Longtime Sacred Heart Pastor Returns for Birthday Bash
By Loretta Fulton
Eighteen years later, Chris Howe still remembers the joke his priest made when Howe asked him to preside over his upcoming marriage.
Howe asked if Msgr. Robert Bush, then pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, would marry him and his fiance, Sarah. Before Howe had time to realize the wording, the joke was out of Bush’s mouth.
“No, I’m not a bigamist,” Bush quickly replied.
Bush doesn’t miss an opportunity for a joke, either one accidentally set up for him or one of his own making. His sense of humor, his warmth, and his obvious love for people he serves were the reasons the church was filled Sunday, July 10, when Bush came back to the parish he once served for his 79th birthday.
Bush was pastor of Sacred Heart for 23 years, from 1996 to 2019, when he was reassigned by Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo to a role of Reduced Active Ministry at St. Anthony and St. Joseph Parishes in Odessa.
Howe was one of the many people who came to the service and to celebrate Bush’s birthday with a potluck lunch that followed. July 10 also was the day that Bush performed the Howes’ wedding ceremony at the church in 2004.
“I knew I had to come over to say ‘hi’ to him,” Howe said.
Howe, like so many others, also wanted to receive Bush’s signature greeting–PTL for “Praise the Lord” while making the sign of the cross on the back during a hug.
The Sunday morning Mass was especially festive, with Bush serving at the altar, along with the Rev. Albert Ezeanya, who replaced Bush in July 2019, and Deacon Ron Stegenga. Ezeanya’s homily, based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, seemed tailored made for the occasion. If ever there were a modern-day Good Samaritan, it is Bush. Hopefully, Ezeanya said in his homily, the scholar who questioned Jesus about gaining eternal life followed Jesus’ command and learned to love everyone no matter who they were.
“We need to open our hearts to all that God’s love asks of us,” Ezeanya said.
That perfectly describes Bush, who was ordained to the priesthood at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Brownwood on June 5, 1969. His 50th ordination anniversary was celebrated at Sacred Heart on June 5, 2019, shortly before he left the parish for Odessa.
During his years of active ministry, Bush helped open the Perpetual Adoration Chapel in 2000. The chapel, home of a former mechanic shop next door to Sacred Heart, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone who wants a quiet place to pray.
He also helped start the Diocesan SEARCH retreat ministry for youths in the diocese, has been active with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, has trained people for blessing teams to serve in times of crisis, and has been a guide and mentor for young priests who have been assigned to the diocese since 1996.
A special guest at the birthday luncheon was the Rev. Innocent Eziefule, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Abilene who previously served as an associate with Bush at Sacred Heart.
Asked is he stays active, even in his reduced ministry role, Bush once again displayed his quick wit.
“I try not to be,” he quipped.
MSGR. ROBERT BUSH
Position: Reduced Active Ministry at St. Anthony and St. Joseph Parishes in Odessa.
Age: 79; born in Waco in 1943
Education: Reicher Catholic High School, Waco, 1961; St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston, 1966; Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri, 1969
Parishes: Ordained at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Brownwood, June 5, 1969; served in Crane, Abilene, Odessa, San Angelo
Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene