FONTANA — Father Michael Dineen has spent the past 70 years serving his faith and his church, and he sees no reason to slow down.
“I wake up every day feeling pretty good,” he said. “I enjoy meeting with people and being with people.”
Dineen officially retired from the priesthood 19 years ago, after serving as chaplain at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Kenosha, which is now known as Kenosha Medical Center and St. Catherine’s Medical Center.
If he really retired, however, it is not evident.
Dineen continue serving as a help-out priest in the Lake Geneva area, celebrating Mass, officiating weddings and conducting funerals.
For the past five years, Dineen has lived in Lake Geneva in a house he rents from a friend. He has offered his services as an associate pastor to area Catholic churches.
“I like the community. The people are nice,” he said.
Dineen says 8:15 a.m. Mass at St. Benedict Church in Fontana on Thursdays and Fridays.
He also officiates at weddings and funerals both at St. Benedict, St. Francis de Sales Church in Lake Geneva, and St. Catherine Church in Sharon. Occasionally, he serves at St. Patrick Church in Elkhorn.
Age is not getting in the way of his ministry.
Dineen remains sharp and vital at 94. He drives a Buick. He speaks with a radio voice, quiet and reassuring. And he is quick with a quip or a quote.
Still, at times he forgets names. Mostly he forgets names of streets in Lake Geneva and highways in Walworth County. And he occasionally forgets the names of his favorite restaurants.
Those who know him as “Father Mike” say that the priest is a gentleman who knows how to connect with people.
Judie Weeks, office manager at St. Francis de Sales and a parishioner at St. Benedict, said she has never met someone so dedicated to the priesthood.
“He truly walks the walk and talks the talk,” she said. “He’s a real shepherd.”
Becki Brusa, administrative assistant at St. Benedict and a parishioner, has known Dineen for seven years.
“He’s such a faith-filled man. His passion is the church. He can’t hide it,” she said.
Brusa described Dineen as a dynamic person.
“When he speaks to the people, he reaches them. He has a warm personality,” she said.
The Rev. Mark Danczyk is pastor of both St. Benedict and St. Francis de Sales churches. Dineen’s help is greatly appreciated, Danczyk said.
Danczyk said he met Dineen 25 years ago when he was a young associate pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Kenosha. At the time, Dineen was chaplain at St. Catherine’s.
After two years, Danczyk was reassigned out of the Kenosha area. But he always remembered Dineen. And when he was assigned to St. Benedict and St. Francis de Sales two years ago, he was pleased to find out that his old colleague was there.
“He really is a role model for other priests.” Danczyk said. “He has a wonderful pastoral way about him.”
Michael P. Dineen grew up on a 63-acre dairy farm in the Cedarburg-Mequon area, north of Milwaukee.
As a child, he enjoyed farming very much.
His parents, Charles and Catherine Dineen, were devout Roman Catholics. Michael was the third of seven children. Every Sunday, young Michael and his family attended Mass.
“The church was the center of our life,” he said. “My parents were good in every way.”
Charles Dineen also ran a milk producers cooperative in Milwaukee, through which dairy farmers sold their milk.
If he had not become a priest, Dineen says he would have been a farmer. But he is not sure how well he would have done in agriculture.
“I’m not sure I would have made as good a farmer as my dad,” he said.
Dineen began high school at Messmer High School, a Roman Catholic institution in Milwaukee. One day, an assistant principal asked if Dineen had ever thought of becoming a priest.
“I was always thinking about being a priest,” he said.
He regarded clergy men as good examples of priests and human beings.
No one in the immediate family had been in the clergy, although his mother had an uncle who had been a priest.
The next school year, he enrolled at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, preparing for the priesthood.
In 1949, Dineen, then 24, was ordained at St. John’s Cathedral in Milwaukee. He is the only survivor of the class whose 16 members were ordained that year.
Dineen has served the church in a variety of places and jobs.
After being ordained, he was first sent to Sheboygan, where he pastored at St. Clement Church.
Then he was assigned to Holy Rosary in Milwaukee for a while, before being appointed executive secretary for The National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, where he worked for 12 years.
“I got that job because of my background and interest in farming,” he said.
The Rural Life Conference was the church’s effort to save the family farm. While there, he founded a magazine in the early 1960s called Country Beautiful, which published articles about land and water conservation.
After Des Moines, he went to La Crosse and later St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee to learn to be a hospital chaplain.
A chaplain works with a hospital staff to ensure the hospital is carrying out its primary work of healing.
After completing his training as a chaplain, he went to Fond du Lac for five years before going to Kenosha, where he was chaplain at St. Catherine’s Hospital for 14 years, retiring at age 75.
He said he got to know the Lake Geneva area when he was in Kenosha. He would occasionally come to Lake Geneva or Fontana to say Mass and do some substitute pastoring.
Once he retired, he was free to live where he wanted. Dineen spent five years in the Delavan area before moving to Lake Geneva five years ago.
On May 28, parishioners from St. Benedict and St. Francis de Sales of Lake Geneva celebrated a special Mass in honor of Dineen’s 70th year as a priest.
Will he ever slow down?
“I won’t unless I have to,” Dineen said with a smile.