NOTRE DAME, Ind. Holy Cross Father LeRoy “Clem” Clementich, 97, died at Holy Cross House in Notre Dame, Indiana, on July 16 after a short illness. Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated July 23 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Notre Dame.
Father Clem was born on Oct. 24, 1924 in Carpio, North Dakota, to Edward and Cecelia (Keller) Clementich, the first of eight children. He attended Muskego Township Grade School, a rural one-room elementary schoolhouse in Carpio, and graduated from St. Leo Catholic High School in Minot, North Dakota in 1945. After graduating high school, Father Clem joined the United States Army and served as a postal clerk overseas for three years in Berlin, Germany.
While serving in the Army, he attended daily Mass and was asked by Holy Cross Father Maurice Powers, the chaplain at the time, if he would be interested in becoming a chaplain’s assistant to help prepare the huge drill halls for Mass every Sunday. After his tour ended, Father Clem heard the call from God to become a Holy Cross priest.
After entering the Moreau Seminary, Father Clem studied philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 1953. He then went on to study theological education at Holy Cross College in Washington, D.C. He earned a master’s degree in liturgy from the University of Notre Dame in 1961 and a master’s degree in theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1971. He entered the Holy Cross Novitiate on August 15, 1949 at Notre Dame, professed final vows on August 16, 1953 and was ordained a Holy Cross priest on June 5, 1957, at Sacred Heart Church at Notre Dame.
Father Clem taught at the Notre Dame High School for Boys in Niles, Illinois, from 1957 to 1963 before being sent to Belgium to study theology at the Lumen Vitae Institute for one year. In 1964, he returned to the United States to teach at Notre Dame High School for Boys until 1966. From 1966 to 1969 he taught at the University of Portland in Oregon before leaving to earn his master’s degree in theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
From 1971 to 1984, he taught at St. Edward University in Austin, Texas.
Father Clem served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs from 1984-1993. Holy Cross Father Ronald Raab, who as a newly-ordained priest served with Father Clem at Sacred Heart from 1984-1987, called him “short in stature and a pastoral giant.”
“Clem read Gospel commentaries every day, then authored newspaper columns of his everyday life in Christ Jesus. Clem loved new ideas and approaches as a pastor, so to bring the gospel into greater light. Clem broke through the challenges of Vatican II and found God who loved him and the people on the edges of Church life,” Father Raab wrote in his “Broken But Not Divided” blog.
“Clem taught me to lock church doors. One Christmas, he talked down a thief wielding a knife in our unlocked church who wanted to steal the money Clem was carrying. I still ask Clem for forgiveness from that moment.”
After nine years as pastor of Sacred Heart, Father Clem left to study for a year at the Vatican II Institute in Menlo Park, Calif. In 1993, he began working in rural ministry for the Archdiocese of Anchorage where he traveled by airplane to remote villages to celebrate the liturgy and train laity so they would be able to lead. Father Clem wrote on the occasion of his 50th jubilee of priesthood (in 2007), “I count it as one of the most satisfying ministries of my priesthood.”
Preceding him in death are Father Clem’s parents, Edward and Cecelia Clementich, and his brothers Orvin Clementich, Melvin Clementich, and Glen Clementich.
(The Colorado Catholic Herald contributed to this story.)