Author Thomas Wolfe, who died at the age of 37 in 1938, never got the chance to meet the Rev. Tim Haberkorn, of Topeka.
For if he did, Wolfe might have given a different title to his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
Haberkorn, 51, who grew up in the capital city, has proven that it not only is possible to go home again, but to do quite well there.
For the past 10 years, Haberkorn has served as pastor of the Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Catholic Church in Topeka. His growing-up years were spent in the St. Joseph parish.
His arrival in 2007 came about a year after the churches — both sharing a strong German heritage — were consolidated into a single parish.
The churches both continue to operate — Sacred Heart in the city’s Oakland neighborhood and St. Joseph’s downtown — with Haberkorn serving as pastor for both congregations at the same time.
Since he began working as pastor of the parish, the churches’ combined membership has risen about 25 percent.
“When I came back, we had 525 families,” Haberkorn said. “And now we’re at 780 families.”
Haberkorn dismisses any of the increase to anything he has done, saying merely that the increased numbers are the result of staying faithful to proclaiming God’s Word to his parishioners.
Still, it would be hard to underestimate the positive effect Haberkorn has had on the parishes, which were consolidated about a year before he arrived.
“I attribute it, number one, to God and the Holy Spirit active and at work,” he said. “We try really hard to proclaim the Word of God and celebrate the Word of God together, and share in the Eucharist. I think it just has an appeal and an attraction.
“There’s a lot of families that have come back, and I’m just delighted about that.”
His church members will get the chance to express their gratitude to Haberkorn during a Mass of Thanksgiving at 11 a.m. Sunday, June 25, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 312 N.E. Freeman. A reception and German polka dance will follow from noon to 4 p.m. in the Sacred Heart church hall.
In a recent interview, Haberkorn — who has been ordained longer than any Catholic priest actively serving a church in Topeka — said it is a bit unusual for a pastor to serve in one place for 10 years, let alone when that parish includes his home church.
“Back home for 10 years,” Haberkorn mused. “It’s kind of a unique assignment. Usually we don’t go back to our home parishes, so it’s been a very special assignment for me. I’ve always loved every place I’ve been, but like they say, there’s no place like home.”
Many of Haberkorn’s family members and relatives, along with people he knew from his growing-up years in Topeka, are members of the Sacred Heart-St. Joseph parish.
He said he is glad to be back home and is in no hurry to go elsewhere.
As is the case each year, priestly re-assignments were announced by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas at the end of May and once again, Haberkorn’s name wasn’t on the list. Haberkorn was assigned to the Topeka churches a decade ago by the Most Rev. Joseph Naumann, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Naumann remains at the helm of the diocese and ultimately is responsible for placing priests in the various Catholic churches in northeast Kansas.
“I’m not sweating it out,” Haberkorn said of any possible move. “I feel it’s important to always be open to where God calls me, because any place I’ve been has been just a wonderful experience.
“God leads you and guides you, and you’ve just got to trust in that. But for the most part, I feel like my work is not ended here.”
Haberkorn has overseen several major capital campaigns at both of the Topeka churches since he arrived a decade ago. One was a major overhaul of the heating and air-conditioning system at the Sacred Heart church.
Another ongoing project is the multi-million dollar restoration of the twin-towered St. Joseph church at 227 S.W. Van Buren.
The exterior work on the St. Joseph church, which has been going on about a year, is nearly done. Scaffolding that once wrapped around the towers is now nearly down. By the time the exterior work is wrapped up, it will have cost in excess of $3 million.
Then, the church turns to the second phase of the project, in which the interior of the historic building will be restored. That will run about $2 million more.
“There’s a lot of projects I’d like to see completed before the archbishop considers moving me,” Haberkorn said, “and I think he takes that into consideration.”
While work is ongoing at the St. Joseph church, Masses and other services have been held for both congregations at the Sacred Heart parish.
“That’s the great thing about having one parish but two churches,” Haberkorn said. “We’ve had the availability of the Sacred Heart church and haven’t had to make any changes to our weekend Mass schedule or our weekly Mass schedule. It all worked out just great.”
While he doesn’t know where future assignments might take him, Haberkorn for now is grateful to be back home in the Sacred Heart-St. Joseph parish — where his grandparents, Ignatius and Mary Haberkorn attended after they came to the United States from Russia.
Haberkorn still holds in high esteem the late Monsignor Arthur Trompeter, who was pastor of the St. Joseph church when he was a student at Assumption Catholic Grade School and Hayden High School, graduating in 1984.
Haberkorn said Trompeter was a “pastor, mentor and friend” as he grew up and answered the call to become a priest.
Through his 25 years in the priesthood, Haberkorn has learned how to handle the many responsibilities that come his way.
“The hardest part is that you’ve got to be able to shift emotional gears, and to be able to do that quickly,” he said, “because I may have a wedding on a Saturday morning and a funeral in the afternoon.
“There are those sad moments in life and difficult moments in life with people, and there are the great, joyful celebrations. Knowing you’ve got to balance both of those can be difficult at times.”
The biggest joy as a priest, he said, is celebrating the sacraments.
“But to be honest, what I love the most is being with people,” Haberkorn said. “Even when I was a kid, I was a chatterbox. I was never shy. I get the most joy out of the people, I really do.”
Contact reporter Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj/