Father Ernest Hepner, who was serving in Aiken, dies at 89

AIKEN—Father Ernest C. Hepner, a retired priest of the Diocese of Cleveland who was providing assistance at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, died Dec. 31. He was 89.

Father Gregory Wilson, pastor, will celebrate vespers on Jan. 5 at 6:30 p.m., followed by visitation. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Msgr. Richard Harris on Jan. 6 at 11 a.m. Both services are at St. Mary Help of Christians Church. A private burial will be held at Our Lady of Mepkin Abbey in Monks Corner.

Father Hepner

Father Hepner was born on Jan. 7, 1931, to the late Julius and Magda (Hartman) Hepner. He attended Lafayette Elementary School, St. Mary Margaret School, Benedictine High School, and was a graduate of John Carroll University. He also graduated from St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, with graduate degrees in psychology from Case Western Reserve University and theology from Gregorian University in Rome.

Father Hepner had told the story of his discernment, saying he was in elementary school when he first thought about becoming a priest, but the call didn’t become serious until years later, while he was taking pre-med courses.

“I knew I just wanted to help people, and being a priest could help me do that in a more meaningful and significant way,” he said.

Archbishop Martin J. O’Connor ordained him to the priesthood for the Diocese of Cleveland on Dec. 20, 1961, in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

His first assignment was as parochial vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Cleveland. He also served on the faculty of St. Mary Seminary from September 1963 to August 1968, when he went to St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, for graduate studies. He returned to St. Mary in 1969.

In January 1975, Father Hepner became a member of the Medical Moral Advisory Board. He was also a staff member of the permanent diaconate program from 1976 to 1978.

On Sept. 15, 1977, he was appointed co-pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Wickliffe, before becoming pastor on May 15, 1978. Father Hepner was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Bedford on Jan. 27, 1987, serving there until his retirement on Jan. 7, 2001.

After retiring, Father Hepner moved to South Carolina, where he continued his priestly ministry at several parishes. When he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest, he told The Catholic Miscellany that his goal was to help people grow in their faith, share their gifts and talents and, if possible, learn the value of a smile and laughter.

“I’ve really enjoyed finding fulfillment in these ministries,” Father Hepner said. “The personal and prayerful support I get from the people is so important. I’m thankful for how easily I’ve been received wherever I’ve gone.”

Read more about Father Hepner in this Miscellany article.