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A Cigar Priest

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

(continued from page 2)

Yet it was music, not cigars, that is Setter's first love. His aunt took him to the symphony when he was a child, which intrigued him enough that he took up the trumpet, and "graduated up, if you will" to the French horn. He studied the French horn and conducting at Wichita State. "I wanted to be a conductor, so I started my own orchestra." He led a chamber orchestra for four years and then conducted a small community orchestra in nearby McPherson, Kansas, while still in his mid-20s. During this time he became involved as a music director in his parish, and from that, increasingly involved in the church.

"It dawned on me that there was a calling going on here that I couldn't explain," he recalls, "and it grew more and more intense, so I finally broke down and discussed it with a priest." The priest suggested that Setter consider the seminary to discern whether it was truly a calling. "I never really wanted to be a priest," he admits. "I had my heart set on being a conductor, and that's what I was doing. But the compelling force of [this calling] was just overwhelming."

In 1983, Setter applied to study with Leonard Bernstein as part of a summer training program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. "Without meaning to bargain, because we should never bargain with God and I never really meant to, it dawned on me that if I wasn't accepted to study with [Bernstein], it might be a good sign to try the seminary. Maybe that's where I was being led; maybe that's what I really needed to pursue." A letter arrived from Bernstein informing Setter that he had not been chosen for that year; Setter decided to enter the seminary.

Today, Setter serves as the only priest of St. Mary Church, living in the rectory with a yellow tabby named Butter. As he recently told a reporter from The Wichita Eagle, "God is absolutely no question No. 1 in my life. Then would come the priesthood."

Cigars are a pretty good bet for number three. He gets together each month with a group of friends to play poker, and, of course, smoke cigars. A room in the rectory serves as his cigar room, featuring his humidor, two curio cabinets--with everything from antique cutters to old Reina Bella and Camel cigar tins--and what some have dubbed his "Wall of Fame." The photos lining the wall show Setter with cigar makers, celebrities such as Jim Belushi and, of course, photos with Marvin Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado.

"I'm Marvin's biggest fan," Setter says. From his first Big Smoke, Setter has asked for, and received, Marvin's autograph. "One of the most important rituals for me at a Big Smoke is getting Marvin to sign the editor's page." Setter then has the page framed with the ticket stub and program and hangs it on his wall. "The most meaningful things that Marvin has ever signed on any of my pictures were that I am 'The Number One Big Smoke Citizen' and 'Truly a Cigar Aficionado.' " To give Marvin a break, Setter is now only asking for a signature when the Big Smoke is in new cities. "I've gotta stop somewhere," he says.

Setter is prepared for the September Big Smoke weekend in Las Vegas. But these days, he's more excited about seeing his friends--the Cigar Aficionado staff and the cigar manufacturers--than the event itself. "Without a doubt," he says, "those are the most cherished moments of each Big Smoke."

But it was the night after a Big Smoke that Setter says he received his most treasured Big Smoke memory. At a dinner of cigar industry leaders in Miami, Marvin introduced Setter to the group with these words: "There are cigar smokers and then there are cigar smokers, and then there's Father H."


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