Catching a break: Reeling, reflecting part of priest’s sabbatical travels


The Rev. Aaron Jenkins, priest at the St. Michael and St. Thomas the Apostle parishes in Hancock County, shows a brown trout he caught this summer while on sabbatical.

Photo provided

GREENFIELD — Those eating a recent fish dinner at St. Michael Catholic Church were quick to point out the breading was “Father’s own recipe.”

When your priest has caught a dozen kinds of fish during his sabbatical, it’s perhaps not surprising he has a recipe for preparing it.

The Rev. Aaron Jenkins, who pastors both St. Michael in Greenfield and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Fortville, received a Clergy Renewal Grant and was on sabbatical from early June to early September. He spent that time truck camping out west, truck camping and fly fishing. (Most fish, aside from a few trout he ate, were released.)

On Oct. 13, he shared slides from his journey with parishioners after a fish dinner. He described a summer of celebration and solitude as he shared photos of mountain views, wildflowers and wildlife, and glimpses of the places’ history.

Early in the trip, he was at Glacier National Park. Some roads there were not yet reopened after heavy spring rains.

”It made for some gorgeous scenery … the clouds mixing with the mountains was pretty amazing,” he said. “One of the great things about being out there this time of year was, like, the wildflowers were just incredible. Particularly with as wet as it was, everyplace you went there was just nonstop wildflowers everywhere.”

Also, in June, Jenkins’ family — his parents, his sister and brother-in-law and their children — arrived for two weeks together. They were celebrating his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Their time together included Yellowstone National Park and at a ski resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they rode a gondola to see the view at 10,000 feet.

While Jenkins spent some of the time with family, and would later spend portions of his travels fishing with a visiting fellow priest or a friend here and there, he also spent a lot of time alone. He camped the back of his white truck, read about 20 books and wrote reflections on outdoor life and faith.

Rest, reflection, relationships — they’re all part of what those administering the Clergy Renewal Grants hope will happen for recipients. The goal of the grants, which can be for up to $50,000, is to help clergy enjoy recharging and renewal.

“The program provides an opportunity for congregations to express appreciation for their ministers’ service and leadership,” said Dr. Robert Saler, director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs. “At a time when leaders are often praised for their pace of innovation and productivity, the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations pays homage to the timeless wisdom embedded in the practice of reflection and renewal.”

One week of Jenkins’ journey was spent on spiritual retreat at the Abbey of St. Walburga in northern Colorado. The nuns emphasize prayer as a big part of their ministry, but that ministry also includes hospitality for people on retreat.

“They raise cattle, so they’re no joke,” Jenkins told the fish dinner crowd of more than 200. “They ride around in their habits on four-wheelers and horses and all kinds of stuff, and their beef is really good.”

Quips aside, the priest said the abbey was a great place to finally decompress on the trip.

“It took me about three weeks, I think, to finally get out of my head and just relax and not think about anything,” he said. “So this retreat was well timed because it helped me get there, I think at the right time.”

Another spiritual highlight of the trip came in July, when he joined in the celebration of Mass at a prairie in Pinedale, Wyoming. Fur trappers would rendezvous to sell and trade there in the early 1800s. On July 5, 1840, a priest celebrated Mass there during the rendezvous. It was the first Mass in what is now Wyoming, and each July it’s commemorated with a Mass at the site.

Jenkins, an artist, had hoped to paint during his travels, but windy weather on the trip hampered that. Instead, he wrote reflections on outdoor life and spirituality. He offered the collection on thumb drives at the fish dinner, with questions for reflection, and hopes to publish the collection.

“A sabbatical is really just kind of an intense time for travel and for study,” he said to those gathered. “Thank you for your support. You guys have been very kind to me coming back.”



miles traveled


states visited

12,000+ feet

highest point visited


nights camping in truck


books read


species of fish caught


The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations was established in 1999. The Endowment established a similar program for churches around the United States the next year. The application window for the 2024 program year will open in early November. Learn more at

The Rev. Mark Havel, senior pastor of Cross of Grace Lutheran Church in New Palestine, also received a grant and traveled this summer. He was featured in a Sept. 30 story in the Daily Reporter.