A Mass of Christian Burial will be concelebrated for Bishop Raphael M. Fliss at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, noon, Thursday, Oct 1. Bishop Fliss, 84, died Monday, Sept. 21, in Duluth, Minnesota.
In a statement from Philadelphia, where he is attending the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki remembered the bishop as “a kind and gentle man whose love for the church and the priests, religious, deacons and faithful of his diocese reflected the love and care that Christ calls from each and every one of us.”
“I will miss his reflections on the service rendered to our archdiocese, which introduced me to my predecessors and a number of our dedicated priests and people,” the archbishop said.
Born in Milwaukee, Oct. 25, 1930, to Paul P. and Valeria (Kosobuck) Fliss, he received his priestly formation at Saint Francis Minor Seminary and Saint Francis Major Seminary, Milwaukee.
Following his ordination in 1956, he completed graduate work in canon law at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., receiving a licentiate in sacred theology.
‘Tops in class’
Ken Voss, a friend of the bishop’s since they were classmates at St. Elizabeth School, Milwaukee, in the seminary and throughout their lives, noted the bishop’s academic prowess.
“One thing stands out; he was a very intelligent man – the tops in our class,” he said.
Bishop Fliss’ priestly assignments were varied, including assistant pastor at Christ the King, Wauwatosa, and assistant pastor for the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, as well as secretary and master of ceremonies for two archbishops.
“He did a good job in his parishes,” according to Fr. Russell Tikalsky, a member of the ordination class of 1956 – “The second largest ordination class ever,” he noted.
In 1962, Bishop Fliss studied in Rome at the Lateran University and received a doctorate in canon law. When he returned to the archdiocese, he served in a number of archdiocesan capacities, including notary in the curia and defender of the bond.
Despite Bishop Fliss’ increase in administrative work, he remained humble, according to Fr. Erwin Matt, another seminary classmate.
“He didn’t change,” the priest said. “As brilliant as he was, he could always reach the lowliest of people.”
Voss, who left the seminary, joined the Army, became an attorney, married, and with his wife, Charlotte, raised six children, spent a lot of time with the bishop, vacationing with him and visiting him in Superior.
“He was a good fisherman, but he didn’t like to break worms. He kept a razor blade in his tackle box and would cut them in half,” Voss recalled, laughing.
He added that Bishop Fliss was a good athlete throughout his life, but particularly in high school where he played varsity football.
“He was a much better golfer than I,” said Voss, a member of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Milwaukee.
‘Uncle Father Ralph’
Eleven people had another title for the bishop – “Uncle Father Ralph,” according to his priest-nephew, Fr. Paul Fliss, pastor of Immaculate Conception, St. Peter Claver, and SS. Cyril and Methodius parishes in Sheboygan.
Fr. Fliss described his uncle as “kind, gentle, and loving – so compassionate.”
Noting that the bishop was studying in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, and that he attended some of the sessions, Fr. Fliss said, “He was a Vatican II priest. He was fully supportive of Vatican II’s emphasis on caring for people.”
Even after moving to Superior, Bishop Fliss would return for family celebrations.
“He’d be there,” Fr. Fliss said.
In 1969, Bishop Fliss was appointed vice chancellor, while continuing as secretary and master of ceremonies to the archbishop. He was appointed rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in 1978.
On Nov. 5, 1979, Pope John Paul II named Bishop Fliss coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Superior with the right of succession to Bishop George A. Hammes. When Bishop Hammes retired in 1985, Bishop Fliss became the ninth bishop of the diocese on June 27, 1985. He retired June 28, 2007.
Friend to everyone
While his episcopal appointment took him away from Milwaukee, he stayed connected to what Voss described as “a class that stuck together.”
“He was friends with all of us,” Fr. Matt said. “Even with classmates who were not priests. He was just a very friendly person.”
Fr. Tikalsky noted that Bishop Fliss would come to the class’s anniversary Masses every 10 years.
“He was a good guy; he got along with everyone,” the priest said.
Bishop Fliss was preceded in death by his parents, his brother George and his wife Winnie, his brother Howard and his wife Doris. He is survived by his brother Art (Marilyn) and 11 nieces and nephews.