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Men of service memorialized

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Dialog reporter

For diocese’s 150th anniversary, Father Thomas Peterman releases updated book on its priests

WILMINGTON — Seventeen years ago, when the Diocese of Wilmington was celebrating Jubilee 2000, Father Thomas Peterman wrote a book, “Catholic Priests of the Diocese of Wilmington,” to memorialize the service of the men who had served its parishes, schools and other ministries.

A lot has happened since that book was released, and since the diocese will mark 150 years in 2018, an update seemed to be in order. Father Peterman has been working on it for about four years.

It will be available next week.

“The 2000 book was widely received and is now sold out, but it’s available in many libraries,” Father Peterman said recently at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, his home since 2010. “Since then, a number of new priests — 29 altogether — have been added to the diocesan clergy list. A persistent request to update it caused me to take it up for the sesquicentennial. It seemed to be the right time.”

Father Thomas Peterman spends a lot of time at his computer at St. Catherine of Siena. His latest book comes out Dec. 1. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

The book will include updates for all men who have served in the time since the first version was printed. If a priest is still living, he will be included. Those who were in the first book but died before 2000 will be noted in an appendix with the corresponding page number from that book.

Father Peterman, 86, said he was motivated to write the original for several reasons: to help people appreciate the priests’ record of service; to build pride in the priestly calling; to encourage others to follow that calling; to preserve the history of the local church leadership, and not just in a religious capacity.

“I think a young man reading about some of these priests and what they’ve done might be more inspired than if he hears a sermon from the altar about holiness or something,” he said.

The future builds on the past, he said, but for that to happen, there needs to be a record of the past.

All men who spent time in ministry as diocesan priests are included, whether they stayed priests or not.

“I felt only just to do that. If they were a priest for a while, serving the people, they should be in it,” he said.

Some of the men who have left the priesthood have asked Father Peterman to include “who they married, what job they had, what have you,” but it is simply a record of their service to the church while wearing the collar.

The first book was printed before the clergy sexual-abuse scandal made headlines, and several priests of the Diocese of Wilmington were among those implicated. Their service is noted.

“I simply gave a record of service. I did not judge. I did not either praise or condemn or criticize. It’s simply a statement of their service,” Father Peterman said.

Bishop Malooly wrote the foreword. In it, he notes that “these are the lives of our diocesan priests, our local pastors, the shepherds who have led the way, who have witnessed the faith by their sacramental and priestly ministry.”

Father Peterman’s interest in history dates back to his days as a student at Catholic University of America, where he was taught by Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, a prominent historian who was editor of the Catholic Historical Review. Msgr. Ellis asked the seminarian to review a book for the CHR, and it was published.

Msgr. Ellis gave the book to Father Peterman, “but he had written on the inside binding of the cover, ‘Tom, get busy and write up some of your diocesan history. It is very interesting.’ And coming from a man like that who was internationally known, I felt I’ve got to do something.”

When he was 50, Father Peterman received his doctoral degree in history from Msgr. Ellis at Catholic University.

“For me, it is a personal avocation,” Father Peterman said. “Besides being a parish priest, I have a lifetime commitment to diocesan history.”

Ordained in 1957, he spent 50 years in parishes, which kept him busy, but at night, after all the appointments and meetings were done, he would spend time doing research or writing. He retired from parish work in 2006 and stopped saying public Masses two years ago, but his research and writing continue.

“Right now, I’m writing the life of Bishop Monahan, our third bishop,” he said. “I have two completed chapters before he became a bishop.”

John J. Monaghan was bishop of Wilmington for 28 years (1897-1925), the second-longest serving prelate in the diocese.

Father Peterman has a message for God. “Whenever you’re ready to call me, I’m ready to go. But not until after I finish my book on Monaghan.”

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