An Interview with Father Richard Kramer

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: When you received your vocation, with whom did first discuss it, and what was their advice?


Father Richard: My parents often told me that I made clear to them when I was about four years old that I wanted to be a priest. That wish never faltered over the years. When I graduated from 8th grade, I wanted to enter the seminary but my Pastor blocked that and told me to enter Marmion first. I hated the military stuff at Marmion from the day I entered. But priests like Fr. Wulstan Mork, OSB and Fr. Luke Bohr, OSB, and Fr. Rene (later Abbot David) Cyr, OSB were all good to me and encouraged me to hang on. I complained so much about attending Marmion for all of my high school that my Pastor relented and enrolled me in the Pontifical College Josephinum for my Junior Year of High School. Tuition then was $100 a year and my folks could not afford that, so Monsignor Magnus A. Schumacher, my Pastor, paid $75 to my folks and they covered the remaining $25. I was SO HAPPY to enter the seminary.


Gordon: Where did you attend seminary, and what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?


Father Richard: I attended the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio from 1956-1966. Ordained on May 28, 1966. My favorite course was English in both High School and College. In Theology, it was Scripture and Church History. I loved English because I enjoyed reading and also writing. Particularly, I loved poetry - whether from the Romans, Greeks, or poets of other nations. It expressed various emotions and gave me insight into life, love, and art. Scripture and History seemed to be key elements for ministry as a priest.


Gordon: What was your first assignment, and what did you learn there?


Father Richard: My first assignment was July 14, 1966 as Associate Pastor of Saint Peter Church in Rockford, IL with a part-time assignment as a religion teacher at Boylan CentralCatholic High School. My first pastor was Msgr. William McMillan who was 84 years old when I arrived at Saint Peter's. There was another Associate Pastor there, Fr. William Collins, who became a best friend for life to me. Between these two priests I learned how to become a good well-balance parish priest. I learned how to manage an appointment book; how to be on time for things, and how important it was to learn the names of my parishioners and greet them after Masses, etc. I also learned how to appreciate the elderly - their wisdom, skills, and ability to love. Msgr. McMillan became for me like a Grandfather (I never knew mine because they were deceased before I was born!). He was always positive, kind, sharing, and described me as "that man who can do anything!"


Gordon: What was your last assignment and what are some e of your favorite memories there?


Father Richard: My last assignment was as Pastor of Saint Mary Church in Oregon, Illinois. Having a good musician there who made the liturgies all the more beautiful...following the Bishop's wish that I restore the "Catholicism level" of the church building and the people...hiring a Youth Minister who really worked hard and succeeded...coaxing two men into the Permanent Diaconate and working with them both after they were ordained...building up necessary funds for the parish's future...the installation of a magnificent computerized carillon in the bell tower...for 6 of my 8 years in Oregon serving as a member of the Oregon Chamber of Commerce and being its President for the last 2 years I was in town...serving as President of the Oregon Fellowship of Ministers and being an active member of that group...participating in numerous ecumenical worship services...enjoying the natural beauty of the area which possesses FOUR State Parks and has a river running through it with eagles' nests...celebrating monthly Masses at the local nursing homes...


Gordon: What are you doing during your retirement?


Father Richard: Along with the bank, I bought my own home so I would not be dependent on the Diocese. I planned on helping out at parishes in my Deanery (18 of them!) as needed. Since my Deanery is in the far southwest corner of the Diocese and far from the more populated areas of the Diocese, it is always very difficult to get priests to come and fill in for oneself. I knew that from my previous assignments in this area. This way I stayed away and was forced to stay up to date on things in the news, in the world, and in the lives of the laity. As a member of the Equestrian Order of the Knights & Dames of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, I was appointed to be the Pilgrim Master for a 5 year term. I led four Pilgrimages to Israel to the various sites made holy by Jesus. Prior to but continuing into my retirement, I was the President of the Josephinum Alumni Association (2005-2015). In that capacity, I was also very privileged to become a member of the Board of Trustees of the Pontifical College Josephinum, serving 3 consecutive 3-year terms as allowed by the Constitution of the Board. I was twice appointed Trustee by Pope St. John Paul II and once by Pope Benedict XVI. I have served for nearly 20 years as the Faithful Friar of the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus Assembly #1702 and write a monthly article for their newsletter as well. Having earned a Master's Degree in 1975 covering the areas of Radio, Television, Film, and Speech Communication, I also had a local weekly radio show for five years. Until I dropped off Facebook, I wrote a daily fervorino for people to reflect upon. I have been an Election Judge for my County since the summer of 2011 and currently serve in that capacity as well. I served for 3 years as the Spiritual Director for the English-speaking Cursillo Program for the Diocese of Rockford; I have worked various Cursillo weekends since the 1990's and made my own Cursillo back in 1970. Finally, right now, my appointment book for 2022 has me covering parishes until this coming August. At the moment, I am covering two parishes from January 14th through Easter 2022 because the Pastor is on sabbatical in Rome. I am a musician and try to keep up my piano and pipe organ skills. I also have worked to organize my good library of books, CD's, LP's etc. I can do basic repairs to clocks and small electronic equipment. I collect, clean, and repair various antiques. Finally, I help my first cousin with the family genealogy stuff...pictures, articles, etc.


Gordon: There is a major shortage of priests in the United States. What can we do to encourage vocations?


Father Richard: I think we have to continue to try to show priesthood as a most wonderful opportunity to help people in so many ways but especially to bring love and hope into this world. That starts with celebrating respectful liturgies and promoting prayer services and giving retreats to specific groups. I was lucky to be able to work a ministry for the widowed in our Diocese for over 30 years. We priests can and should, as best as possible, welcome and recruit potential candidates for the priesthood by encouraging those whom we see as good candidates. We need to have the courage to SAY to these men "You would make an excellent priest." We also need to be HAPPY people in our service to the Lord.


Gordon: Who is your favorite saint and why is that saint your favorite?


Father Richard: Difficult choice for me...two saints. Saint Joseph who is both the Patron of the Roman Catholic Church and of my beloved alma mater, the Pontifical College Josephinum, and Saint Nicholas of Myra who is my home parish's saint, my Confirmation name, and one of the leading names of my relatives who are mostly all Luxembourgers. Saint Nicholas is one of the "top" saints for Luxembourg. St. Joseph sets the role model for me as a parish priest and the exemplar of faithfulness to God's Will as He led the Holy Family. He protects the Church and always seems to be there for me when I seek help and guidance. Saint Nicholas is a fine example of a priest who especially loved and reached out to those who were downtrodden, despised, and ridiculed. He is the model for Santa Claus by the way. The corruption of his name in the Dutch language is where we get the name Santa Claus. Running on the female side: - St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of all Priests and the Protectress of all priests.


Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.