By Tim Puet
Catholic Times Reporter
Father Jeffrey Rimelspach never had a dramatic revelation that God was calling him to the priesthood. “It was more like a series of gentle nudges,” he said.
Father Rimelspach, pastor of Columbus St. Margaret of Cortona Church, said he was familiar from a young age with what a priest does because one of his mother’s brothers was the late Msgr. Edward Kessler. “Father Ed and mom were very close,” he said.
“He spent a lot of time at our house, and I went fishing and hiking with him and got to admire him and his work. Because of him, I knew priests were normal people and never viewed them with awe. He planted the seeds of my vocation, but it took a long time for them to sprout.”
Father Rimelspach, 63, grew up in Logan and is the only child of James Rimelspach, who was a Nationwide Insurance agent in Logan for 35 years, and his wife, Florence, who was secretary for his agency. “Logan doesn’t have many Catholics, so I had a very ecumenical experience while growing up, and the Catholic Church always made the most sense to me,” he said.
“I went to Logan St. John Church, and it had only two pastors while I was growing up – Father Charles Foy, who was there from 1946 to 1969, and Father James Geiger, who was there from 1969 to 1987 and was my CCD teacher while I attended Logan High School. He was very informed on what was going on in the Catholic Church, and his openness, his willingness to explain Catholic teachings and his love for the Church influenced me greatly,” Father Rimelspach said.
“I had developed a great love for science and math, and when it came time for college, I had to choose between going to Ohio State’s pharmacy school or the (Pontifical College) Josephinum. I went to the Josephinum for four years and received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1979, but at that point, I wasn’t completely convinced the priesthood was what God wanted me to do, so I dropped out of the seminary and got a job with Nationwide as a medical claims examiner.
“I had that job for two years and had a nice apartment, a comfortable life, and things were going well. But then I got one of those little nudges from God. It seemed he was saying, ‘Maybe you should think again about being a priest,’” he said. “I had stayed in contact with Father Jerry Stluka, who was diocesan vocations director at the time and who had been very supportive of me while I was at Nationwide.
“He never pushed me toward the priesthood, but those nudges from God kept getting stronger, so about 2 ½ years after I dropped out of the Josephinum, I began studying theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Cincinnati, and things worked out well.” He was ordained to the priesthood on June 22, 1985, at Columbus St. Joseph Cathedral by Bishop James Griffin, so this year is his 35th as a priest.
Father Rimelspach’s first priestly assignment was at Marion St. Mary Church from mid-1985 to early 1988. During that time, he also taught at Marion Catholic High School. “One thing I remember from that first year is that one Sunday afternoon, the thought hit that I hadn’t gone to Mass that day. I had celebrated two Masses, but I had to get used to that transformation from being in the congregation to being a presider,” he said. “We still had a sufficient number of priests 35 years ago that I was able to start out as one of three associate pastors, in addition to a pastor, in Marion, living a communal life and having the support of some of my brother priests. That isn’t able to occur today because of the great decrease in the number of priests.”
Father Rimelspach was an associate pastor at Columbus St. Agatha Church from early 1988 to the middle of 1992, and then spent one year as an associate at Powell St. Joan of Arc Church. For 10 years beginning in late 1987, he also was part of a three-judge panel for some marriage cases that went before the diocesan Tribunal. Priests on the Tribunal usually have a degree in canon law, but Father Rimelspach does not. He had to obtain a document known as an “indult” from the Roman Rota, the Vatican’s highest court, to be part of the Tribunal.
He was appointed pastor at Bremen St. Mary Church in 1993. “I asked for that pastorate when it came open because it’s only 10 miles from Logan and being there enabled me to visit home frequently and help my parents as they got older,” he said. “Dad and I did a lot of fishing, and I enjoyed that time with him, and I got to know a lot of the parishioners pretty well.
“One of the parish’s great traditions is its weekly summertime square dances at Schmelzer’s Grove,” a 60-acre wooded property where its original church was located, Father Rimelspach said. The tradition is more than a century old, but it had to be halted this year because of COVID-19. “The grove is a great place for young people to come and, in many cases, to meet their future husband or wife,” he said.
After four years at Bremen St. Mary, a parish with 160 families, Father Rimelspach became pastor of Powell St. Joan of Arc Church, which, at the time, had 1,800 families and still is growing. “We had 3,350 families when I left in 2009, and there would have been more if not for the recession during that time,” he said. “Now the number is up to about 4,200.
“Going directly from one of the diocese’s smallest parishes to one of the largest was a huge change, but Bishop Griffin was confident I could handle it,” he said. “The church building was sufficient, but we didn’t have enough space for Parish School of Religion classes, so my first goal in terms of facilities was doubling the number of PSR rooms and building a social hall. We built 10 classrooms and the hall and were able to pay off the remaining debt for the church.
“By 2005, we had to expand again and added 300 seats to the church, plus six classrooms and office space. We also considered the possibility of a parish school, but a Delaware County ordinance said 20 acres were needed for a school, and we had 19. Our only possibility to expand was to purchase an 11-acre farm on the north end of the parish property. It took 10 years to persuade the farmer to sell the land, but he eventually did, and now the parish has 30 acres to work with,” Father Rimelspach said.
After 12 years at a constantly growing parish, Father Rimelspach was assigned to his current position at St. Margaret of Cortona in 2009. “I was happy to move to a smaller parish where it was easier to get to know people,” he said. “St. Margaret’s has been a very stable parish for years, with the number of families never going below 620 or above 670.
“One of the most enjoyable things about this parish is the customs that go back to its Italian roots, like the annual parish festival and the procession with statues that goes about three-quarters of a mile through the San Margherita neighborhood to the intersection of Trabue Road and McKinley Avenue. It’s a very communal, prayerful event.
“What always attracted me to the priesthood, and still does, is the variety of what priests do,” Father Rimelspach said. “No two days are ever the same, even after 35-plus years. I’m always curious to see what the day is going to be like, and that keeps things interesting.
“If a young man told me he was thinking about being a priest and asked me if he should consider entering the seminary, I would tell him that I and most priests are happy in what we do and that it gives us a sense of great joy. I would hope such a young man was involved with parish activities, and I would remind him that ‘God doesn’t shove us into the priesthood. He nudges us. Be open to that nudge.’”