By VANESSA McCRAY
MAPLETON — The Rev. Edwin Thome just can't stay retired.
Thome, 82, served at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Old Mission Peninsula for a number of years, but was recently given the title "pastor." Previously, Thome ministered at and retired from a church in Acme and the Father Fred Foundation.
"People who know me well know that I have gone through several retirements, and don't think I don't get kidded for this," he said. "One should understand that a priest is ordained a priest forever. It is a vocation. It is not just a job."
As pastor, Thome is helping St. Joseph plan for a new church near its cemetery grounds, located south of the current church site on Center Road.
Thome served at Immaculate Conception Church in Traverse City from 1969 to 1972. He went to Cadillac to work on a new church and with the Catholic school after the Diocese of Gaylord was created out of a region that had been part of the Grand Rapids and Saginaw dioceses. Thome served in Cadillac for about a dozen years. He was later chosen to be the founding pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Acme, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in October. Thome remained at Christ the King for 15 years, before taking his first try at retirement.
It was not to be.
Thome accepted the position of spiritual director at the Father Fred Foundation in 2000, following the death of the nonprofit's founder the Rev. Edwin Frederick. Thome enjoyed his foundation work with the needy, especially when he was able to interact with migrant workers. While in seminary, Thome studied the Spanish language and Hispanic culture.
In 2002, a priest serving at St. Joseph was placed on administrative leave after an accusation of abuse surfaced. Thome stepped in as church administrator at St. Joseph and later took the title "sacramental minister" and has had help running the business side of church operations.
He retired from the Father Fred position a few years ago, and his recent designation as "pastor" provides stability at St. Joseph, Thome said.
"I seem to have been blessed with good health and longevity, and to help the people understand the permanency of my position, as well as the status of the parish on the peninsula, our new bishop decided to give me the title 'pastor,'" Thome said.
Thome is planning for the future of St. Joseph. The congregation is growing, and building a new church near the cemetery site would provide more room, he said. Moving the historic church to the new site could allow for its continued use for small weddings, funerals, prayer groups and other functions. Thome said the church may begin "discreet fundraising" for the project in the coming months.