A Farewell to Iowa


Repost from May 2012 (because I have been thinking of Iowa a lot recently)

As we prepare to depart the holy soils of Iowa, I thought I would share a few scattered thoughts on the impact of Iowa grace on my life, and that of my family.  The lists are by no means complete, and no offence intended by omissions!

What will I miss most? Friends:  We made some fast and lifelong friends, extraordinary people who have left a very deep mark on our lives.  Colleagues: The Catholic Church in Iowa has some exceptional people in her ministerial employ, clergy, religious and laity. Working with these people has definitively impacted my vision of faith and life. Too many people to name. St. Joseph Educational Center: I have loved working for the Center, and, even more, with my astounding SJEC co-workers: Rachel Egan, a quiet light of Christ’s joy; Faye Akers, a peaceful spirit with passion, vision and astounding organizational skills; Dr. Jerry Deegan, a personal hero, mentor and man of noble character. The hidden saints: As with anywhere else I’ve been in my life, there are folks I consider to be crazy-holy, and for me those are most often really low-key people who “do the truth in love” without attention-seeking or fanfare. Serious social gospel: The faith communities of SW Iowa are especially committed to doing the works of justice and mercy. Much of that’s the legacy of Bishop Dingman, vividly embodied by Sister Pat Scherer. Moderate sized city with a small town feel: I love the just-urban-enough feel of Des Moines, and that nearly everyone here is from Iowa so almost everybody knows almost everybody. Weather: I love 4-seasons. NOLA, I hear, has 2 seasons: blazing and simmer.

What are some of my hopes for Iowa? Schools: I hope the awesome Catholic schools of SW Iowa will continue to inspire a desire for excellence in young people, and demonstrate that virtue is the soul of true excellence. I hope that outsiders peering into the halls, classrooms, offices and athletic fields of Catholic schools would remark, “So that’s the Catholic difference!” Parishes: I hope that clergy and laity alike will be filled with a fresh influx of the Spirit, a new infusion of the joy of the Gospel and a living-explicit-fruitful love for Jesus Christ that will cause observers, eyeing our edgy faith, to quote Acts 2:13: “They’ve had too much new wine!”

What was the brightest highlight of my four years here? Knowing, learning from and walking with Fr. Jim Polich to his death on 11/20/11. And in death, I must say, he’s proved himself to be even more a father to me and to my family than he was while still here in the flesh. I could tell you stories! And I’m not alone in that sentiment. A true intercessor, may I suggest to you.

We will miss you, O Iowa (I write with tears), and we are grateful to God for bringing us here to taste and see His goodness in you, His people.

Off now to the Big Easy…ora pro nobis…


My son Nicholas and I before a radio show I co-hosted called, “In the Heartland with Bishop Pates.” Taken at the Iowa State Fair in 2010 by my dear friend, Lisa Bourne.

15 comments on “A Farewell to Iowa

  1. Thom Jordan says:

    I know how it feels good people of Iowa, We have said goodbye to this sweet family almost as many times as I have said goodbye to weig watchers diet plans. Somebody give him a necktie!

  2. Jeane says:

    What a blessing your family has been to mine. In every direction. When we heard that another family had come here from Florida…we just had to meet you. We love you very dearly and, as you know, are very heavy hearted about your departure. However, I don’t think you’ll ever truly be able to get rid of us.
    With gratitude and joy for the Neals,

  3. beads2rosaries says:

    “Weather. I love 4-seasons. NOLA has 2: blazing and simmer.”

    You forgot mosquito season – then again – that could be considered year round.

  4. :-) says:

    🙂 says:

    “Wherever you go, I will follow.
    Wherever you live, is my home.
    Though days be of blessing or sorrow..
    though house be of canvas or stone.
    Though Eden be lost to the past-
    though mountains before us be vast.
    Wherever you go, I am with you.
    I never will leave you alone.”

  5. Mark Hommerding says:

    No sé que. I don’t know what … to write. The budding flower was beautiful, but didn’t have time to fully bloom. At least not yet. For selfish reasons, alluded to here, I’m sad to see you leave Iowa. However, for gracefully letting your life unfold according to His word and being God’s willing servant, you are modeling the very human-ness exhibited by Mary that you extolled the other night at Christ the King.

  6. number one sinner says:

    Ahh “the pope” it’s obvious he gets his good looks from mum.I would say to Mark Hommerding that the plant grown in good soil is easily transplanted by THE MASTER GARDENER. As an amateur gardener I take many cuttings from my varied plants and give them to friends and others with joy. May the cutting known as ” the Neals” be enjoyed and cherished by all you amateur gardeners. P.B.W.Y. all . . .

  7. Jennifer says:

    Reading this description of your experience in Iowa struck me because it reminds me in many ways of what I have discovered here in my new home. The hidden saints; the extraordinary people; the fact that everyone knows everyone here and it’s like one big giant family despite it being a decent sized city; the lone Catholic school here which is like one big furnace on fire for Our Lord – and which is truly the heart of the Catholic community. We moved here from a very big city where everything this is oh so busy and oh so important and oh so urgent and thought we were going to the middle of nowhere and I often marvel at the amazing vibrancy that underlies a quiet intimacy and what God is doing here in this city. “Who knew?” thinks the big shot from the city. Ha. He knew and He loves this place so much. So grateful to be living here in this best-kept secret.

