Can you tell us about your childhood? What was your family life like?
Until I was 2 years old, they didn’t think I was going to live. I had pneumonia as a baby, and they said, ‘If he lives till he’s 2, he’s got a chance.’ I was the 10th of 10 children, so I got just an awful lot of babying and attention from everybody.
You’re a very proud native son of West Allis, aren’t you?
Growing up in West Allis meant a lot to me. Our parish, Holy Assumption, was there, and mom was very faithful and went to daily Mass. Dad went to daily Mass, too, but he had to leave at 10 to seven to get over to Allis Chalmers, where he was the supervisor in the tool room. Our eighth-grade class graduated in the 50th anniversary year of the parish’s founding — 1952 — and we picked up a sense of how special that parish was. We met up at our 25th anniversary of graduation, and we started meeting regularly every 10, 12, 15 years for a big gathering to celebrate the gift we had been given at Holy Assumption.
How did music play a role in your early life?
Music was just a big, big part of our life. My mom had a beautiful voice, and she and dad would go see movies, and she would remember the songs, lyrics and melodies. She just had a good ear. The same was true of my sister, Sr. Ancele — she never thought much about notes when she started playing the piano. It was because mom would hum a tune and say, “Now you go play that on the piano.” We would gather after dishes in the evening around the piano, and my sister would play and we would all sing.
What part did music play in your vocation?
When I was in seventh grade, my sister joined the convent. When she left, it was like the music went out of our home. It was just a big gap. I had signed up for an interest card for going to the Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz, and the priest who passed out the cards came to visit. Mom and dad and I talked with him for a bit, and he saw the piano there and he said, “Do you mind if I play?” He sat down and played that piano, and I thought to myself, “This is what I’m missing.” It struck me that way. And I said, “If he represents music like this at that seminary that he teaches at, that’s the place for me.”
You later went on to study at Saint Frances de Sales Seminary, but your formation was done overseas. What was that like?
I went to Innsbruck to study, and that was a joy. My mom had been born in Austria, (and) came over at the age of 10 in 1907, but she still remembered her German. I got to meet her relatives in Austria and bonded with them. When I was ordained in 1964, she and my priest brother came over for the ordination, and we had my first Mass in the little town in Austria that mom grew up in. It was the biggest kind of celebration we could have. All of my mom’s first cousins that were still living came. It was a marvelous celebration.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy biking, and I used to do a lot of hiking. I’ve done some camping all over the United States with Fr. Jerry Hudziak and Fr. Dick Molter. We even camped in Hawaii. I also had a very special friendship with Fr. Mel Michalski while he was alive — we got to know each other in Austria — and we did an awful lot of things together over the years before he died. We used to get out to Sun City, Arizona, quite regularly. He taught me the meaning of gift-giving. When he gave a gift, it was always a quality gift.
Can you tell us about your love of nature? Is that spiritually significant for you?
I love sunrises and stargazing, being on lakes and rivers — all of those things are really just part of what we need to learn from. Every time you see something that’s a little odd in nature, you’re learning another lesson. It can be as simple as waking up to how you didn’t appreciate something in life, or how you weren’t fit for a certain job. Nature will reveal that to you — which are things that really count, and which are things that don’t.
What is a topic you love to preach on?
One is forgiveness, and it mainly has to do with my own need for forgiveness. Nobody’s born perfect and nobody’s going to die perfect. The other one is that this God of ours doesn’t give up on us. He’s always there for support no matter what things we run into.