Missionary Heart -- Ministering to young people was focal point of Father Butler's priesthood
By Mary Stadnyk|Associate Editor
Men who dedicate their lives to serving as missionaries in the Society of the Divine Word know very well that theirs is a ministry that often requires them to leave the comfort zones of their homelands, their families and friends, and take up a life of proclaiming the Gospel to people in other parts of the world.
For Divine Word Father Victor Butler, his 50 years of priesthood led him to leave behind his native Dominica, West Indies, for a life of service in the United States. The greatest majority of his years were spent ministering in parishes and schools in the Diocese of Trenton. He is fondly remembered as being “Father Vic,” the much-loved and highly respected chaplain in Holy Cross High School, Delran.
“I really loved working with the students,” Father Butler said, as he reflected on the thousands of young people he encountered in Burlington County’s only Catholic high school. It gave him great joy to be among the students who were so filled with enthusiasm, energy, questions and wonder for so many years.
“If anything, I wanted to be there for them and help them to grow and be proud of who they were,” he said.
In turn, Father Butler readily admitted that it was the school community, especially the students, “who taught me a thing or two about wanting to be the best that I could be.” It was from them, he said, that he learned to develop and hone some of his own personal attributes such as patience and understanding.
“He was a man ahead of his time at Holy Cross,” recalled Dennis Guida, principal. “He offered our students both spiritual and personal counseling on a student’s terms. This was new for Holy Cross and took some time to be accepted. Many students still ask about Father Vic and speak very lovingly of him. He was always there for our students and Holy Cross,”
Now living in the Divine Word Missionaries’ residence for retired priests in Techny, Ill., Father Butler enjoyed sharing a bit about his own young adult days and being 18 years old when he decided to travel to the United States to join the Society of the Divine Word and begin studies for the priesthood.
The young Victor had been familiar with the work and charism of the Redemptorist community who served in his hometown, but it was meeting a Divine Word missionary who was visiting Dominica and hearing about his experiences as a priest that sparked Father Butler’s desire to seriously consider a vocation of his own.
Father Butler completed his novitiate and studies in philosophy and theology with the Divine Word Missionaries in Techny and was ordained a priest Feb. 2, 1964, in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Techny. After serving as parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Parish, Chicago, for six years, Father Butler spent several years teaching in schools in Missouri, Ohio and other parts of Illinois, before moving to New Jersey to teach French and sociology in Divine Word Seminary, Bordentown. It was at the recommendation of his friend and colleague, Divine Word Father Martin Padovani, that Father Butler began part-time youth ministry work in Holy Cross High School.
Although he was only scheduled to be in Holy Cross 10 hours a week, the number of hours increased as he became more involved in the life of the Delran school. In 1982, he gave up teaching in the seminary and turned his part-time youth ministry work into serving as a full-time chaplain, a position which he held for 13 years until health issues prompted him to submit his resignation. After about two years, Father Butler was happy to return to the Holy Cross campus where for four days a week he ministered as a student counselor and presided over liturgies. Father Butler also served as a weekend assistant in area parishes including Sacred Heart, Riverton. He also had a productive healing ministry in which he led prayer groups across the Diocese and retreats for young people in Holy Cross.
Other positions and appointments that Father Butler held in the Diocese included a brief pastorate in Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton, which is now part of Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish. On a diocesan level, he served as a member of the Diocesan Administrative Board and the inaugural Inter-Parish Assistance Fund Commission. He furthered his education and was awarded master’s degrees in sociology from Fordham University, New York, and youth ministry from La Salle University, Philadelphia.
For his 50th anniversary, Father Butler said he enjoyed traveling to England in May for a three-week visit with his sister, Clara Gosine. In retirement, he may be found strolling the grounds around the Divine Word residence, at Mass or spending time in prayer in the residence chapel and, being an avid bookworm, he’s continuously on the search for material, especially books that give insight into the Catholic faith and offer a Catholic perspective.[[In-content Ad]]