. Community of Blessed Sacrament


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Fr. Ray Herman
January 1, 1930 -- October 20, 1975

The Archdiocese of Dubuque celebrated the 25th anniversary of his martyrdom, Oct. 20, with a day-long observance at his home parish, St. John's in Independence. Among those attending were his family -- including Rev. Mr. John Herman, deacon of Blessed Sacrament parish, and some 800 school children, including a delegation from Blessed Sacrament. Archbishop Jerome Hanus celebrated a memorial Mass. Missionary colleagues and people from Bolivia, with whom Father Herman served and worked, came to recall his ministry and his ultimate sacrifice.

It was a sacrifice he didn't have to make. He didn't have to care about those people -- Incan descendants in Bolivia's Andean highlands -- so distant and different from the friends and family life he had known in Iowa. It was a journey he didn't have to make at all.

In fact, at the beginning of that journey, in the mid-1950s, Ray Herman was sitting on top of the world. He emerged from Iowa State University with a bachelor's degree in farm management and his entire life in front of him. His father looked forward to having him on the family farm. The young, brilliant college graduate had administrative abilities which contemporaries say could have led him to success in business, in education, practically any field he chose, in a time and place of unsurpassed prosperity.

Ray Herman didn't reach for the brass ring. Instead, he took up his cross. A voice inside him -- a voice perhaps planted, or brought into tune, by a mentor, Rev. James Supple of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames -- called him to sow a far different kind of seed than that for which his college training had prepared him.

Herman divulged his intentions to join the priesthood to his family when he came home Easter weekend prior to graduation. "My dad was shocked and quite disappointed," John Herman said of his brother. "He always had this idea a man should work with his hands. He had hoped to have Ray at the farm," given his educational background.

But Herman had a far different calling, and conviction at an early age, according to a contemporary, Rev. Leon Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Waterloo, a seminary colleague who served with him in Bolivia. "He was a farm boy, so we had a lot in common," Connolly said. "He was very quiet but a very deep thinker, and obviously was a person that had some very strong convictions about life, and his faith, and about the Church, I would say."

He attended St. Bernard Seminary in Dubuque and was ordained a priest in 1957. He and Connolly both spent the early years of their priesthood in Dubuque - Herman at St. Raphael's Cathedral, and Connolly at St. Joseph's parish. "We did get together occasionally. He was just very dedicated to giving of himself to whatever the need was," Connolly said, but added, "I think he did feel incomplete; I don't know when the missionary spirit got him; but in those years it seemed to kind of come to the fore."

At about that time, Pope John XXIII commissioned the Church in North America and Europe to send 10 percent of its priests to Latin America "because there was so much poverty," Connolly said, and a threat of communism - a threat which to a large extent never emerged, but the reaction to which led to the establishment of a number of military dictatorships in the region. It was that kind of leadership which held down the very people missionaries like Herman and Connolly were dispatched to uplift.

Herman worked with the Maryknoll missionaries for five years before being assigned to the same parish as Connolly, an urban parish in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. "He was extremely low key," Connolly said of Herman. "He didn't say much, but what he said, you would do well to listen to him.

"He had a dry humor, and he also had some pretty strong one-line convictions that flowed from a lot of thought, and reflection and prayer," Connolly said. "He was a very prayerful guy. He had a lot of confidence in the Lord, he knew he had limitations, and I think recognized very clearly the role of the priest and the gifts of the priesthood to enrich the Church and the lives of the people."

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