Iowa Priest Makes Annual Men’s Dinner Part of Parish Life

“I normally do it the week between Christmas and New Year. It is just a social thing as a way to build up the community.”

Father Bernie Weir
Father Bernie Weir

Father Bernie Weir — or Padre Bernie, as some parishioner know him — is the pastor at Saint James Parish in Washington, Iowa. Raised in a Catholic family by a convert father and a lifelong Catholic mother, Father Weir went to Catholic grade school and to the Franciscan Briar Cliff University. And as he remembers, he always wanted to be a priest, so he attended seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois.

His first parish was St. Joseph the Worker in Columbus Junction, Iowa, with predominately Spanish-speaking parishioners. “When I first got there,” he said, “I did not speak Spanish. But that was where I started in Spanish ministries. There were around 30 people attending Mass in Spanish when I arrived. There were around 200 to 250 when I left.” 

Of course, Father Weir has impacted parishioners in other ways as well. For example, a quick scroll through the web turns up some photos of Father Weir with long white hair. But, as described in The Catholic Messenger, he always has had a goal: the hair was sectioned off into eight braids, then each was snipped off and donated to Locks of Love or a group similar to them. “The money raised is donated to the school,” he added. “Last year we raised $8000 by cutting my hair.”

But what has made him something of a parish celebrity are is his annual men’s dinners. “When I was at St. Mary of the Visitation, in Ottumwa, Iowa,” he said, “I was looking for ways to enliven the community and to get more people involved. That’s when I started the men’s dinners.” And when he moved to his present parish, he decided to continue the dinner event for men only. And the annual event has become a big hit.

“The men’s dinner is for around 50 people,” he said. “I normally do it the week between Christmas and New Year. It is just a social thing as a way to build up the community.” The first year he asked for reservations, expecting 10 to 15 people to show up. However, 65 to 70 people signed up. “That was a real surprise,” he said, “and those numbers have remained constant.”

Father Weir added that he keeps the menu simple, serving hamburger perhaps, or a pork roast. He decides what to buy and serve when he sees what’s on sale at his local market. He comes up with the menu and runs it by the school cook. “One year I had turkey because it was on sale at the market, and knowing it was around Christmas time, though I try not serve Christmas food that parishioners eat over the holidays.” 

As he noted, “I always make something simple. It is a no-fuss dinner, with no tablecloths or anything like that. It is only a social event and we have no program, and no one needs to bring anything. and you must be at least 18 to attend,” he said. “The meals I cook are always something I would fix for myself, but instead of cooking for one you make it for 60. The way you do that is you get 35 pounds of pork roast. Put it in the roaster and walk away for four hours. If it gets much more complicated than that I'm not fixing.”