Faith and family: Midwest priest returns to NatchezPublished 12:03am Saturday, July 13, 2013
NATCHEZ — Some 47 years ago, the Rev. Leopold Keffler O.F.M.Conv., answered the call to join the priesthood in Ohio and began his studies in Mississippi.
Little could he have known at that time that while his life’s work would keep him largely in the Midwest, he would be called back to the Magnolia State every summer.
This summer, Keffler has returned to substitute for the Rev. David O’Connor at St. Mary Basilica while O’Connor is on vacation.
Keffler, who spends most of his time throughout the year teaching science at Marian University in Indianapolis, has spent the majority of his summers over the past decade in Natchez.
“We are actually trying to figure out if I have been here for 8 or 10 years,” Keffler said.
Over the years, Keffler said he has worked at several churches throughout Mississippi.
Along with his work in Natchez, Keffler has worked temporarily at parishes in Tupelo, Columbus, Oxford and Vicksburg,
“When I am not in school, I have weekends and holidays and summers for me to use,” Keffler said. “And I’ve found it very nice to spend at least a month every summer parish-sitting.”
Keffler, graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1972, said he established a friendship with Rev. O’Connor during his time in Oxford.
O’Connor was a pastor at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Oxford at the time, and when he was looking for a temporary replacement during a vacation some years back, he knew just who would answer the call.
“It was a connection because of friendship,” Keffler said. “We have known each other since the late 1960s.”
While Keffler acknowledges that his wide spread pattern of parish-sitting may not be normal, Keffler said the benefits far outweigh any negatives.
“I’m a bit of a non-conventionalist in a lot of ways,” Keffler said. “But it’s a chance for me to do the, as I call it, ‘priesty stuff,’ without all of the administrative work.”
Keffler said such breaks from the classroom are welcome after a long year in front of students.
“It makes a nice break for everybody,” Keffler said. “Plus, I’ve made a lot of friends here in Natchez over the years.”