May 17, 2023 // Diocese
Father Terry Fisher Spends 30 Years Beating the Odds
Saying the words “not for you” to Father Terry Fisher doesn’t discourage him but inspires him to do something and do it well. Naysayers led him to graduate college, teach, and to a commitment to the Catholic Church as a priest for more than 30 years. This year, the beloved leader, mentor, priest, and friend will retire as Pastor of St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend.
His vocational journey and aspiration to squelch cynics began with a visit during vocations week from a priest at the University of Notre Dame.
“He asked if anyone in the class wanted to or was interested in being a priest and I raised my hand,” recalls Father Fisher about a visit from a priest while he was a student at Holy Cross Grade School in South Bend. “Sister said to me, put your hand down. You know you’re not going to be a priest.”
This thought of joining religious life stayed in the back of his mind and after his time at Holy Cross, he moved on to Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, where he struggled in school.
“My counselor at St. Joe said, ‘You know, you would be very smart to enroll in a trade school because you’ll never make it in college,’” notes Father Fisher. “So, I went ahead and applied for college and graduated in 1971 with a degree in education.”
Upon his college graduation, the world was in the midst of the Vietnam War and Father Fisher was number 75 in the draft list. He was told not to get a job because he would be heading off to war soon, so he spent the summer at home. During his time at home, a neighbor and teacher at St. Matthew Grade School in South Bend was planning her retirement. When she found out Father Fisher had an education degree and was available to work, she put in a good word for him and he became a 3rd and 4th-grade teacher.
During his time of teaching, he interacted with and got to know Bishop Joseph Crowley, the bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese at that time.
“Bishop Crowley asked If I was ever interested in being a Priest,” recalls Father Fisher. He shared his grade school experience where he was told he wouldn’t become a priest and was concerned that he might be too old to enter the seminary. “Bishop Crowley said to me, ‘Well, you know, Father (he called everyone Father), I was a late vocation. I didn’t enter the seminary until I was 30.’ So, I applied, and started the seminary at Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland.”
Father Fisher was ordained a priest at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in 1985, the place where his vocation journey began as a teacher of education that transformed into a spiritual teacher and mentor. His first assignment was St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Haven.
“Bishop John D’Arcy (bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at the time) asked me if I would go to St. Joe High School and be the Chaplain and the Head of the Theology Department,” said Father Fisher. His reassignment took him back to his high school stomping grounds and included a position as a resident at St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church in South Bend. During that time, he was available to anyone needing a priest and filled in at parishes all throughout the diocese whenever needed.
After a few years, he was asked to remain at St. Joe High School and also take over a special project. He was assigned to a parish in Bremen to take over for an ailing priest and also a parish in Nappanee. The assignment was to establish a merging of the two churches while teaching and advising at the high school. Father Fisher successfully merged the two parishes.
“I went to Warsaw to Sacred Heart Catholic Church for six years,” said Father Fisher about his assignment after the parish merge. “Then, I came back to South Bend to St. Anthony’s, where I had been in residence. Only this time, I came back as the pastor and was there for seven years.”
After his time at St. Anthony, Father Fisher was assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mishawaka for 10 years, with the plan to retire once his assignment was complete. He then got the call asking for him to become pastor at St. Matthew’s in South Bend.
“My parents belonged here. My brother was married here. My sister was married here. My niece was married here. My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary here with Bishop Crowley. I have a long history at St. Matthew’s,” said Father Fisher. “I started here as a teacher and seminarian and ended up here as the pastor.”
It has been a wonderful journey filled with love, friendship, memories, and the blessing to live his life doing the Lord’s work. His most memorable moment was his ordination at St. Matthew Cathedral, where his spiritual journey began with the support of then-associate Father Bill Schooler and Bishop Crowley.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute,” said Father Fisher about his time as a priest. “I’ve been in some absolutely wonderful parishes and I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people and still keep in touch with them all the time. I recently heard from the principal that was at Sacred Heart in Warsaw when I was there. I hear from people from all the different parishes I’ve been at and I still see a lot of them.”
One thing he said he will miss in retirement is routine. He is a regimented personality who likes and appreciates his daily routine. That lack of consistency will take some getting used to for Father Fisher, but he plans to remain active in the community.
He hopes he helped people on their faith journey and inspired them on the joy of being Catholic.
“I don’t know where the years have gone. I mean, you know, after ordination, it’s been just a whirlwind and I’ve loved every minute of it,” said Father Fisher. “I love hearing confessions. It’s one of my favorite things to bring people back to the Lord. It’s such a gift to be able to touch people’s lives in that way and help them understand God’s forgiveness and God’s love for them. Saying Mass every day, of course, is a gift in itself. I’ve been blessed to work for two wonderful bishops — Bishop D’Arcy and Bishop Rhoades.”
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