By Jon Garinn
Steve was a priest of the Diocese of Belleville for 51 years. I had the opportunity of ministering with him when I was an associate pastor for two of those years, at Immaculate Conception parish in Columbia. I previously spent an unforgettable summer with Steve when I was a seminarian intern at Sacred Heart parish in DuQuoin. Both assignments gave me the unique privilege of observing him in private and in public. Steve was captivatingly kind, and deftly funny, the best raconteur I have ever known.
His spirit was generous, nourished by a passion for social justice and a dedication to the less fortunate. But his capacity for kindness did not mean he would suffer fools gladly.
I’ll never forget the time some parishioner came up to him and said, “that’s not the way Monsignor Haffner would have done it.” Keep in mind that Cyril Haffner died in 1966, some 30 years before this encounter. Steve responded, “Well, my name isn’t Haffner, it’s Humphrey, H-U-M-P-H-R-E-Y, and this is the way I do it.”
He later said to me, “that’s how you have to talk to these Germans–you’ve got to show them your teeth.”
It may not be politically correct thing to say these days, but back then, it was Steve’s unique style of “change management.”
From the time I first met him, Steve was suspicious of people who exercised authority, especially within the Catholic Church in general and the Diocese of Belleville in particular. Our friendship soon grew beyond our early conversations about the mendacities of the seminary system and church hierarchy. We spent many hours delving into the duplicitousness of some of our most well-regarded priests and their enablers at a time when the diocese was mired in scandal, all the while recognizing our own shortcomings and shame. He was humble of heart.
Several years after I left active ministry, Steve came to visit my husband and me at our home in Dallas. He arrived in the early evening with his traveling companion, another SIAP member of happy memory, Dick Dailey. The four of us reminisced and laughed late into the night, sharing our “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties,” in the way you might expect of dear old friends.
Steve’s preaching was always thoughtful, succinct, and sincere. Although he might scoff at it, I considered him a kind of poet–a lyricist for the Lord. His thirst for knowledge was demonstrated by his lifelong commitment to learning, through formal college courses, cultural experiences, and retreat programs.
As a longtime member of SIAP, he served in a variety of roles, including president, treasurer, and bartender. He taught me how to enjoy the nuances of ice-cold Tanqueray.
During his ministry, he served throughout the diocese in every setting–as an associate pastor at St. Andrew’s in Murphysboro, and as co-pastor of St. Patrick’s and Holy Angels in East St. Louis. He served as pastor of St. Joseph’s in Cobden, St. Barbara’s in Okawville, Sacred Heart in DuQuoin, Immaculate Conception in Columbia, and St. Boniface in Germantown. In his final year, he celebrated his 50th anniversary of ordination while serving as a sacramental minister at St. Joseph’s in Lebanon.
Stephen James Humphrey was born in Quincy on August 21, 1941, to Ed and Edith (Bickhaus) Humphrey. He attended St. Henry’s (minor seminary) in Belleville and then received his theological education at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Albert R. Zurroweste at St. Peter Cathedral in Belleville on May 13, 1967.
He died on April 7, 2019, at the age of 77.