News: Priest celebrates 60 'fantastic' years of service

April 13, 2021

Father Paul Koch baptizes a baby

Father Paul Koch remembers when he was in the seminary and Boston Cardinal Richard Cushing put out a call.

The cardinal was founding the Society of St. James, an international organization of diocesan priests who would be missionaries and he was looking for priests to join.

Shortly after his ordination May 28, 1961, Father Koch received permission from Des Moines Bishop Edward Daley to join the fledgling society.

Father celebrates his 60th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood this year. The bulk of his priestly ministry was in service to the people of Bolivia.

“We were parish priests who volunteered for the St. James Society to work in Latin America mostly in parishes without priests,” said Father Koch. “That was my work all of those 46 years as a parish priest. I’m not famous for having founded anything or any big idea. I was just a simple parish priest who loved it dearly.”

Born in Panama in Shelby County, a graduate of Loras College and Mt. St. Bernard Seminary in Dubuque, Father Koch followed his inspiration and big brother, the late Father Eugene Koch, into religious life.

After ordination, he taught for two years at Dowling High School before leaving Iowa. He served five years in a high altitude farming area in western Bolivia, five years in the mining town of Oruro and then went to Santa Cruz in the tropics, where he was a pastor of a parish with 35 missions.

“It was really challenging and, of course, it was just fantastic!” he said.

When he returned home to Iowa, he was asked to settle in Council Bluffs and work with the budding Hispanic community in that city. Now, he lives in Harlan with Father Clement Owusu.

Father Koch has no plans to celebrate his anniversary, but says he’s grateful for his vocation. 

 "It was fantastic,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”