Rev. Labat looks back at 50 years of making connections at SW Minnesota parishes

Labat to celebrate 50th anniversary of ordination this weekend

Over the past 50 years, Rev. Dennis Labat has served at a long list of southwest Minnesota parishes. On Sunday, Labat, now the senior associate pastor at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Marshall, will be celebrating the anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

MARSHALL — Being a priest means being there for people at both the happy and sad times in life, Rev. Dennis Labat said. Those connections are something Labat has built up over 50 years serving parishes southwest Minnesota.

“You’re very much involved with key times and events in people’s lives, individually and as a family,” he said.

Labat, the senior associate pastor at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, looked back on his years in the church this week. He will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination on Sunday. A Mass will be held at 2:30 p.m. at Holy Redeemer. An open house reception will follow in the church hall from 3:30 to 6 p.m.

Over the past 50 years, Labat has served at churches in Brown, Renville and Lyon Counties, as well as at the Diocese office in New Ulm. Today, he is senior associate at Holy Redeemer in Marshall, as well as the Church of St. Mary in Tracy, the Church of St. Mary in Cottonwood, and the Church of St. Michael in Milroy.

Labat has had lifelong connections to rural Minnesota. “I grew up on a farm between Green Valley and Cottonwood, about two miles north of Green Valley,” he said. He first started thinking about becoming a priest when he was in seventh grade.

“At that time, after school was out we had kind of summer-school religion for, I think it was two weeks. One of the sisters who was a teacher for my class had a book on being a diocesan priest. So I took that home and read it,” Labat said.

“From a kid’s perspective, you think, well, the life of a priest is really involved with people in a lot of different ways,” he said. “On Sunday Mass obviously, but weddings and funerals and other things, too.” About the time Labat read the book from religion class, he started to realize there was more to being a priest. “That was kind of the beginning.”

Labat made the decision to go to seminary as a high school student, after one of his classmates joined as a high school freshman.

“I started as a sophomore in high school. And I finished high school up at Crosier Seminary, and they had a junior college there also,” he said. From there he went to Saint John Vianney Seminary and to Saint Paul Seminary, both in St. Paul. “As I think about my journey through those 11 years of seminary, I continued to feel that God was calling me to be a priest, and to be a priest for the New Ulm Diocese,” he said.

Labat was ordained on May 25, 1974, at his home parish of St. Clotilde in Green Valley.

“My first assignment as a priest was to St. Mary’s in New Ulm,” Labat said. Part of that first assignment included teaching at Cathedral High School. Labat said he initially wasn’t looking forward to being a teacher. “In hindsight, that was the best thing I could have done,” he said.

“I think what (teaching) helped to do was really solidify the importance of working with young people,” Labat said. He would go on to serve as the spiritual director and coordinator for a youth retreat program, Teens Encounter Christ. He worked with the TEC program for 37 years, from 1980 to 2017.

“I met and got to know youth and adults from all over the diocese, and that was a real love and a blessing, in many many ways,” he said.

Labat said one of the meaningful parts of being a priest has been the connections he has formed with people.

“I think one of the things that I have really enjoyed is just the opportunity to be with people in different parishes,” he said.

One memory that stuck out was when Labat was assigned to a parish in Leavenworth, Minn. A couple of parishioners convinced him to come horseback riding at their farm. Before then, his only experience riding a horse had been with his cousins, he said.

“Of my 50 years of priesthood, I think about 37 or 38 were in Brown County,” Labat said. He came to Marshall in 2018. The area where he grew up had changed since he left in the 1960s. However, Labat said, “It was a real joy to be assigned here.”

“The camaraderie of working together, that’s one of the things that I really like about this assignment,” Labat said. In the Marshall area, he worked together with the late Rev. Tony Stubeda, and still works together with Rev. Andy Michels, Rev. Shawn Polman, and Rev. Paul Shumacher, a retired priest in residence at St. Mary’s in Cottonwood.

He’s had long years of service, but Labat said he doesn’t plan to retire just yet. “As long as my health is decent, I plan to continue in active ministry,” he said.


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