Obituaries

 

Father Wempe personified peace and simplicity

 

By Joe Bollig
joe@theleaven.com

LAWRENCE — Father Richard Wempe was a man of holy simplicity and poverty in death as in life. It was difficult even to find a photograph for his obituary.
Father Wempe, 88, died on Feb. 25 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital a few hours after he fell at home. His funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kan., on March 1, and he was buried at Holy Family Cemetery in Alma.
Father Wempe — usually known as Father Dick — looked at three locations for as simple and poor a burial as possible, said Father Al Rockers, the funeral Mass homilist.
“Three quiet, isolated places on the edges of our archdiocese where there would not be a requirement for a concrete vault,” said Father Rockers.
Furthermore, he wanted to be buried in the manner of Trappist (Cistercian) monks and his model Blessed Charles Eugene de Foucauld.
“He wanted to be buried on a board and lowered into an open grave, and let Mother Earth have his body back, as [did] Blessed Charles,” said Father Rockers.
Father Wempe was born on March 26, 1924, to Anthony and Clara (Myers) Wempe in Seneca. He had two brothers and one sister. The family belonged to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish and the children went to the parish elementary and high schools.
 Father Wempe graduated from Sts. Peter and Paul High School in May 1942. He studied pre-engineering from 1942 to 1943 at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1943 and did his basic training with the 75th Infantry Division in Alabama. Next, he served with the 66th Infantry Division, known as the Black Panthers, from December 1944 to April 1946. The division fought primarily in France; he was a sergeant in the headquarters company.
“Father Dick saw the face of hell,” said Father Rockers. “He worked behind the lines, but saw thousands of people dying, civilians everywhere displaced, and orphaned and starving children.”
The war had a tremendous effect on him, leading him to embrace pacifism and oppose nationalism. He also developed a love for Paris and would return in future years.
The young soldier was discharged from the U.S. Army in April 1946 and returned to the United States. He attended St. Benedict’s College in Atchison from 1946-1947, then undertook studies for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver from 1947 to 1949. He earned a degree in philosophy, and then continued his studies from 1949 to 1953 in Rome. He studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and resided at the Pontifical North American College. Because he spoke neither Italian nor Latin, said his niece Barbara Kolom, his studies were a challenge to him.
Father Wempe was ordained a priest on Dec. 20, 1952, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome and went on to a series of pastoral assignments in the archdiocese. In 1972, he sought and received permission to minister to poor and homeless men, and founded the Shalom Catholic Worker House in downtown Kansas City, Kan., now operated by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
By then a confirmed pacifist, the soldier-turned-priest also created a “peace library” and supported conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War.
“I had just completed alternative service as a conscientious objector and I heard about a priest who was a pacifist,” said Michael McGrath, a member of Christ the King Parish in Kansas City, Kan. “I was never able to find one when I was working with my draft board, so I decided I must meet this man.”
Rupert Pate, a Vietnam War veteran, was an instructor at Fort Leavenworth Command and General Staff College when he first met Father Wempe.
“He was a man of very few words, and he very much believed in prayer,” said Pate. “He believed not only in private prayer, but that we should pray in community and as community. He wrote a series of little guides to daily prayer that he distributed himself.”
He was contemplative by nature, a man of deep prayer and spirituality, said Sister Barbara McCracken, OSB, who worked with him at Shalom House.
“He was a good priest, and faithful,” said Sister Barbara. “He loved the church, and he loved his time in Rome as a seminarian. He got a sense of the worldwide church ahead of Vatican II, and he completely supported the reforms of Vatican II. . . . He was really convinced that nationalism was a sin and [believed in] the Catholic Worker conception of countering militarism.”
Father Wempe partially influenced and inspired Father Michael Hermes.
“I learned a lot how to pray from him,” said Father Hermes, pastor of Holy Name Parish and president of Bishop Ward High School, both in Kansas City, Kan. “He taught me how to pray in the quiet and listen in the silence. It was an important help to me for discerning a vocational call.”


Pastoral assignments

• July 1953: Associate pastor, Blessed Sacrament Parish, Kansas City, Kan.

• May 1956: Associate pastor, Holy Trinity, Paola, and St. Michael Parish, Wheaton

• Oct. 1956: Administrator, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Onaga

• May 1957: Pastor, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Onaga

• June 1959: Resigned to enter religious life with the Cistercian monks near Ava, Mo.

