Spalding alums honor priest with scholarship

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Father Joseph Merkt
Father Joseph Merkt

The former students of Father Joseph Merkt have pooled their resources and established a scholarship in honor of their former Spalding University instructor.

The permanently endowed scholarship will provide $500 per year to a Spalding University undergraduate who demonstrates financial need.

“He touched so many people when he was here at Spalding,” said Mark Hohmann, the chief financial officer of Spalding University and a former student of Father Merkt. “He needs to be remembered.”

Father Merkt, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, directed the lay ministry degree program at Spalding University from 1991 to 2001.

Hohmann said he and other former students wondered, “ ‘What can we do to honor Father Joe?’

“And the scholarship idea came up; it just kind of snowballed,” Hohmann said. “We talked to people he taught at Spalding and we got a great response.”

About 40 people attended a celebration at St. Francis of Assisi Church in early February to surprise the priest with the news.

“I was totally surprised,” said Father Merkt shortly afterward. “I’m still getting my mind around the scholarship. I’m still in shock. Anybody who works for the church or for social service agencies, they don’t make a lot of money.

“The fact that they wanted to contribute money to this does touch me,” he said. “It tells me just how much they value their education and how thrilled they are to share it with someone else who is searching.”

It seems many of Father Merkt’s students came to him searching for something.

Debbie Minton, a pastoral minister and catechist at St. Athanasius Church, was 50 years old and a long-time employee of Target when she visited Father Merkt at a friend’s suggestion.

“Before I walked out of his office, I was signed up for college for the next five years,” she said. “He’s able to listen to what you say and help you find your direction.”

Minton ended up earning two bachelor’s degrees — one in pastoral ministry and another in religious studies. And she wouldn’t have gotten there, she said, without Father Merkt.

“He helped us really understand what God was calling us to do,” she said.

That self-discovery was the foundation for what Father Merkt’s students refer to as “being Merktanized.”

“It means to have a really thorough understanding of the church, its teachings and — this is a big ‘and’ — yourself,” Hohmann explained, “He took the latest research on all those things, the different stages of spirituality. He wanted you to have a grasp of yourself before you went out there to reach other people.”

Hohmann, like Minton, stepped into Father Merkt’s office searching and by the time he left, “He had me signed up,” Hohmann said. That was in 1998. He went on to earn a master’s degree in pastoral ministry at Spalding.

It may not seem like a pastoral ministry background would be helpful to a CFO, but, Hohmann said, it helped him to discern his professional code of ethics and become a better manager.

Ultimately, Hohmann said of Father Merkt, “I wouldn’t be here without him.”

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