Norbertine Fr. Conrad Kratz, founding pastor of De Pere parish, dies

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | October 10, 2013

DE PERE — Norbertine Fr. Conrad Kratz, founding pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, De Pere, and director emeritus of the Norbertine Center for Spirituality, died Oct. 4. He was 66.

“One of the greatest joys I have had as a priest is in the pastoral role,” he wrote about his ministry. “To be present with the good people of God in their happy moments as well as their sad moments and all the ‘in-between’ moments of life is a great privilege. We are truly only shepherds to the degree we have pastoral sensitivity and love.”

Norbertine Fr. Conrad Kratz, center, is pictured at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in De Pere during Mass on his 40th jubilee. He died Oct. 4. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)
Norbertine Fr. Conrad Kratz, center, is pictured at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in De Pere during Mass on his 40th jubilee. He died Oct. 4. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

Fr. Kratz was born on Nov. 7, 1946, in Green Bay, to Milton and Kathryn (Hershman) Kratz. His home parish was St. John the Evangelist and he attended Premontre High School (now Notre Dame de la Baie Academy). He entered the Norbertine order in August of 1964 and made his solemn profession on Aug. 28, 1969. He graduated from St. Norbert College, De Pere, with a degree in theater and communications, and went on to complete theological studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He was ordained to the priesthood on Aug. 11, 1973, by Auxiliary Bishop John Grellinger.

During his career, he served in many capacities, including as pastor at St. Norbert College Parish and St. Joseph Parish, both in De Pere. At St. Joseph, he oversaw the consolidation of the west side De Pere parishes into Our Lady of Lourdes, of which he became founding pastor and oversaw the building of the present church. He also served as house superior at his community’s Chicago House of Studies and as director of the Norbertine Center for Spirituality, located at the De Pere Abbey.

It was while he was teaching English and drama at Premontre High that he met now-Fr. Tim Shillcox, who was a new 23-year-old art teacher at the school.

“He was always very compassionate,” Fr. Shillcox remembered. “He didn’t want anyone to feel they were left out. He approached me my first week there. It was an all-boys school — I think he thought the students would chew me up and spit me out. He told (Norbertine) Fr. John Bostwick that they had to look out for me. He had a sympathetic heart that way. That was a big part of (helping) me in finding my vocation.”

Fr. Shillcox joined the Norbertine order and eventually followed Fr. Kratz as pastor at Lourdes Parish. Fr. Kratz celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination at the parish on Aug. 11 this year. It was one of Fr. Kratz’s last homilies. He had suffered a stroke about two years ago and recently been diagnosed with cancer. Fr. Shillcox sent the following excerpts from that homily:

– “Most of us worry about things we can’t control. I did that a lot. There are lots of things I used to be able to do, and now I can’t. And it drives me crazy. But one thing I’ve learned: You can own your attitude — sometimes it’s the only thing people own in life.”

– “Another important thing I’ve learned since the stroke is how many good people there are. … So often, when I’m out somewhere, people will hold the door for me. Or they wait patiently because I’m slow. Of course there are those who don’t give a rip and let the door slam shut. But I’m full of forgiveness.”

– “All of us face things in our lives that are difficult. It’s easy to become afraid of what we don’t understand, or can’t control. It’s those times in life that challenge our faith. Remember Jesus’ words — ‘Do not be afraid’ — that can help us through the hard times.”

During his last week, Fr. Kratz spent time with family and friends. A week before his death, he was able to baptize his two-week-old grandniece. It was his last act of priestly ministry.

Fr. Kratz is survived by the Norbertine community; two brothers, Buck (Betty), St. Louis, Mo., David (Jan), Green Bay; three sisters, Rosemary (Claude) Koch, Two Rivers, Barbara, Green Bay, Bonnie (Ted) Phernetton, Jr., Green Bay; nieces and nephews.

The funeral Mass was held in the Abbey Church on Oct. 9, with Abbot Gary Neville as main celebrant and Abbot Richard Antonucci, of Our Lady of Daylesford Abbey, Paoli, Pa. as homilist. Burial was in the St. Norbert Abbey Cemetery.

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