• Sept. 1959: Returned to archdiocese and appointed associate pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Kansas City, Kan.

• April 1960: Pastor, Holy Family Parish, Alma, and St. John Vianney Parish, Eskridge

• Aug. 1963: Pastor, St. Rose of Lima Parish, Kansas City, Kan.

• March 1969: Pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Paxico

• Aug. 1970: Pastor, Holy Trinity, Paola

• July 1971: Resigned as pastor for ministry to the poor

• Nov. 1979: Pastor, Annunciation Parish, Frankfort, and St. Columbkille, Blaine

• July 1980: Director, Shalom House, Kansas City, Kan.

• July 1989: Pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Baileyville

• July 1990: Retired from active ministry


 

Playing for God’s team

 

By Jessica Langdon
jessica@theleaven.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — An outstanding athlete in baseball, basketball and football at Bishop Ward High School here, Father Ron Cornish scored the interest of the New York Yankees with his pitching.
But the young Kansas City, Kan., native graciously declined the opportunity to take a swing at a professional baseball career.
He was going to play for God’s team instead, and enter the seminary.
Even though thousands of baseball fans never cheered him on in a major league stadium, longtime friend Msgr. Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., has a feeling Father Cornish actually touched many more lives during almost 45 years as a priest.
“He was a coach, a teacher, as much off the sports playing field, as on it,” said Msgr. Mullen in his homily at Father Cornish’s funeral.
Father Ronald Joseph Cornish died of heart failure on Feb. 15 at Olathe Medical Center, just two days after his 71st birthday.
Between his first assignment at Assumption Parish in Topeka and his final assignment at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, Father Cornish served as associate pastor and pastor at several parishes, chaplain and counselor at Immaculata High School in Leavenworth, and as a teacher at Savior of the World Seminary in Kansas City, Kan.
“He loved the people in every parish where he was,” said longtime friend Msgr. Thomas Tank, pastor of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.
The people Father Cornish served — from kids to seniors to non-Catholics who still flocked to his Masses at Villa St. Francis skilled-nursing facility in Olathe — loved him, too, his sister Loretta Hentzen added.
“Everybody loved Father Ron,” she said.

Deep faith

Although Father Cornish, who underwent several major heart surgeries in recent years, retired from active ministry in 2008, he still celebrated several Masses each week and assisted parishes as needed.
He told Msgr. Mullen at the hospital the day before he died that if he were not ill, he would be attending a course on the Catechism of the Catholic Church as part of the Year of Faith.
Msgr. Mullen believes Father Cornish’s deep faith took root in his tight-knit, generous family.
Born on Feb. 13, 1942, he was the middle of Nicholas and Julia (Gergick) Cornish’s seven children.
Father Cornish attended Holy Family School in Kansas City, Kan., and graduated from Bishop Ward High School in 1960 (the school recently inducted the alum into its hall of fame).
Despite a baseball scout expressing interest, he headed next to St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, where he earned his bachelor’s in philosophy and master of divinity degree.
On June 1, 1968, Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler ordained Father Cornish and two other men as priests at the Cathedral of St. Peter.
Father Ron Livojevich went to Holy Family and Bishop Ward with Father Cornish and sees him as a quiet man who “did a lot of good in his life.”
Everyone liked to be around him, he said.
They’d just had lunch together — along with several friends — a couple of days before Father Cornish died.
“He had a subtle humor — some people would say deadpan humor,” said Father Livojevich, now retired. “All of a sudden he’d slip something in that would just make you laugh.”
But he also had a sense of compassion that drew people to him.

