Give Us Shepherds

Tell us a little about your childhood in South Milwaukee, growing up at St. John’s (now part of Divine Mercy Parish).

I went to St. John’s Grade School in what would probably be considered the “golden era” of the 50s and 60s. There were 900 kids in our day school at the time, and 90 kids in my eighth grade class in 1965. We had three full-time priests and all kinds of help-out priests. Everyone wanted to be a priest back then.

But you actually did it — was that something that was always in your mind?

I graduated from South Milwaukee High School in 1969 and there were really three things I wanted to do. I applied to the seminary, I applied to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to go into communications and I applied to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to go into accounting. I thought, “God will tell me what area I’m going into, and it’ll be a clear sign.” Well, I was accepted at all three schools, so I had to decide where to go after all.

What were your years in seminary like?

I entered the seminary at, I think, the best time, because the seminary had just been switched to four years of high school, four years of college and a four-year pastoral program. Vatican II was being implemented, and I think it was a very enriching time (with) the whole element of lay movement and women coming to the seminary to get an education — I feel it was a blessed opportunity.

Your first year in ministry was quite difficult — tell us about that.

St. Mary’s in Burlington was my first assignment. It was an interesting first experience — I was ordained on May 28, 1977, and on July 24, 1977, the church burned. The pastor was on vacation, and Fr. Dave Reith and I were left in charge. Here I am, a rookie priest, the oils haven’t even dried yet, and we’re dealing with this church fire. Whenever Fr. Dave and Fr. Bob Gosma (the pastor of St. Mary at the time) and I get together, we remember the two years it took to restore and rebuild the church building. It kind of left a mark on my own ministry. I built a new church at St. James in Menomonee Falls, I built a new church in Waterford at St. Thomas Aquinas — so somehow my ministry ended up being one of having to deal with building things, which was never anything taught in the seminary.

If you were not a priest, what do you think your career might have been?

I’m not quite sure what direction the Lord would have called me to, because the world is a different place today than it was back in the 50s and 60s. The influences of the world are very different. I’d probably be really involved in the Church as a lay minister — someone who has taken some ownership in the Church.

What are some hobbies or activities you enjoy?

Well, this pandemic has been an interesting year. I should never complain because I feel very blessed — my family is in South Milwaukee, and my sister and brother-in-law and I get together regularly. I’m very close with my niece and nephew, and I can finally go to family events on the weekends. When the kids were growing up, everything they did was on weekends, and I had to work, so you couldn’t be part of their lives, but now I can with my grand-nieces and grandnephews, so that’s a blessing I enjoy. When we were deacons, eight members of our class bought season tickets to the Milwaukee Rep with the intent that we would get together four to five times per year for dinner and to go to the theater. There are four of us — Fr. Pat Heppe, Fr. Bob Stiefvater, Fr. Tim Gunn and myself — who have remained faithful to that for 45 years.

What is the most interesting place you have ever traveled?

My mother and I used to take little road trips, and one time we drove down following the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans. It was an almost two-and-a-half week excursion, driving along and stopping in little towns, eating in little local restaurants — I thought that was fascinating.