YORK — August 2010, Monsignor James M. Reinert was installed as the pastor of York’s St. Joseph’s Parish, beginning tenure in a community he embraced with enthusiasm.
“It was his dream to be here,” said St. Joseph Catholic Church secretary Granada Dooley.
Reinert succumbed to cancer January 21, following a seven-month fight. “He did not want to be taken care of or treated any differently. He rarely wanted to focus on his diagnosis, although he did share his anger at his declining abilities,” said Rochelle Geiger, former St. Joseph Catholic School Principal.
Many who knew St. Joseph Catholic Parish’s beloved pastor said Reinert could seem like a tough egg to crack. “He was gruff, but a big teddy bear inside,” Dooley remembered.
“Boy, did he love anyone he came into contact with,” said Mary Jo Leininger, St. Joseph Catholic School Principal, where Reinert was Chief Administrative Officer and educator. Leininger had known Reinert for many years before she took her position at St. Joseph.
“He may have been gruff on the outside but he was very soft hearted,” said Geiger, who served as principal under Reinert. “There were many days when he was standing by the door as students left the building, helping students zip up coats and put on hats. He loved and cared for them greatly.”
“He was continually worried about the well-being of the students at St. Joseph,” Geiger said. “During the winter he often sent me on missions to make sure all of the students had coats, mittens and socks. When I had families who were struggling to buy food, pay bills, or a variety of other things, he would get out his wallet and hand me money to ‘take care of their needs.’”
The needs of St. Joseph’s faculty and staff were always on his mind as well. “He was there to support, encourage and pick up any pieces that might fall apart,” Leininger said.
His parishioners meant the world to him, too, Geiger said. “Monsignor Reinert was also a force to be reckoned with if he thought it would benefit his parish or school family. If he thought we needed more aid from Lincoln, he fought for it. If he thought there was a family who was not taking their children to church, he let them know it.”
Reinert was intelligent, and observant, Dooley said. “He could tell you which Mass you went to, where you sat.” He also listened to the needs of his community. Dooley remembered a particularly dry summer. “He’d ask the farmers, ‘Do you have enough rain? Do we need to pray for rain?’”
“He put everything into anything he was asked to do,” Leininger said. Dooley said she saw his intensity and faith at work. “He was an automatic leader.”
Catholic Church leaders in Lincoln recognized his leadership and faith, too. “For the past several years the bishop of Lincoln asked if he could move him to another parish that was struggling and needed a strong leader,” Geiger said. “Monsignor always came up with an excuse why we needed him at St. Joseph.”
Reinert had a wealth of experiences that could easily go to anyone else’s head, but he remained humble. He served as a diplomatic attaché of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, which took him to faraway places like Japan and South Africa. Stateside he was one of the first priests on the scene at 9/11. Reinert was a gifted writer and religious scholar, earning a doctorate degree in education administration and authoring the three-volume “Preaching the Social Doctrine of the Church in the Mass.” Reinert also published under the pen name “B.A. Trice” – a nod to his Beatrice roots.
“Although Monsignor Reinert had worked all over the world and been a part of truly remarkable events that influence our world, he wanted to become a parish priest and work in Catholic Schools as he has done when he first became a priest,” said Geiger.
Reinert entered the seminary formation in 1977 at Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., where he received a degree in philosophy. He was ordained in Lincoln in 1983. January 1998 he became a monsignor.
Reinert lived answering the call to serve God, his students and his parishioners. “He was always going out of his way to visit with parishioners who were sick or suffering,” Geiger said. “He often talked about parishioners whom he needed to visit in the hospital or at home. Sundays he often visited with parishioners who were unable to go to church, and would sit and laugh and tell stories for hours if you asked him to.”
Geiger’s own family was no exception. “I lived across the street from him for many years, and my own children and I often sought his counsel. He was the first to show up at the door when an ambulance was there to care for my diabetic husband -- even though it was the middle of the night.”
Leininger said in recent months, Reinert’s declining condition became apparent to St. Joseph’s students. “He wasn’t one to share a lot, but he knew the kids needed to hear from him,” she said. “They knew that he loved them and they knew that he cared about them. He told them, ‘Whatever is God’s will, I’ll accept.’”
It was Reinert’s will to come to rest in his adopted home – York.
“Sometimes priests have Mass at the Lincoln Cathedral,” Leininger said. That’s not what Monsignor wanted, though. “Here he is and here is where he will stay,” Leininger said. Even while seeing the wonders of the world, it was his wish to settle in a small community like York, he told the York News Times in 2010.
“I knew what I was missing.”