    Oh and do we have weather! And rolling hills and fertile valleys and giant tides and billion-year old rocks and sandstone sea caves that are constantly being carved out by the relentless bay and sand dunes and salt marshes and when the tide goes out and you have a half-mile long beach, you will discover the sea floor is covered with small rocks, covered with pin-head sized barnacles and I’m quite convinced that if you could read Braille in the dialect of the ocean dwellers you would see that they are spelling out “Glory to God in the Highest”! And wild roses that grow everywhere and that catch you off guard with their sublime scent that triggers a long-lost memory in your spirit. And seaweed that looks like the beads of a Rosary.

    Thank you God for your amazing world and for all the communities that you have planted your people in!


  8. nos. says:

    ” small scale J. ” you poet you. so good to hear your writing. P.B.W.Y. small scale.

  9. Dismas Dancing says:

    Ah, dear Jennifer, you richly painted an exquisite portrait of a place in which one can always find Our Creator. Entering into that quietly splendid sanctum sanctorum, He takes our hand and burns the fact of His existence into our world where the “big city” distractions too often require us to humbly repeat the prayer, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

    Brother Tom’s tribute to Iowa allows me to call to mind two very special visits to West Bend and to the poignantly beautiful “Grotto of the Redemption.” My first visit was in 1963 when my folks, who had heard about the Grotto from our high school principal, “Fr Jim” (traveling with us). It was still under construction; but we were allowed to walk through it, see its first fruits and visualize what was to come during the execution of its long-term construction plan. My desire to come back some day was realized in my second visit in 2002, some 39 years later. My wife and I were traveling to south central Minnesota, (New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Clements, Comfrey, etc.), the home of my ancestors, first-generation immigrants from Bohemia in Eastern Europe. We were to gather my father’s (87 at the time) rather large number of relatives for a huge family reunion, celebrating the centennial of a tiny farming town called Clements (an emotional journey worthy of its own story). The Grotto had long since been completed; and M and I were delighted to spend a day and night there in our RV and take a full morning to marvel at the beauty of what the pastor of the Catholic Church had accomplished with nothing but natural stones gathered from around the country. My understanding is that the priest did the bulk of the work with his own hands. We were in awe at how beautifully that dedicated priest had captured in stone Christ’s redemption of mankind.

    Brother Tom’s beautiful tribute also gives answer to a number of Hows? and Whys? that emerge from a visit to such a magnificent Grotto serving as a spiritual oasis, sprouting desert-like amidst Iowa’s vast sea of green farmland. I encourage anyone who follows Bro Tom’s site to try and get there if they are traveling and want to see our beautiful faith alive and well, especially in our current world situation where “The Enemy” is very much “alive and well”, aggressively prowling about, seeking to devour us poor sinners. Such quiet faith, suddenly “popping up” in a tiny community one might find only accidentally once in a life time, humbles me greatly. I thank that Creator for taking our hand and quietly, but purposefully, guiding us to a place that tells His story, the essential tale of the Incarnation of Jesus and His Redemption of mankind, told in a three-dimensional portrait literally carved in stone.

    Brother Tom, thanks so much for sharing that story. I am a few years late to it; but loved it nonetheless. Blessings to all!


    • Dismas Dancing says:

      Sorry. There is an incomplete thought I need to finish. In 1963, just before my Dad was to be transferred to Luxembourg, we were headed to Minnesota for a family reunion at that time as well. Again, another piece of family history worthy of its own story, such was the impact, not only on me, but also on my siblings and all of our cousins as well. Just thought I’d clarify.

    • Jennifer says:

      “Such quiet faith, suddenly “popping up” in a tiny community one might find only accidentally once in a life time, humbles me greatly. I thank that Creator for taking our hand and quietly, but purposefully, guiding us to a place that tells His story, the essential tale of the Incarnation of Jesus and His Redemption of mankind, told in a three-dimensional portrait literally carved in stone.” YES! So beautifully said.

  10. nos says:

    Dismas , like “J” you are a gem.

  11. LP says:

    A few years ago we were planning a visit from the UK to my family in Wisconsin. I had recently read (in a UK newspaper) that the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Green Bay had recently (2010) been authenticated as a site of Marian apparitions – I believe these were the first to be authenticated in the US. The shrine is in the midst of WI farmland, to the NE of Green Bay. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the shrine twice and found the experiences to be beautiful and moving amid the peace that surrounds it.

    By the Grace of God and the Authority of the Apostolic See
    Bishop of Green Bay
    Decree on the Authenticity of the Apparitions of 1859
    at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help
    Diocese of Green Bay

    I recommend a detour to the shrine to everyone who finds themselves in the area. Or just visit their website to learn more.

    Dear DD, I love to find your comments on Dr Tom’s reflections and today I much appreciated your reference to Bohemia as my grandfather was born there. Thanks

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