Friends say bishop always had devotion to priesthood

By | January 6, 2010


Priests from the United States studying in Rome and living at the Casa Santa Maria gather for a Christmas photo in 1987. Among the group of priests are Fr. Thomas Paprocki (now Bishop Paprocki), far left, Fr. Dan Felton, second from left, and Fr. David Ricken (now Bishop Ricken), standing at far right. (Courtesy of Bishop Thomas Paprocki | For The Compass)

Fr. Schremmer grew up with Bishop Ricken in Dodge City and attended St. Francis Seminary High School in Victoria, Kan., with Bishop Ricken. St. Francis, which closed in 1970, was run by the Capuchin Franciscans. It was where Bishop Ricken’s desire to be a priest was affirmed.

However, it was at Dodge City’s Sacred Heart Cathedral where the young men first were inspired to seek holy orders, according to Fr. Schremmer.

“The example of down-to-earth, solid-gold priests who served at the cathedral, our home parish, inspired us,” he said. “Our families supported us and we went off to seminary together.”

Although they were only in the seminary together for a few years, Fr. Schremmer said their paths occasionally crossed later on.

“Whenever they did, it was and continues to be a treat and a blessing to witness how Dave has followed the Spirit’s lead,” said Fr. Schremmer. “Always a gentle soul open to the Spirit’s lead, Dave’s love for the interior life, his intellectual curiosity, his good-hearted sense of humor, his genuineness and humility are gifts that seemed to have always been there and continue to grow as a blessing for people — in southwest Kansas, southern Colorado, the State of Wyoming and now in Green Bay.”

Following his priestly ordination on Sept. 12, 1980, Bishop Ricken served as associate pastor of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pueblo, Colo., until 1985. He then served as parish administrator of Holy Rosary Church in Pueblo and vice chancellor of the diocese until 1987.

In 1987, Bishop Ricken was sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to earn a Licentiate of Canon Law. While in Rome he became friends with two other priest-students: Fr. Dan Felton and Fr. Thomas Paprocki. Fr. Felton, who is now pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc, was studying ecclesiology and communications. Fr. Paprocki, now an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago, was studying canon law.

Bishop Paprocki and Fr. Felton said their friendship with Bishop Ricken grew as they became acquainted. The three students lived at Casa Santa Maria, which houses priests from the United States who are studying at one of Rome’s universities.

Bishop Paprocki said all of their rooms at Casa Santa Maria were on the fourth floor.

“We all had rooms with windows facing the street, so it could get pretty noisy sometimes since we were in the heart of the historic center of Rome, not far from the Trevi Fountain, the Forum and the Colosseum,” he said. “We did some traveling together during our breaks and vacations from school. I remember the three of us going to Austria and staying in Vienna.”

“Even though Bishop Ricken was studying canon law at that time, he also took a keen interest in my field of studies,” said Fr. Felton. “We would often have late night discussions around the topic of the relationship between church and communication. When necessary, the conversation would include Bishop Paprocki, who, without prompting, would add his two cents worth of insight.

“Looking back on those conversations I don’t think we could claim the title of the ‘Three Wise Men,’ even though we often solved all of the world and church problems by night’s end.”

For leisure, all three enjoyed exercising, said Bishop Paprocki.

“Fr. Dan liked to lift weights. I would go running in the afternoon.

Bishop Ricken used to go for a walk every morning at 5 a.m. with the director of the Casa Santa Maria, Msgr. Charles Elmer,” said Bishop Paprocki.


Bishop Joseph Paprocki and Bishop David Ricken are pictured in June 1989, just before taking their written exams in canon law. The two bishops studied canon law together in Rome in the late 1980s before they were ordained bishops. (Courtesy of Bishop Thomas Paprocki | For The Compass)

Bishop Ricken and Bishop Paprocki often sat next to each other in canon law class.

“Our classes were taught in Latin, so if we missed a word here or there during the lectures, we would help each other with the translation,” he said. “Bishop Ricken and I also took Latin classes with (Carmelite) Fr. Reginald Foster, a Latin scholar from Milwaukee who has been a papal translator going back to the papacy of Pope Paul VI.”

During their time in Rome with Bishop Ricken, Fr. Felton and Bishop Paprocki said they recognized in their friend many leadership skills.

“I have always appreciated Bishop Ricken’s laughter and lightheartedness, as well as his pastoral and theological insights,” said Fr. Felton. “While studying with him in Rome, he was respected for his prayerfulness and appreciation for his priesthood. Obviously, these are many of the same gifts which Bishop Ricken continues to embody in his ministry today.”

“I was not surprised when then-Fr. Ricken was named a bishop, since his spiritual depth, intelligence and affability made him a likely candidate,” said Bishop Paprocki. “I didn’t expect him to be named to Green Bay, however, since he was a priest in Colorado and then a bishop in Wyoming. But I’m glad that he’s joined us here in the Midwest and in our region of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (Region VII includes Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana).

Bishop Paprocki said Bishop Ricken’s calm and peaceful demeanor serve him well as a bishop. “I’ve never seen him angry, even when he expresses disagreement about something,” he said. “He is a very spiritual person who loves the Lord and the church. He is also very intelligent and friendly. He has a good sense of humor and laughs easily.”

After completing their studies in Rome, the three returned to the United States and went their separate ways.

“I maintained closer contact over the years with Fr. Dan Felton,” said Bishop Paprocki. “Every few months Fr. Dan and I meet in Milwaukee for lunch or dinner, since Milwaukee was sort of a half-way point between Chicago and Oshkosh, where Fr. Dan was a pastor for several years, or Manitowoc, where he serves now.”

After Bishop Ricken was appointed to Green Bay, the three men renewed their friendship, meeting together several times a year.

“Last summer, Bishop Ricken, Fr. Dan and I had a great reunion with Msgr. Elmer at a German restaurant in Milwaukee,” said Bishop Paprocki. “Of course, now I see Bishop Ricken every June and November at our meetings of the USCCB. At my request, he also serves with me on the Committee for Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, of which I am the chairman.”

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