for and much gratitude to God for his vocation to the priesthood.
“I’ve tried to fulfill it to the best of my ability,” he said. “God put you here and you can only live and do what God wants you to do.”
Msgr. Buchheit, a longtime parish pastor, will celebrate his 70th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood on May 3. He is 95 and the oldest and longest serving priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Like many priests of his generation, Msgr. Buchheit knew from a young age that he wanted to be a priest. “When you grow up, you want to be something,” he said. “Some people want to be a policeman, or a fireman. Other people want to be a priest. I had the idea that I’d like to be a priest.”
Serving the people of God has been a great honor, he said. Having served as a pastor for 34 of his 70 years of priesthood, Msgr. Buchheit said the key is to remember that you’re serving others when you’re leading a parish. “You don’t want to be domineering,” he said. “Priests really should be servants. If you can get along with people, then you’ll be fine.”
A country boy at heart
Jerome Buchheit was raised in St. Joseph Parish in Apple Creek, a small town in Perry County, about 10 miles south of Perryville. The only child of Louis and Clara Buchheit, he attended school at St. Joseph, under the tutelage of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Having witnessed the diocesan priests at his parish, a young Jerome thought that he, too, might want to be a priest someday. His parents were supportive of this, as well as his grandmother, Barbara Leible, who lived with the family. “My grandmother would have me play Mass when I was a little boy,” he recalled. “I used a chair as an altar.”
When he was older, he was encouraged to attend a preparatory school run by Vincentian priests in Cape Girardeau. He spent one year there, and then decided he was being called to the diocesan priesthood. Msgr. Buchheit attended St. Louis Preparatory Seminary, and then Kenrick Seminary. He was ordained on May 3, 1951, in the chapel at Kenrick by then-Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter.
His first assignment as a priest was at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Soulard, where he remained until 1956. There, he served as an assistant pastor to Msgr. Andrew Toebben, who had been his childhood pastor at Apple Creek. “To me, he was a great guy,” Msgr. Buchheit recalled. “I think he
requested me (at Sts. Peter and Paul) — he let me do pretty much whatever I wanted.”
Msgr. Buchheit served at a variety of parishes elsewhere in the archdiocese, including assistant pastor, Immaculate Conception Parish in St. Louis, 1956-59; assistant pastor, St. Peter Parish in St. Charles, 1959-67; pastor, St. Joseph Parish in Farmington, 1967-74; pastor, St. George Parish in Gardenville, 1974-84; and pastor, Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin, from 1984 until his retirement in 2001. He also served as dean of the Southwest Deanery in the 1990s.
Holy Infant was his longest tenure, having served there for 17 years. He was known as an ambitious administrator, serving as a master builder of the current parish complex, which included church and parish center and expansion of the school. The area was growing at the time, and the school at one point had about 800 students, he said.
“I was pretty ambitious to begin with and wanted to move ahead and make things bigger,” he said. “It was a large undertaking with a lot of fundraising.”
Msgr. Buchheit enjoyed being an administrator, taking care of the payroll and other bookkeeping needs. “I taught myself how to do a lot of that,” he said. “I had a knack for arithmetic and bookkeeping — the administration came naturally to me.”
One of his favorite traditions at Holy Infant was the annual St. Patrick’s celebration, which still continues. It’s a nod to the parish’s Irish heritage and influence of the Sisters of Mercy of Ireland, who had a presence at the school dating back to 1957. The last two sisters, Sister Rosario Delaney, who arrived in 1964, and Sister Laurentia Cusack, who came in 1982, retired to their native Ireland in 2016.
“The children performed Irish dancing, and the sisters taught them the dances,” Msgr. Buchheit recalled. “The St. Patrick’s celebration was always big with the presence of the sisters. It was a sad time when they left there. Sister Rosario just called me from Ireland the other day. I told her I had to give her credit for tracking me down.”
After his years at Holy Infant, Msgr. Buchheit retired to the De Soto area and assisted at St Rose of Lima Parish for 13 years before moving to Regina Cleri in 2014. He moved to Mother of Good Counsel Home in February. While at Regina Cleri, he celebrated five Masses a week at area nursing homes and helped with Sunday Masses as needed at area parishes.
At Regina Cleri, he got to know another “country boy,” Bishop Morgan Casey, and the two often shared an afternoon scotch. Msgr. Buchheit also has another tradition, a daily cigar — actually, make that two or three a day — on the outdoor patio at Mother of Good Counsel. His favorite are Antonio y Cleopatra cigars.
But of course, no day of retirement would be complete without a daily Rosary and Mass at the chapel at Mother of Good Counsel, both of which he enjoys very much. It’s a daily reminder of the vocation to which God called him, and a constant way to express gratitude to God for 70 years of priesthood.
“I liked very much being a priest and pastor,” he said. “I had a great respect for the people, and they always treated me with a special respect, too.”
>> Sending well wishes to Msgr. Buchheit
The staff of Mother of Good Counsel Home invites the public to share messages of gratitude with Msgr. Jerome Buchheit on the occasion of his 70th anniversary to the priesthood. Written or video messages may be submitted at www.mogch.org/buchheit70. Cards and notes also may be mailed to Mother of Good Counsel Home, 6825 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO 63121.