Father Victor serves with friendship, gratitude
By Peggy Moraczewski
Who is this peaceful man with the sparkling eyes and the easy smile? With the buzz of Christmas in the air and decorations all around, he might be mistaken for Santa Claus, but Msgr. Victor Goertz comes bearing a different kind of gift. His gift is wrapped in friendship and opens doors to a personal relationship with Jesus. Msgr. Goertz advises us to, “Seek God in the ordinariness of our daily lives.”
A first impression of Msgr. Goertz is that of an affable person, who retained the appeal of his small town upbringing, but do not let that gentle voice and easy going spirit fool you. He is a dynamo packaged in the body of a now 85-year-old man who will insist on being called “Father Victor.” He wants to be your friend, not merely an acquaintance.
Growing up southeast of Austin in the rural community of Rockne, any given day on the Goertz (pronounced Gurtz) family farm might have included chores such as planting crops or a vegetable garden, baling hay, picking fruit in the orchard, slaughtering hogs, milking cows, churning butter or tending to the chickens and turkeys. However, every day before work commenced, morning prayers were prayed together, some of which were prayed in German. Father Victor joked about the prayers of the 12 Goertz children, saying, “God probably needed an interpreter for our prayers because our German was not very good.”
Nearly a century later, the fruits of the labor of Rudolph, affectionately referred to as “Papa,” and Hettie Goertz are evident in the lives of their children. These German Catholic parents raised all of their children to serve God and carry on the Catholic faith. Two sons were ordained diocesan priests and two daughters became Benedictine sisters for a combined total of about 250 years of service.
The close-knit family gathers annually in October for a reunion in the church hall of their childhood parish, Sacred Heart. The reunion begins with Mass, followed promptly by a great deal of food and talking. One reunion, several years ago, was especially poignant when Father Victor’s nephew, and namesake, presented him with a unique hand-carved chalice. Created out of wood gathered from the family farm –– pine from the barn and cedar from the fence posts –– the master woodworker made the chalice with love.
Father Victor seized the opportunity to use this treasure in the celebration of their family reunion Mass, saying, “This wood has shed its old purpose and been made new by its master. Let us shed our old selves and be transformed in the Eucharist by our master.”
Father Victor emphasizes that as the Eucharistic Body of Christ, “We are the blistered hands and sore feet of Jesus on earth, and in receiving the (gift of the) Eucharist, we are selflessly receiving each other.” How can this be a gift, and where have Father Victor’s blistered hands and sore feet taken him on his journey of faith?
Around the age of 13, young Victor joined older brother, Alois, at the seminary in San Antonio. This was prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Austin (est. 1948) where Father Victor would ultimately serve and at a time when young men commonly joined the seminary in adolescence.
It was during his high school years at seminary when he experienced a spiritual awakening. Father Victor recalls feeling like, “I am doing the right thing, but I am not in the right place (spiritually). During a homily by one of the priests at the seminary, suddenly, everything became clear and I knew God had talked to me through this priest.” This pivotal moment in his life beckoned him down the path to priesthood. Father Victor was ordained in 1952 and went on to study at Catholic University of America in Washington, where he earned a doctorate in canon law. In 1955, he returned to Central Texas.
Unexpectedly, Father Victor was assigned the role of secretary to Bishop Louis Reicher, the first bishop of the Diocese of Austin. As the only Spanish speaking diocesan priest in the city of Austin, young Father Victor agreed to concurrently serve as acting pastor at Cristo Rey Parish for “a couple weeks.”
Those “couple weeks” turned into 16 years, and Father Victor fondly refers to Cristo Rey as, “my first love.” His bond with this community remains strong to this day.
The Cursillo Movement became a very significant part of Father Victor’s ministry while serving at Cristo Rey. In the mid-1950s, Franciscans brought this movement to the U.S. from Spain and, to this day, Cursillo influences retreats, such as RENEW, Kairos, ACTS, CRHP and Awakening.
Life in the 1970s was a whirlwind for Father Victor, serving on councils, boards and tribunals, as well as being editor of the diocesan newspaper, pastor of St. Martin Parish in Tours and St. Joseph Mission in Elk, while serving as Vicar of Hispanic Ministry for the northern part of the diocese.
“Saying yes to so many ministries may have been a sign of insanity,” Father Victor said lightheartedly. It was then the Holy Spirit interrupted; an interruption that began with a hospitalization and culminated in recuperating with his lifetime friends, the Benedictines.
With the Holy Spirit at work, Father Victor began serving as chaplain to the Benedictine Sisters in Boerne in 1981. Evolving into the role of retreat director and spiritual adviser, his journey ultimately led him to Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton where he served until his retirement in 2005. He is grateful for this ministry where he was given the opportunity to talk to people about growing their relationships with God. It was an opportunity to address people about, “who we are and what our life is about, stressing that we all have vocations. We are all called by God,” Father Victor said.
It would be almost impossible to list the ways Father Victor has responded to God’s call or the number of lives he positively impacted over the years. Minimizing his personal accomplishments, Father Victor expressed, “great appreciation for my associate priests and a deep gratitude for our shared ministry and friendship.” He said he readily identifies with Pope Francis’ statement that he is a sinner, but it is apparent Father Victor leads a life of gratitude, which revolves around relationships.
Gratefully attentive to those relationships, Father Victor is “mindful of the many laity, women religious and clergy, companions with him in the joys and sorrows, pain and promise, of the human condition.”
Father Victor has lived at the John Paul II Residence for Priests in Georgetown since 2005 and said, “I felt like I was home when I opened the door here.”
A cherished painting by Katherine Brown, “Jesus and the Lamb,” also found a new home there. Father Victor said this painting hung over his desk for years while he served at Cedarbrake. He would point it out to visitors and those he counseled and consoled, asking what they saw in the lamb’s face. The lamb’s face undeniably reflects perfect peace and contentment, and this, said Father Victor, “is exactly what God desires for all of us.”
Upon retirement, with the support and encouragement of friends and family, Father Victor embraced the idea of writing a book of reflections. “Meandering Through the Mystery” is a compilation of spontaneous reflections, appropriately beginning with a reflection on retirement. In this musing, Father Victor questions, “When you were active, everyone saw the reason for your presence. Who are you now?”
In an excerpt from his book, here is his response, “This prompting is not to deny the goodness of ministerial activity at this time. It is rather taking time now, in this new moment, to take notice of the quiet source from which activity flows. It must arise ever more gently from the reflection pool of “inward stillness.” The invitational guideline to this time of life is “Be still and confess that I am God” (Ps 46:11)! From that stillness, may ministerial involvement arise, rather than from the sometimes dutiful mimicking of earlier days.”
As parting advice, Father Victor said, “To become more like Jesus, watch and imitate Pope Francis. He is a walking gospel.”
“Meandering Through the Mystery” is available at $10 per copy through the Diocese of Austin. For more information, call (512) 949-2400.