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A Cigar Priest

Terrence Fagan
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

(continued from page 1)

His appearance at his first Big Smoke caused a bit of a stir. Setter's friend Dave La Fleur, an artist in Kansas, was with him in Chicago. "He was a magnet," says Le Fleur. "People came out of the woodwork to talk to this guy. I saw guys come up to him, ex-altar boys like you and I, who were so excited to see him. It's like, they've got their cigars, they've got their toys and with Father H, it's like their life has gone full circle." La Fleur believes that Setter wears his priestly garb in public settings to put people at ease, to give them the opportunity to open up to him. "I've seen people flock to him in airports" just to talk and get things off their chest. (La Fleur created a painting on Setter's wall, using his own bands for the decoupage.)

There was a lot of media attention as well. "There were a lot of [reporters] who were curious about me because of my garb," Setter recalls. They constantly stopped him, asking questions. "It seemed to them an oddity to have a priest present at an event like this. I was a little overwhelmed by that."

For some people, it comes as a surprise that priests use money, let alone smoke cigars. "That's one of those misnomers that people have had about priests, that we've been these mystical figures that don't share a humanity," Setter says. "And it's so wrong, it's so stressful to be put on that kind of a pedestal, and to be expected to not have a human side that needs to be fostered and nurtured like everybody else. But what I have found by going to the Big Smokes is an incredible wave of support from people who said, 'Isn't it great to see that he is a human being, and he enjoys some things in life.' "

For those who consider cigars a vice, Setter sees a need for education by all premium cigar smokers. "When a person is willing to take the time to travel the three- or four-year journey from when those seeds hit the ground to the time the cigar's on your tobacconist's shelf, they begin to appreciate them a little bit more, and they don't look at them as such a vice."

But Setter sees more to cigars than that. Cigars, he says, are "one of those strange things--it's every walk of life, from the workers in the garage, to the top executives sitting in these buildings. It's a common language, it's almost like music. You walk into a room full of cigar smokers, everyone is understanding each other. There's a common bond that's forged there just by the fact that everybody appreciates cigars."

As pastor of St. Mary Church, a Roman Catholic parish of about 1,000 families in Derby, Kansas, and administrator of the 300-student St. Mary grammar school, Setter is kept busy year-round, with masses, weddings, funerals, running a parish and frequent consoling of people in need. "Cigars wind me down at the end of a day. They bring closure to a day that is totally chaotic on a regular basis. They're very helpful." He doesn't hide his habit. His column in the parish newsletter has a caricature of him smoking a cigar.

One of his cigar smoking friends, Mark Sloyer, calls him "one of the most incredible people I've ever met in my life, both in affiliation with the church and as a friend." And when it comes to cigars, "He's my walking, talking encyclopedia of cigars. If you want to disturb his line of thought, just have a cigar sticking out of your pocket. He's like a bird dog."

With most of his family in nearby Wichita (he is the second of three sons), Setter plans his vacations in short three-day trips to Big Smoke locations around the country. He stretches his modest priest's salary by planning far in advance. "I have to credit my travel agent, Toni Fitch," he says. "She digs out the bargains that get me to the Big Smokes."

Setter had dabbled with machine-made cigars while golfing in high school, but it was during his freshman year at Wichita State University in 1977 that his cigar smoking started in earnest. He had bought a briar pipe at a garage sale and was enjoying it until he bought his first premium cigar. "I couldn't have started out with a stronger cigar," he says. He went to a tobacconist in downtown Wichita, "and I remember picking up a robusto-sized Punch with a very dark, almost black maduro wrapper. It had such an incredible amount of flavor! My pipe basically became a pastime that never again competed with cigars." His cigar smoking in those days was limited to about once a week, on the golf course or after a good meal. It picked up in the mid-1980s when he attended Mount St. Mary's seminary near Washington, D.C.

"The tobacco shops out East were very different from the ones in the Midwest," he says. "They were much larger and there was much more variety. So I figured I should try some new things." He and a priest friend would take trips to Georgetown Tobacco and experiment with different cigars. Today, Setter smokes one or two a day. His 1,500-cigar humidor is packed with La Gloria Cubanas, Macanudos, Avos, Arturo Fuentes and other cigars too numerous to mention. When asked if he has a favorite, he demurs, saying that part of the thrill of cigar smoking is constantly trying something different.

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