Genuine, humble

He enjoyed answering phone calls at Birthright, which offers support to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
“I think his sensitivity to people was so obvious,” said Father Livojevich, “and yet he never broadcast it, never boomed it.”
He knew the severity of the heart problems he faced, and yet he embraced every day.
Father Frank Burger, now parochial administrator at Mater Dei in Topeka, has known Father Cornish since they were classmates at St. Thomas Seminary. He believes his friend trusted that whatever happened was God’s will.
“I think he’s very much a man of faith and humility,” said Father Burger, who had also just seen Father Cornish during the lunch gathering. “He was just a very good person to be around from the very beginning to the very end.”
Father Cornish was part of the same Jesus Caritas priest fraternity group as Msgr. Mullen and Msgr. Tank, along with several other priests.
“He was a very humble person, very unassuming, a very genuine individual,” said Msgr. Tank. “He had a real concern for the hurting or the marginalized.”
One of his most prized possessions was a quilt that young people in a ministry called REACH — Religious Education and Activities for the Community Handicapped — made for him.
“He really was deeply touched by that,” said Msgr. Tank , noting that Father Cornish was dedicated to serving that group over many years.
Father Cornish was also a member of the Knights of Columbus and helped out with Beginning Experience, a ministry that reached out to Catholics who were widowed and divorced.
Msgr. Mullen overlapped with Father Cornish in the seminary, but they really bonded when they taught at Savior of the World together in the ’70s.
Since that time, they had often vacationed together and had in fact just returned from staying with Ward classmates of Father Cornish’s when he took ill.
“As we left there,” said Msgr. Mullen, “Father Ron said he’d felt the best he had in years. . . . It was precious time together.”
Thinking over a lifetime with her brother, Hentzen recalled how he had made a point to celebrate every baptism, marriage and other event possible within the family, she said.
“I just cannot tell you how much we’ll miss him,” she said.
Father Cornish was preceded in death by his parents, brothers-in-law, James Hentzen and Gerald Bock, and a nephew, Christopher Hentzen.
He is survived by siblings Larry Cornish and wife Jeannie; Loretta Hentzen; Rita Bock; Don Cornish; John Cornish and wife Phyllis; and Jim Cornish. He also had many cherished nieces and nephews and great- nieces and nephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial was scheduled to be celebrated Feb. 21 and Father Cornish is to be buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Kansas City, Kan.


PARISHES SERVED
1968-1971 — Associate pastor, Assumption Parish, Topeka
1971-1973 — Associate pastor, Curé of Ars Parish, Leawood
1973-1981 — Savior of the World Seminary
1981-1984 — Pastor, St. Lawrence Parish, Easton
1983-1984 — Chaplain, Immaculata High School, Leavenworth
1984-1988 — Pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Baileyville
1986-1988 — Administrator, Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha and St. Augustine Parish, Fidelity
1988-1989 — Associate pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Tonganoxie
1989-1991 — Pastor, Sacred Heart, Tonganoxie
1989-1991 — Counselor, Immaculata High School, Leavenworth
1991-2001 — Pastor, St. Dominic Parish, Holton; St. Francis Xavier, Mayetta; and Our Lady of the Snows, Potawatomie Reservation
2001-2008 — Senior associate, Prince of Peace Parish, Olathe
2008 — Retired, assisted parishes as needed


