FOND DU LAC — Fr. Victor Capriolo, moderator of the in solidum team at Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac, would often ride past John Buechel’s home near the St. Peter site in St. Peter, and Buechel would wave at and “harrass” the priest.
Tuesday, Aug. 21 was no different.
“I always tell him, ‘Come on, kick it in gear,’” Beuchel recounted, “and he always says, ‘Yeah, well it’s easier going down the hill than coming up.’”
But Fr. “Vic” never came by Wednesday night at his usual time of about 6:30 or 6:45 p.m. An ambulance’s sirens screamed past Buechel’s house that night.
He later learned the sirens related to a crash involving the 67-year-old priest who, according to a press release from the Fond du Lac Sheriff’s Department, was riding his bike east on the Prairie Trail, attempting to cross U.S. Highway 151 where it intersects with County Road WH when he was struck by a southbound car driven by a 74-year-old Fond du Lac woman. The release said he died from injuries sustained in the crash.
Fr. Capriolo’s funeral will be broadcast live on AM 1170 Radio to accommodate shut ins and people from outside the area who may not be able to attend. Or listen to the service via Internet by visiting http://www.wfdl.com/, and click “listen live” and then the AM 1170 logo.
Visitation will be held from 2 to 7 p.m., followed by a vigil service, on Monday, Aug. 27 at Holy Family Parish, 271 Fourth Street Way, Fond du Lac. Visitation will also be held from 9 a.m. until Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presides at the Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. at Holy Family on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
When Buechel heard about Fr. Capriolo Wednesday morning, he was shocked. With tears in his eyes, he recalled, “Yeah, I didn’t see Fr. Vic go home last night,” adding he’ll miss that friendly bantering with the priest. “He liked to dish it out, but he also could take it,” he told your Catholic Herald after the 5 p.m. prayer service held at St. Peter on Thursday, Aug. 24.
Fr. Ryan Pruess, newly ordained and the newest member of the Holy Family in solidum team, presided in the prayer service organized by the team members including Fr. Robert Stiefvater and Missionary Fraternity of Mary Fr. Maximo Lacan, who led a Spanish service at another Holy Family site that night.
“Fr. Vic reached out to each one of us in this room and touched our hearts in ways that he never even thought possible,” Fr. Pruess said to about 250 to 275 people sitting shoulder to shoulder in the pews, and lining the church’s back walls. “Through the beautiful gift of his preaching, the beautiful gift of his ministry to the church, Fr. Vic had an effect on tens of thousands of people and so we not only gather tonight to mourn the loss of a dear friend, but we gather tonight to also mourn the loss of a dear priest.”
He baptized countless babies, participated in thousands of weddings and mourned with those who suffered, showing compassionto the most outcast, said Fr. Pruess.
He said he already misses Fr. Capriolo, whom he’s worked with daily since coming to the parish June 19.
“I miss being called ‘kiddo’ in the morning when I came into the office. I miss having his smile and his charm instantly turn any bad situation into a good one. These are the situations that we’re going to miss,” Fr. Pruess said. “These are the moments in our lives that we’re going to need to turn to in these coming days for comfort and reassurance – comfort and reassurance that I know Fr. Vic would want each one of us to take in knowing that he is at … rejoicing in heaven with the angels above giving glory to God on high.”
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said in a statement released Aug. 23 that he was saddened and shocked when he heard about the accident.
“Fr. Vic had a passion for Catholic social teaching and an insatiable love for the Gospel. His parishioners and the people of Fond du Lac knew him as someone who would do anything to support the poor and disenfranchised,” he wrote. “We ask everyone to keep his family, friends and parishioners of Holy Family Parish in their prayers.”
Following the service, a counselor from Catholic Charities and members of the in solidum team were available to offer support, though many people congregated to talk to each other in the church and just outside the entrance.
The St. Peter site closed for the night, but people were invited to pray at the other Holy Family Parish sites until 10 p.m.
When Arlene Ramstack found out about Fr. Capriolo’s death, she said she wished she and her husband Robert had been home Wednesday night when Fr. Capriolo left a note on their door – it was Fr. Capriolo’s check for the Servant of the Poor meal for St. Vincent de Paul to which he had been invited.
“He was there and (I’m) sorry that I wasn’t home,” Ramstack said. “Maybe we could have deterred this, but the Lord’s will be done.”
Irene Petrie, and her husband, John, attended the service for the priest who witnessed the marriage of their son Steven and daughter-in-law Jada on April 28, the day of her father, Leander’s 90th birthday. Irene said Jada had waved to Fr. Capriolo as he rode past on his bike the night of the accident, though they didn’t learn of his death until Thursday morning.
