By Mike Viola
For the past 60 years Fr. Sherman Wall O.M.I. has improved the lives of many thousands of people., but the humble priest hates praise. He can summarize his 60 years of priesthood with a simple statement – it’s not about me.
“The people need to be in charge because someday I won’t be here,” said Fr. Sherman. “I prefer to be their cheerleader, not their leader.”
During the past 32 years Fr. Sherman has been priest and cheerleader in the small Ozark town of Willow Springs, Missouri. He is Pastor at Sacred Heart Parish and St. Joseph Mission Church. The parish is small, about 100 families, but its impact on the community is great.
In 1986 Fr. Sherman and his parishioners wanted to reach out in a substantial way to the poor in the community. With a poverty rate over 20 percent, Howell County is one of the poorest counties in Missouri.
The parish opened a food pantry and thrift store named MUNCH (Missourians United to Combat Hunger). They started off distributing food once a month to a few needy families, but the need was much greater than anticipated. They quickly expanded the building and ministry to serve hundreds of families every month.
Today, nearly 50 volunteers collect and distribute food for the poor. They also collect and repair donated clothes and household items that are sold through the thrift store. MUNCH also helps families with utility bills on an emergency basis.
“Last month we served 540 households. That was the busiest month that we ever had,” said Fr. Sherman.
In addition to his outreach to the poor in his community, Fr. Sherman also attends to the spiritual needs of his parishioners. While small in numbers, Fr. Sherman said his parishioners are very outgoing, generous and dedicated to their faith.
That dedication includes keeping open St. Joseph Mission Church in the nearby community of White Church. Saint Joseph was opened on March 25, 1886 and was the first Catholic community in Howell County.
The small church sits among oak and hickory trees and is still the focal point of the White Church area. It is a reminder of the first Catholic families that settled in the area who brought with them a passion for their faith and community. The mission church has stood the test of time, just like its pastor.
Like St. Joseph Church, Fr. Sherman said life has been remarkably consistent during the 32 years he has ministered in the Ozarks. He is still a country priest. He still has that distinctive flat-top haircut, and he is still loved by people in the area for his humble ministry.
At a recent pot-luck dinner celebrating his 60 years of priesthood, more than 300 people from the parish and community attended to thank Fr. Sherman for his dedication to the people of Willow Springs. Father Sherman was appreciative of the kind words, but uncomfortable with all the praise about how important he is to the community.