Father Sheeds remembered as caring pastor, builder

By Joe Bollig
joe@theleaven.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — No doubt about it — Father Gerald E. Sheeds was a people person.
He was already a professed member of the Order of Augustinian Recollects and studying for the priesthood for them when he returned home for a visit and met the pastor of his home parish — Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Kansas City, Kan.
“Jerry,” Father George Burak told him, “you have such a gift of being in touch with people. You ought to be a parish priest.”
And that’s just what he became, after leaving the Augustinians and being ordained for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in 1968. He went on to serve in several parishes as an associate pastor and pastor.
Although he retired from pastoral duties for medical reasons in 2006, he continued to keep in touch with scores of friends, former parishioners and other priests through a lively “phone” ministry.
 He was, after all, a people person.
Father Sheeds, 71, died on Jan. 28 at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., from heart failure.
Father Sheeds was born on July 31, 1941, to Eugene C. and Agnes (Hanis) Sheeds in Dallas. His ancestors were German-Slovak and he was raised in the house his maternal grandfather built in the neighborhood of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish, an ethnic Slovak parish.
There were signs early on that he might have a vocation to the priesthood. His sister, Virginia Harrison of Ottawa, said her brother experienced a difficult birth and faced early developmental problems.
“Mom took him to several doctors, and they said nothing could be done — that it was all in God’s hands,” she said. “From that point, Mother instilled in him his need to be a priest.”
Because they were so close in age, Harrison was “his little shadow.” They would take sliced bread, smash it down flat, and cut “hosts” with jar lids — and little Jerry had to have the biggest “host,” because he was “the priest.”
The future priest also liked to sneak into the church when they were little and play the organ. He was self-taught and played by ear, and usually had an organ in whatever rectory he lived.
He attended the parish school and in 1959 graduated from Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan.
After graduation, he began his studies for the priesthood at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver for the archdiocese, but transferred to the Order of Augustinian Recollects, which had a monastery near 33rd and Parallel in Kansas City, Kan. The Augustinians sent him to study at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, Spain, where he learned Spanish. He made his solemn profession at Tagaste Monastery in Suffern, N.Y.
 When he decided to forgo that path for the life of a parish priest, he transferred back to the archdiocese and completed his studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, N.J., since 1984 part of Seton Hall University.
Although he chose another path, Father Sheeds retained a great affection for the Augustinians and maintained friendships with local members of the order.
Father Sheeds was ordained to the priesthood with two other men on June 1, 1968, by Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler at St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kan.
Several priests who knew him said Father Sheeds was known for his dry, deadpan wit and sense of humor. He was friendly and loved to tell jokes.
He also loved to sing and was known as “the singing priest.” Often, he would sing at priest retreats.
“The first time I remember him is when he was with the Augustinian Recollects,” said Father Joseph Chontos, who assists at Divine Mercy Parish in Edgerton and Gardner and works at a juvenile facility in Topeka. “He was from my home parish, Sts. Cyril and Methodius. He chanted the ‘Exultet’ very beautifully at Easter.”
Father Sheeds was also an industrious “builder” and built churches in Baldwin, Gardner and Ottawa.
“I think he really enjoyed the creative aspect, designing the church and all the appointments placed within,” said Msgr. Charles McGlinn, pastor of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood and a former seminary classmate.
“He did some beautiful work — especially in Ottawa after their church burned down. I think the archdiocese is certainly richer because of his ministry.”
He was helped by a fine aesthetic sense.
“He had a way of blending things from old churches, bringing them into a new setting, so things from the past and present would complement,” said Father Chontos. “It was nice and balanced, not mismatched.”
Msgr. McGlinn said Father Sheeds was committed to serving his people in the archdiocese and tried to give his very best, despite his physical limitations. He was very compassionate, especially to the sick. Even after he retired, he reached out to many people.
“He called me [last November] and he said that if he went tomorrow, he was ready to go,” said Father Chontos. “He said, ‘I’ve achieved my goals. I’m happy with what I’ve done with my life and priesthood.’”
Father Sheeds was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Ron. His survivors include: sisters, Barbara Napiecek, Lake Ozark, Mo.; and Virginia Harrison, Ottawa; nephews, Douglas and Scott Harrison; and niece, Jill Napiecek.
Arrangements were by Skradski Funeral Home of Kansas City, Kan. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Feb. 1 at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church (All Saints Parish) in Kansas City, Kan. Burial was at Mount Calvary Cemetery. The family suggests donations in Father Sheed’s memory to All Saints Parish, the Community of the Lamb, the American Lung Association, or the Society of St. Augustine.


Parishes served

• 1968 – Associate pastor, Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish, Topeka
• 1969 – Associate pastor, St. Ann Parish, Prairie Village
• 1971 – Associate pastor, St. John the Evangelist Parish, Lawrence
• 1974 – Pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Ottawa
• 1979 – Added as mission St. Francis of Assisi, Lapeer
• 1981 – Pastor, Sacred Heart Parish in Leavenworth and administrator of St. Casimir Parish, Leavenworth
• 1986 – Sabbatical
• 1987 – Pastor of Annunciation Parish in Baldwin and Assumption Parish in Edgerton
• 1995 – Added Sacred Heart Parish in Gardner
• 1996 – Relinquished Annunciation in Baldwin and Assumption in Edgerton
• 2006 – Retired from active ministry due to medical disability