“He was kind-hearted to everybody and cared about everybody, and he knew everybody by name,” said Irene, noting that Fr. Capriolo’s jokes were amazing.
“Nobody will ever replace him,” she added. “He was the best priest you could ever ask for.”
Several parishioners expressed shock at the news of Fr. Capriolo’s death, including Alice Pickart of Fond du Lac, who attended the 7 a.m. Mass on Thursday at the Sacred Heart site.
People gasped in unison when Fr. Stiefvater told the congregation after asking them to be seated following the opening hymn, Pickart said.
“I saw people wiping their eyes and Fr. Bob was very eloquent about how he spoke about Fr. Vic, how we’ve lost a wonderful man, a wonderful priest and how it was a big tragedy in the community.”
Like many who said they will miss Fr. Capriolo, Pickart laughed as she recalled the last joke she heard him tell, something he was known to do before and after Mass: “Two guys were studying physics and the one says to the other, ‘If you’re in a vacuum, do you think I can hear you?’ And the guy says, ‘Well, it depends if it’s on or off.’”
“That was one of the cleaner jokes,” said Joe Stephany, a friend of Pickart’s and member of Holy Family Parish, who occasionally played tennis or biked with Fr. Capriolo.
Stephany said Fr. Vic was a soothing person.
“He didn’t have to put any effort into it at all. If there were problems that existed, he had a way of turning it around,” Stephany said.
Turning around sad situations was one of Fr. Capriolo’s strengths, according to Marge Konen, Holy Family Parish member.
“It didn’t matter, it could be the saddest moment of everybody’s lives, but he always brought laughter back into the church by telling a joke,” she said.
Kathy Bunge, receptionist at Holy Family Parish, said Fr. Capriolo helped her through her sister’s recent death and her father’s death last year. She was overcome by tears as she talked about Fr. Capriolo. “He was there for everybody no matter if they were this high,” she said, lowering her hand to a small child’s height, “or 80 years old. It didn’t matter. … He will be missed.”
Bunge also said a woman who witnessed the accident attended the prayer service and wanted to speak with Fr. Patrick Heppe, vicar for ordained and lay ecclesial ministry for the Milwaukee Archdiocese and former Holy Family in solidum team member, to let him and the parish know that Fr. Capriolo didn’t suffer.
Fr. Capriolo led St. Mary Parish as administrator in 1998, while Fr. Heppe was at St. Joseph Parish, Fr. Heppe said. Their task was to bring the community together and eventually merge the parishes into the new Holy Family Parish in 2000, he said.
The process went well and Fr. Heppe said it’s a great community. “There’s a lot of faith here. They’ll get through it – they’ll get through anything,” he said.
Rhea Behlke, director of stewardship at Holy Family since 2000, said Fr. Capriolo took true joy in his vocation, which she witnessed many times when she found him in prayer at his desk.
“His personal relationship with Christ was very, very deep and he was not going to let anything interfere with that because he knew that was where he got his strength and his ability to be such a good priest to others,” Behlke said, “and when I think of a priest who truly lived his vocation and was blessed in his vocation, I think of Fr. Vic.”
He also attended events like dinner fundraisers or basketball games important to the school and was involved in a quiet way in Project Rachel, Behlke said.
“His work with the social justice and social ministry was really where his heart was and the people here that served in that ministry with him, I think, are the ones that are really going to feel the loss,” Behlke said, adding that staff’s first concern after hearing details of the accident were parishioners because of the grief and mourning they would experience.
But staff members received emails and visits from friends, parishioners and pastors from other denominations expressing their condolences, she said. “It means so much because people realize that while we have a job to do and people to take care of, that we also have to grieve,” said Behlke, noting that parishioners and sisters of the Fond du Lac-based Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes who are licensed therapists have offered their services to anyone in need.
“We want to hold his family in prayer, because while we have lost a dear friend and pastor, they’ve lost a son and a brother and a cousin, and they’re a loving family….” Behlke said. “We want to hold them in prayer and we were all just going to do our best to take care of each other, because that’s what as people of God we do.”
Jerry Topczewski told your Catholic Herald a pastoral plan for the future will be in place after an assessment is done to decide how to best meet the parish’s needs.
“When you deal with an unexpected loss, you have to take time now to take a look at what’s possible to replace that ability to provide pastoral care to the parish,” said Topczewski, noting that Holy Family is in good hands with the other members of the in solidum team.