Priest hooks men with fishing retreat
By Dave Hrbacek
The sun was a ball of red as it made its descent toward the horizon on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota on a beautiful evening in late June.
Father LeRoy Scheierl, pastor of four parishes in the Diocese of St. Cloud, sent someone to pull me away from my chef duties inside one of three cabins owned by the Knights of Columbus on Magnusson Island, the northernmost tip of the state and the continental U.S.
“Bring your camera,” was the simple order given by one of the 14 men taking part in Father Scheierl’s fishing retreat on the big lake. Quickly and humbly, I obliged. I wasn’t about to miss a spectacular sunset, though I was not the least bit interested in slacking off on my assignment as head dinner cook for the evening.
As I stared at the crimson glow of sun and clouds reflected in the still waters of the lake, I couldn’t help but sense the presence of the Artist who painted this scene.
This is exactly the kind of experience Father Scheierl had in mind when he came up with the idea for the retreat several years ago. He wanted to get men away from their responsibilities to fish, pray and experience God in the outdoors.
From this standpoint, the retreat, which took place June 20 to 24, was a huge success. In addition to hours of fishing, we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours every morning and evening, prayed the rosary twice and attended Mass in a small chapel built by the Knights as part of a replica of Fort St. Charles, which originally stood in the 1700s as a hub for the canoe travels of the voyageurs.
Fishing for help
And, yes, Father Scheierl put in a good word to the almighty for some walleyes to bite, too. Sometimes, fishing can be so good on this lake that invocations for angling success seem almost unnecessary.
Not so on this trip. We battled a double whammy of unstable weather and a prolific hatch of mayflies that resembled the plagues described in the Book of Exodus. The bugs were everywhere, and the walleyes were gorging on them, which made our offerings of live bait and minnow plugs significantly less appealing.
Fortunately, there are so many fish in this lake that you can catch a limit of walleyes even on a bad day. And, that is precisely what happened. It took three days of fishing, but our group of 14 left the lake with a combined limit of 56 walleyes (four per person), plus a few bonus sauger.
But, as tasty as those walleyes will be, catching fish is not what made the trip memorable for myself, my son, Andy, and his high school classmate, Jake Druffner, of St. Michael in Stillwater. Rather, it was the fellowship with the other men, Father Scheierl’s engaging talks about the history of the voyageurs, the prayer and the chance to spend time in the outdoors with nothing to distract us.
In today’s world, especially, it is important for men to have such experiences, Father Scheierl noted, and it is why he has shifted the emphasis of his priestly ministry from youth toward adult men in recent years.
Making time for God
“There’s a real need for men’s spirituality out there,” he said. “To me, it’s very rewarding to see men gathered around a campfire or in the cabins talking about God and faith and what matters to them. . . . Those are things you don’t just do or don’t just happen unless you provide an environment for that.”
This was a diverse group of men that filled the Knights’ three cabins and the five boats that embarked from the Angle Outpost Resort to the nearby island. It included a pair of highly skilled anglers in their 20s, who probably caught as many walleyes as the rest of us combined.
There also were several farmers in the group, who were able to figure out a way to get away from their chores. One of them is an elk farmer from Brandon (near Alexandria), who is originally from Malaysia and spoke with a distinctive Indian accent.
I enjoyed getting to know these men as I talked, joked, prayed, ate and fished with them. All but one of them came from the four Alexandria-area parishes where Father Scheierl serves as pastor — Our Lady of Seven Dolors in Millerville, St. Ann in Brandon, St. William in Parkers Prairie and Sacred Heart in Urbank.
We took turns cooking breakfasts and dinners, with Father Scheierl throwing in a shore lunch one day, using walleye we had caught that morning.
Time for healing
As we repeatedly opened our prayer books and pulled out rosaries, it was evident to me that these were devout men of prayer. It was rare that anyone stayed out in his fishing boat too long and showed up late for prayer. And, the men were quick to help those assigned to cook a meal, even after they had already taken their turn.
Perhaps, the most somber moment of the week came during introductions on the first day. One of the men said he had decided to come in order to help ease the pain of losing his wife to a tragic car accident. The one-year anniversary of her death occurred during the trip. He seemed a bit quiet at times, but smiled and laughed as much as any of us.
I think Father Scheierl is on to something. This was his third fishing retreat (the first was in 2007) and he had no trouble filling the 14 spots. But, that’s not all.
Continuing in this fishing theme, he has come up with a program called Theology on the Lakes, in which a parishioner with lakeshore property hosts an evening devoted to a talk, discussion and fellowship. The next one is scheduled for July 15 on Lake Miltona near Alexandria. The title for this event is: “I heard it through the ‘Ape’ Vine.” It will feature a talk on evolution.
Christianity began on lake
“We’ve had 70 to 80 people come. It’s starting to grow more and more,” Father Scheierl said, of the Theology on the Lakes events. “Christianity began on a lake — the Sea of Galilee. There’s a natural connection.”
So, I asked Father Scheierl, will there be any fishing involved in Theology on the Lakes?
“We’ll get a volunteer to walk on water, and then we’ll go fish for him,” he joked.
As I made the eight-hour drive home, I couldn’t help but be thankful to the Knights for making this retreat possible. Not only did they build the three cabins, but they have made them available for priests and the men they invite as guests — free of charge.
Since the Knights opened their cabins to lay people several years ago, they are getting more use. As we prepared to leave, Father Gregory Mastey, vocations director for the St. Cloud Diocese, was bringing in a group of men for another fishing retreat.
With a little better planning, I might have been able to take in a second retreat, maybe even served as a fishing guide. For now, I’ll just keep hoping there’s a next time.
Dave Hrbacek is a staff photographer at The Catholic Spirit. Visit his Faith Outdoors blog at http://Catholichotdish.com/blogs/Faith-Outdoors.
Pictured above: Dave Hrbacek / The Visitor
Father LeRoy Scheierl, left, a priest of the Diocese of St. Cloud, enjoys time in a boat with Charles Francis during a fishing retreat on Lake of the Woods in late June. Also in the boat were brothers Leon and Ken Kuhn.