 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Bernard Lickteig, O.Carm., 91, loved laughter, travel, his family and education — both as a student and teacher.
Father Bernard, who served as a pastor and educator at several locations as a member of the Carmelite order for 73 years, died on Nov. 26 at Villa St. Francis in Olathe. He was a member of the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Order of Carmelites.
“He was a good friend, a good priest and a good Carmelite,” said Father Aaron Peters, OSB. “He was always available to people if they needed to see him. He had a good sense of humor and liked to tell jokes.”
Father Bernard was born to Francis Joseph Lickteig and Elizabeth (Wolken) Lickteig on Jan. 6, 1921, in Greeley. His baptismal name was Fabian Phillip Lickteig.
Fabian, his parents and 11 siblings were members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Greeley. After his studies at the parish school, he continued his education at Mount Carmel Junior Seminary in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. When he was 18 years old, he received the Carmelite habit and, on Aug. 14, 1939, took the religious name “Bernard.”
Brother Bernard made his first vows on Aug. 15, 1940, at New Baltimore, Pa. He entered Mount Carmel College and graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1943, before professing solemn vows as a Carmelite on Aug. 15, 1943, in Washington, D.C.
He resumed his studies at Catholic University of America and received a bachelor of science in education in 1946. He was ordained a priest on June 8, 1946, at St. Clara Church in Chicago.
Father Bernard continued with his education after ordination. He earned advanced degrees in math and German in 1949 from DePaul University in Chicago, and in education and chemistry in 1952 from the University of Chicago. He also studied counseling in 1974 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.
Father Bernard’s first assignment was at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where he taught for four years. Then he joined the Our Lady of the Scapular Carmelite Community and staff of the Carmelite Retreat House in Hamilton, Mass.
During the nine years he served in retreat work, Father Bernard also taught at the Carmelite Junior Seminary. In his last year of retreat work, he promoted the Carmelite-sponsored St. Therese Chapel in the North-Shore Mall Shopping Center in Peabody, Mass.
In 1960, Father Bernard became a teacher at Mount Carmel High School in Houston. After three years, he became pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Englewood, N.J. He was also elected as second councilor for the Most Pure Heart of Mary Province and served in that position for three years.
After nine years as pastor of St. Cecilia, he became associate pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Phoenix, where he also served in provincial administration. In 1978, Father Bernard became pastor of St. Therese Parish in Cresskill, N. J., for two years. Next, he became pastor of St. Raphael Parish in Glendale, Ariz., for nine years. In 1989, he returned to Texas and became associate pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Houston. Next, he served as associate pastor of St. Albert Parish in Houston.
In 1991, Father Bernard moved to St. Boniface Parish and the Carmelite priory in Scipio. After assisting in parish work for three years, he became associate pastor of Immaculate Conception/St. Joseph Parish in Leavenworth.
In 1996, Father Bernard retired to St. Boniface Parish in Scipio. After five years there, he moved in 2001 to St. John the Baptist Parish in Greeley. He later moved to Casa Santa Teresita, the pre-novitiate community in Houston, where he lived until March 2007. When the pre-novitiate community moved to Chicago, he returned to Kansas and resided at Villa St. Francis in Olathe until his death.
Father Bernard loved to travel, and his journeys took him throughout the United States and Europe.
“He was an all-around good person to be around,” said Father Aaron. “He was a sociable person and he liked people.”
He came from a large and devout family, and many of his relatives became priests and women religious.
Father Bernard was preceded in death by his parents; his sisters, Beatrice Gilner, Agatha Meyers and Irma Miller; and brothers, Alfred, Raymond, Dominic and Father Fergus Lickteig, O.Carm. He is survived by his sister Elizabeth Gellhaus, his brother Francis, and many nieces and nephews.
“I remember many visits to [Uncle] Gene and [Aunt] Irma’s house when he was there, and many stories and lots of laughter,” wrote Kathe (Miller) Solo in a memorial note. “He would also come to visit my folks’ house and we all enjoyed [his visits]. I will never forget his laugh! We were all blessed to have known him!”
In another memorial note, Sandie Fritz wrote that the family lost a treasure of family knowledge and faith.
“Thank you, Father Bernard, for the many fond memories that I hold in my heart from the Lickteig reunions and gatherings,” wrote Fritz. “I will miss, but never forget, your big hugs that you always had available for everyone, your smile and the twinkle in your eyes.”
A Mass of Christian burial for Father Bernard was celebrated at St. John the Baptist in Greeley on Dec. 3, followed by burial at St. Boniface Cemetery in Scipio.
Donations in honor of Father Bernard may be made to: The Society of Mount Carmel, 1317 N. Frontage Road, Darien, IL 60561.
                                                                 
— Additional reporting by Joe Bollig


 

We all know someone like Father Jude Burbach, OSB. They’re the quiet, steady ones. They don’t get a lot of attention — they just get the job done.
Father Jude, 85, died in his sleep Aug. 22 at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. The Mass of Christian burial was offered on Aug. 27, followed by burial in the monastery cemetery.
“He was a very quiet person,” said retired Abbot Owen Purcell, OSB, of the abbey. “He had that reputation all his life. His parishioners loved him, because he was kind and solicitous toward them.”
But he was a simple guy, continued the abbot. Sensational was not in his vocabulary. He was uniquely himself, with no apologies.