Rev. John Harth had no idea that his stint as news and sports director at Cape Girardeau’s KGMO Radio would come full circle, spawning extraordinary fulfillment later in his life as chaplain of Notre Dame Regional High School.
God works in mysterious ways.
Harth recently reflected on those years of more than four decades ago, pointing to several pivotal experiences that drew him into a newfound relationship with Notre Dame.
He recalled that in fall 1973 in his early broadcasting career, he was the voice of Notre Dame Bulldogs boys’ basketball, a radio assignment also acquainting him with twin brothers Don and Ron Maurer, players on that team. He developed a special bond with them, he said, and the Maurer family became “part of the attraction to Notre Dame.”
His coverage of Notre Dame athletics also cultivated a close friendship with then Notre Dame soccer and junior varsity boys’ basketball coach Wayne Nenninger, ND ’64, and his family. Later, Harth would serve as Notre Dame Booster Club president during the 1980-1981 school year, just before he entered the seminary. These experiences ultimately led him to accept a recurring call, swapping a career behind the microphone with both KGMO and later KFVS12, for a new vocation as a Catholic priest.
Harth retired last summer after serving the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau for 33 years, most recently as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jackson, Missouri, and chaplain of Notre Dame Regional High School.
“I loved every minute of it,” said Harth of his chaplaincy, saying he was “delighted” with his assignment at Notre Dame from 2013-2020 that he shared with the Rev. Mike Casteel, pastor of St. Augustine parish in Kelso, Missouri, and St. Joseph Parish in Scott City, Missouri.
“Father Michael Casteel and I had a wonderful time” in this experience, he said. “I found that being around children and students at the high school helped me stay young and vibrant.”
During those years, Harth accompanied Notre Dame students on the junior Emmaus retreat, heard confessions during Advent and Lent, celebrated class Masses, attended athletic, musical and theatrical events, and “just hung around,” always a constant presence on the sidelines of the Notre Dame experience.
“I went to school activities because I liked being there,” he said. “I enjoy sports. I enjoy theatre. I enjoy music. There is also something to be said for priests to be present in a high school.”
While Harth says Notre Dame was his first “official” foray into high school chaplaincy, he unofficially began visiting McAuley Catholic High School during his first priestly assignment at St. Mary’s Parish in Joplin, Missouri.
“I just started showing up,” he said, and he found that he enjoyed the experience, never really knowing whether the feeling was reciprocal. But later, after being reassigned, graduating McAuley students invited him to return to the school to present their commencement address, acknowledgment that his visits were meaningful to them as well.
He spent 15 years on the western side of the diocese before moving to the east side where he served Guardian Angel Catholic Church in Oran, Missouri. He moved on to simultaneous assignments with Immaculate Conception in Jackson, St. John Catholic Church in Leopold and St. Anthony Catholic Church in Glennon, Missouri. When Immaculate Conception became his solo assignment, he was eventually appointed as a chaplain at Notre Dame.
This month, Notre Dame is marking its appreciation for Harth and his contributions to enriching the lives of its students by presenting him with its prestigious Annunciation Award.
“I was totally taken by surprise. I was shocked and humbled,” he said, when he learned of the honor. “From a spiritual and practical aspect, being involved with the high school has been life-giving. It has been an act of love.”
Since Harth’s retirement last summer, he is residing in Cape Girardeau, filling in at Saint Francis Medical Center and celebrating Masses in area parishes as needed. He continues to serve as a volunteer chaplain for the Missouri State Highway Patrol; the Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Scott County Sheriff’s Departments; the Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Kelso and Oran Police Departments; Jackson Fire and Rescue; the Cape Girardeau County Emergency Management Agency; and the U.S. Secret Service.
While the Rev. Brian Strauss, associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Cape Girardeau, has moved into Harth’s Notre Dame chaplaincy role, Harth’s affinity for Notre Dame endures. This year he has occasionally returned to the high school to visit with students in the lunch line and catch up on the happenings in their lives.
“I love the students. I love the faculty. I love the staff. I still love Notre Dame, and until my last dying breath, I will continue to support it as best I can,” Harth said.