St. Mary’s and the Divine Mercy AFC welcome three priests

Deb Moldaschel
Priest now serving St. Mary's Church in Sleepy Eye and the Divine Mercy Area Faith Community are, from left: Fr. Mark Steffl, Fr. Sam Perez, and Fr. Zachary Peterson. They share in the distinction of having served St. Mary's parish previously.

Early each July, priests of the Diocese of New Ulm with new assignments make the move to their new parishes. For Sleepy Eye, that means welcoming Fr. Mark Steffl, Pastor; and Senior Associate Pastors Fr. Sam Perez and Fr. Zachary Peterson back to Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s. The three “new” priests each served here previously. Their new assignment includes serving the other parishes in the Divine Mercy Area Faith Community — Japanese Martyrs in Leavenworth, St. Paul’s in Comfrey, and St. Michael’s in Morgan.

Before coming to Sleepy Eye, Fr. Steffl was at Holy Redeemer in Marshall for two years as pastor; Fr. Peterson was an associate pastor in the Good Teacher Area Faith Community in the Minneota and Canby area for the last five years; and Fr. Perez served as pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Henderson and Saint John Assumption Church in Faxon.

In a socially distanced email interview each of the men answered questions about the background, career and hopes for their current assignment.

Fr. Mark Steffl grew up in New Ulm and graduated from Cathedral High School. “My dad is from Sleepy Eye, and a graduate of St. Mary’s High School,” said Fr. Steffl. “My grandmother, Deloris Steffl, worked as a nurse for 40-plus years at the Sleepy Eye Hospital, and I find that many people still remember her very well. My grandfather, Les Steffl, worked for many years at the Sleepy Eye City power plant, so I have some concrete connections to St. Mary’s and to Sleepy Eye.”

Fr. Steffl was in Sleepy Eye from 2011 to 2013 as Parochial Vicar (assistant to the pastor), and during that time, also helped with St. Michael’s in Morgan, and taught Junior Religion at St. Mary’s High School.

Asked about his education, Fr. Steffl said, “Before studying to be a priest, I graduated from St. Cloud State University with a B.S. in Accounting. After that, I spent two years studying philosophy at St. Thomas in St. Paul, before studying theology at the North American College in Rome, Italy. After completing my previous assignment at St. Mary’s, I was sent to Ottawa, Canada for two years to study Canon Law, which is the law that governs the Catholic Church throughout the world.”

In addition to working with the parishes as pastor, Fr. Steffl said he also has some responsibilities in the Tribunal in the diocesan offices in New Ulm, and works occasionally on some “projects” that the Bishop assigns relating to Canon Law.

Those who read the Prairie Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, are familiar with Fr. Steffl’s regular article in it called “Ask a Canon Lawyer.”

Serving St. Mary’s parish includes responsibilities with the school. Fr. Steffl said, “Being assigned to a parish with a Catholic School means being involved in many ways — fundraising, School Masses, class visits. The presence of a school for a parish can add much to parish life, and of course the parish has an added opportunity in its mission of catechesis, education, and Christian formation as disciples of the Lord.”

“As with all my different assignments as a priest, I am looking forward to continuing the many good things that are going on in our local parishes,” said Fr. Steffl. “Ultimately, as priests, we are called to be a ‘Sign of the Kingdom’ that is to come, and to do all we can to assist each other to get to Heaven — especially through the Sacramental life of the Church, and the other catechetical programs we have; ultimately trying to fulfill the mission that the Lord Jesus entrusted to the Church.”

Fr. Zachary Peterson was born and raised in Marshall. “I attended Holy Redeemer Catholic School, from kindergarten through 8th grade, Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University — where I attained a degree in Elementary Education,” said Fr. Peterson. “After college I taught 7th and 8th grade English and Social Studies for one and a half years at the E.C.H.O. Charter School. I attended seminary at the former Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo for two years and Saint Meinrad School of Theology, in southern Indiana, for four years.”

Fr. Peterson was previously at St. Mary's during the 2009-2010 academic year as a seminarian intern. During that year he was ordained a deacon. Fr. Peterson also has fun memories of his time here. He said, “When I was last here, I played for the Essig Bluejays team that made the 2010 State Amateur Baseball Tournament.”

Fr. Peterson said, “I look forward to getting to know the parishioners of these four parishes, and to being active in St. Mary's School by visiting classrooms, and even as being a substitute teacher as needed.”

Fr. Sam Perez grew up in San Gabriel, Guatemala, a few miles from San Lucas Mission — a place most people in the diocese and community know about, or even have traveled to. “I did my formation in Guatemala and finished up at Saint Paul Seminary in Saint Paul,” said Fr. Perez. He added he has been “schooling” for 21 years, with a bachelor of science degree, four years of philosophy, and four years of theology.

Fr. Perez was previously at St. Mary’s from July 2002 to June 2003, serving as Parochial Vicar.

While his role at the school has not been determined yet, Fr. Perez expects to be involved in some way. He lives in Morgan and has primary responsibility for St. Michael’s Church there.

“I hope to get to know the people in the Divine Mercy Area,” said Fr. Perez, “learn about their Faith and family and walking together, how to love and to have Jesus as Our Brother, Friend and Redeemer through the Sacraments and the Holy Eucharist.”

Fr. Perez closed with: “Please pray for us three to serve all of you in the best way we can. Jesus, Joseph and Mary, Pray for us.”