Fr. Geigel, oldest priest in diocese, dies

By | May 5, 2010

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Fr. Francis Geigel is pictured at his home on Trump Lake in 2008, the year he celebrated his 70th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. (Dick Meyer | For The Compass)

“I knew he was going to make it back here,” said McEwen. “I knew he was going to come home.”

Fr. Geigel, 98, died at approximately 11 p.m. on April 29 at NuRoc. The St. Nazianz native had served as a priest for nearly 72 years. He was ordained by Bishop Paul Rhode on May 28, 1938, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. In a 2008 interview with The Compass, in celebration of his 70-year anniversary of ordination, Fr. Geigel said that he had set out to be a parish priest, but found himself on a different path.

His first appointment was as an assistant at the Chancery and secretary to Bishop Rhode. He also helped out on weekends with the Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Mountain, Wabeno and Lakewood. Fr. Geigel was serving as an assistant pastor at Annunciation BVM Parish in Green Bay when he decided to become a military chaplain during World War II.

He entered the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant and served in the military for 20 years. Fr. Geigel cherished the opportunity to experience other countries, including Germany, Spain, the Philippines and France. Military stints in the United States included service in Alabama, Alaska, California, Kansas, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington.

Fr. Geigel, who grew up in Manitowoc, returned to the diocese to serve five years as pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Marinette before his assignment in Wabeno, the place he would call home. He served as pastor at St. Ambrose Parish, Wabeno, from 1967 to 1977. He was pastor at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Goodman from 1977 until his retirement on Jan. 31, 1979.

In retirement, Fr. Geigel, who resided in a home on Trump Lake, remained close to the people and parish he had once served.

“He was very robust, very active,” said Fr. David Schmidt, current pastor at St. Ambrose. “He would often concelebrate. He would always call the people ‘my people’ and was a fixture in the community.”

McEwen serves as director of religious education at the parish and lived down the road from Fr. Geigel. For the last 11 years, she cleaned his home. He often volunteered to speak with the first Communion and confirmation students, she said.

“He would ask the boys in the confirmation class what kind of car they drove,” said McEwen. “He would then tell them, ‘I’m a priest and I drive a red Cadillac.'”

McEwen added that, over the past year, friends were trying to get Fr. Geigel to drive less at his advanced age. Her husband, George, often drove him places. Linda said she will remember Fr. Geigel for his loyalty to his many friends.

“He still had connections with people from his military days,” she said. “Every year for Christmas, he would have a picture of himself taken in his living room to send to people. He loved having his picture taken. For his 98th birthday party in February, we had his picture put on his birthday cake. He loved it. There were 58 people at his party.”

Linda was able to see her close friend before he died. She sat with him for two and a half hours reading the Bible last Thursday.

Fr. Geigel spent many holidays with Iva Mae Boney and her family. He was a close friend and fishing partner of her late husband, Richard. Iva Mae said that Fr. Geigel helped her grow in her faith as a convert to the Catholic Church.

“He was so devout,” she said. “He made you believe in the religion. Everyone knew him in the community. It didn’t matter if you were Catholic or not. He was a friend to everyone.”

Fr. Geigel celebrated Mass daily in his home chapel, which was previously a barbershop. Terry Beining, who lives across the street, regularly attended the Masses. He and Fr. Geigel enjoyed nearly 32 years of friendship.

“The Mass was really convenient and very personal,” said Beining, a retired teacher. “Sometimes it would only be the two of us, and he’d say, ‘Let’s pray for both of our families.'”

They also looked out for each other. If the garage door at one of their residences wasn’t open early in the morning, they had a pact to check on one another.

“I find myself looking out my window at his house,” said Beining. “He was very sharp. He liked to stump me with questions. He loved crossword puzzles and we played cards (smear) on Friday nights.”

One of Fr. Geigel’s other talents was speaking numerous languages including German, Italian, Spanish and Latin. He showed off his skills when Beining drove him to appointments.

“I like polka music,” said Beining. “When we were in the car, he would tell me to put on those German records and he would sing along.”

The funeral Mass was celebrated on May 4 at St. Ambrose Church in Wabeno. Bishop David Ricken presided. Bishop Robert Morneau served as the homilist. Burial followed in St. Ambrose Parish Cemetery.

Beining originally had a fishing trip scheduled for the day of the funeral. Calling on Fr. Geigel’s good sense of humor, he knows what his longtime friend would have told him.

“He would have made no bones about it,” said Beining with a laugh. “He would have said, ‘Go fishing.’ He was a great friend and a great neighbor.”

Fr. Geigel is survived by one sister, Sr. Loretta Jo Geigel, a School Sister of St. Francis, of Campbellsport, Wis.

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