In the 1989 movie baseball classic, Field Of Dreams, Shoeless Joe Jackson is standing in an Iowa cornfield. “Is this Heaven?” the deceased baseball star from the early 1900s asks. The cornfield’s landowner, Ray Kinsella, answers, “No. It’s Iowa.”
Fr. Timothy Armbruster CPP.S, 48, of Western Kansas, on July 1 of this year walked out of his own Iowa cornfield. Exiting the green and yellow maze Armbruster asked, “Is this St. Mary’s?”
The 149-year-old St. Mary’s Catholic Church on South 18th Street has not only welcomed their new pastor but has also kicked off a year-long celebration. The reason St. Mary’s is celebrating only comes around every 150 years.
On Aug. 15, 1870, St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Centerville was founded by a handful of parishioners. This past Aug. 15, the current congregation of St. Mary’s kicked-off what will be a yearlong celebration. The celebration will run-up to Aug. 15, 2020, marking St. Mary’s first 150 years of ministry to the city of Centerville.
JACOB AND THE ANGEL
Timothy Armbruster began life in Goodland Kansas, born on July 15, 1971. As an infant, his parents baptized him. The baptism of baby Armbruster was the first of his three sacraments. In the Catholic faith, the ‘three sacraments of initiation’ are baptism, communion and confirmation. Each sacrament strengthens the faith and forges a deeper relationship with God.
Armbruster recalls his second and third sacraments as his young life grew in the Catholic faith, “My parents had baptized me as a baby, making the first statement of faith for me. Then at age seven, which is considered the first age of reason, I took my first communion. The third and final sacrament is confirmation, usually as a teenager or young adult.”
“When I turned 13, I confirmed the faith that was given to me as an infant during the baptism. So as a seventh-grader, I had completed the initiation process into the family of Christ. That’s when I began thinking about the life of a priest. But I no sooner thought of a life in the ministry when I would think, No. No way, I’m not doing that,” recalls Armbruster.
In the fall of 1976, the Armbrusters moved over 100 miles to a farm just east of WaKenney, Kansas. Armbruster and his two younger sisters would spend their formative years helping with the daily chores of farm life.
A soul-crushing loss at the exact wrong time in a young man’s life further convinced Armbruster that he would live the life of a farmer. Armbruster explains, “My father passed away when I was a junior in high school. So I stayed on the farm and completed my senior year. I was very interested in staying with the farm and making that my career.”
Then 17 years old, Armbruster was the second youngest in WaKeeney High’s graduating class of 1989. With the sudden loss of his dad, Armbruster’s grandpa became even more of an influence on his young grandson.
Armbruster recalls, “My grandfather, and I kept going back and forth whether I should continue to farm or go to college. He would want me to stay on the farm one minute and I would agree I was staying. But then the next time we saw each other, he would discuss college again. My grandfather would say, ‘Well if you don’t go to college then you won’t have the education to get a job. Without a job, you won’t have a future, and you won’t be welcomed back on the farm.’ So, I agreed that I would go to college.”
Like Jacob in the Old Testament, a coming-of-age Armbruster wrestled with his angel. His path in life seemed destined to include either tractors or computers, not homilies or clerical collars.
AN EDUCATION FROM ON HIGH
Armbruster with his grandfather’s guidance finally worked out what appeared to be a good solution. Their answer was for Armbruster to attend a college located only a half-hour from their beloved family farm.
Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas became Armbruster’s institution of higher learning. Just like that, the young man from Goodland, Kansas completed his first two years of college. Armbruster recalls, “I was working on a computer science degree.”
Armbruster remembers still not having the confidence that he had made the right decision by leaving the family farm. Pursuing a secular education wasn’t making the young man happy. The question of what to do with his life was still tugging at his soul.
“During my sophomore year at college, I remember just going through the motions attending class. I noticed that every once in a while someone would remember me, and tell me that I would still make a good pastor,” recalls Armbruster.
FINDING IT WHERE IT WAS LOST
How could Armbruster put to use the working ethic of a farmer while engaging his college education and yet live within God’s will?
Armbruster’s return to college was more of the same. Friends who knew Armbruster’s past interest in the priesthood continued to remind him they felt this was his calling. Armbruster explains, “It was the spring of my sophomore year when I finally decided, ‘Ok God. I don’t know where this will lead but let’s give it a try.”
Determination rushed in like a summer thunderstorm, washing years of frustration away. Armbruster applied and was accepted into the Formation Program as well as Rockhurst University, a Catholic College in Kansas City.
Armbruster explains the fall of 1991, “I began my junior year of college, working toward a degree in Computer Science as well as taking Philosophy and Theology Classes.”
It must have seemed like decades since Armbruster had said no to a life of ministry. Attempting to fill his soul, first with farming and then college, God was still waiting on the 13-year-old boy who had said “no way” to the ministry. Timothy was now Fr. Timothy as he pledged his life to Christ.
Armbruster had found happiness by saying yes to God, where he had lost his happiness by saying no to God.
THE CORNFIELDS OF IOWA
Armbruster became a missionary of the Society of the Precious Blood in 1999 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2001. He has served in parish ministry since. For the past eleven years, Armbruster has served as Associate Pastor of St. James Catholic Church, Liberty Missouri. In addition to the ministry of the 1,300 families of St. James, the priest also served his community as Vocation Director.
Armbruster recalls when he first began seeking God’s will on a new ministry, “About a year ago we began to discuss that it was time for me to move on to a new assignment or ministry. One option that came up was our Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) on the south side of Chicago. PBMR is a ministry working with the youth in the inner city giving them a safe space and an alternative to gangs.”
It was January of this year when Iowa’s cornfields were still frozen that a county seat town in the southern part of the state came on the radar.
“We also began to talk about Centerville as another possibility,” said Armbruster. “Although I love the ministry in Chicago, I just didn’t feel I was ready to move back to the big city. I felt more of a calling to the ministry in Centerville versus Chicago.”
With the first month in his adopted new town history, Armbruster says he made the right choice.
“I’m enjoying getting to know the people of the community,” he said. “I’ve had a warm welcome. People have been excited to see me here.”
St. Mary’s new Father’s attitude is infectious, he said.
“I’m the type of person who finds something fun to do wherever I go,” Armbruster said. “When I hear of personality clashes somewhere I’ve been, I take the attitude that no one will rain on my parade.”
And a parade it is at St. Mary’s. A year-long parade, marching until Aug. 15 of next year when the parish will celebrate their 150th anniversary.
A parade being lead by the Kansas farm boy who first confirmed his faith at age 13.