Date of death: 10/6/2013
Saint Meinrad Class: O 1957
When Father Lawrence Heeg learned he had only a few years left to live, he chose to live life to the fullest, as he had always done. An avid skier, fisherman, hunter, boater, pilot, and motorcyclist, he developed his own “bucket list,” said Father Robert Gehring.He did all he could in two and one-half years,” said Father Gehring, a longtime friend. That included a trip to Germany last year.Eventually the cancer Father Heeg had fought for two years won out, and he died Oct. 6 while in hospice care. A member of the first priestly ordination class in the then-new Diocese of Gary, Father Heeg was 82.Bishop Dale J. Melczek and retired Bishop Carl Mengeling, an ordination classmate of Father Heeg, were the principal celebrants at a Mass of Christian Burial Oct. 11 at St. Patrick, Chesterton, where Father Heeg had pastored for 25 years. Interment followed at St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery.Friends and fellow priests recalled Father Heeg’s compassion and zest for life.He lived life to the fullest. He was active in so many things,” said Norma Dvorscak, a friend and former St. Patrick director of religious education. “He loved God, loved the Church, and loved life.She added that Father Heeg was “just a very, very human person. No pretenses ‘ what you saw is what he was. He never judged. He loved to travel, and I think those experiences made him more open to people.Dvorscak said Father Heeg loved to cook for people at his home, where his specialties included pasta, schnitzel, and lamb.Nicknamed “Dutch,” Father Heeg was a good priest, Father Gehring noted. “People felt him approachable. They really thought he cared about them. He loved his preaching and he had a gift for telling stories. He understood the living Jesus, and he was able to tell stories that conveyed that deep faith.A member of a priests’ support group that included Father Heeg, Father Gehring described his late buddy as a “deeply spiritual man. He had a deep love for the priesthood.And yet, Father Gehring continued, lay people respected Father Heeg because he cared for them as much as he did for the priesthood. “He had a lot of gifts,” Father Gehring said, “so let’s celebrate that he had those gifts.Ordained a priest on May 25, 1957, Father Heeg served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Hammond; Ss. Peter and Paul, Merrillville; and Queen of All Saints, Michigan City. In 1968 he became the first pastor of St. Stephen, Martyr, Merrillville, where, he recalled in a 2007 interview “living in overalls” during construction.Deacon Joseph Codespoti, then a member of St. Stephen, recalled working together with the pastor on the building project and on Cursillo weekends.He was more like a brother to me,” Deacon Codespoti said. “He was a man people could relate to. He was a priest and pastor, but he treated everyone like a friend.The deacon added that with his talents, Father Heeg could have been anything he wanted to be. “God called him,” Deacon Codespoti said, “because God realized this is the kind of man I need to be a pastor.Nearly a decade later, in November 1976, Father Heeg became pastor at St. Patrick, serving there until June 2001. The new church was built under his pastorate, as was an addition to the parish school.He was very energetic, even in sickness,” said Father Joseph Pawlowski, pastor at St. Paul, Valparaiso. “He really never gave up. He rolled with the punches with all his assignments.Other diocesan appointments included moderator for the Hammond Catholic Young Adults, diocesan director of the Apostolate for the Deaf, and was instrumental in the growth of the Cursillo Moment in the diocese, serving as its director for 15 years.Father Gerald Sroka, who also knew Father Heeg through their priests’ support group, pointed to the late priest’s knowledge of Church history and his internal strength. “He was always positive as to where the Lord was, and he always wanted to be where the Lord was,” Father Sroka said. “He was at peace with reality and very grateful for the years he had.Commenting on his 2007 golden jubilee as a priest, Father Heeg wished he could go back in time. “Knowledge comes later in life, and with age I’ve learned compassion, finding fewer faults in people.Regarding the priesthood, Father Heeg commented, “You learn more about the Church of God through the people rather than books. I’ve learned a sense of non-condemnation and a compassion for sinners, because I am one. There is a tendency to teach the books [in the seminary] and this is necessary, but you don’t learn to cry with people until after. This comes with age.Father Heeg is survived by several cousins in Germany.From the Northwest Indiana Catholic Newspaper.