Fr. Gilsdorf, former educator, dies

Funeral Mass celebrated Oct. 17 in Hilbert

HILBERT — Fr. Gordon Gilsdorf, who will be remembered as a priest, teacher, mentor, poet, historian and friend, died Oct. 14 at age 89.

Fr. Gordon Gilsdorf

Fr. Gordon Gilsdorf

This year, Fr. Gilsdorf marked 65 years as a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay. He was ordained by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on June 11, 1949, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. Bishop Robert Morneau, celebrant at the funeral Mass, used Fr. Gilsdorf’s own words to illustrate the joy the late priest found in his vocation.

“I am never happier nor more fulfilled than in the classroom, except perhaps in the pulpit or at the altar,” wrote Fr. Gilsdorf in a reflection. “These are three uncomplicated spots, places where I often feel I am where God wanted me to be. What more could one ask of his life!”

Fr. Gilsdorf grew up on the family farm near Hilbert. He attended high school and junior college at St. Lawrence Seminary in Mt. Calvary, prior to studying philosophy and theology at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee. His advanced studies included summer sessions at St. Norbert College, De Pere; Marquette University, Milwaukee; and The Catholic University of America Extension Division, Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa. In 1960, he earned a master’s degree in English from Marquette.

Following ordination, Fr. Gilsdorf served in parish ministry as an assistant at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and Holy Cross Parish, Kaukauna. In 1953, he was appointed to the faculty of the newly founded Sacred Heart Seminary in Oneida where he would serve as the first spiritual director. In 1957, he became the first vice rector of the seminary.

Bishop Morneau was one of Fr. Gilsdorf’s students in 1958. He described him as a “tough teacher,” who “worked us hard.” He credits Fr. Gilsdorf for providing him great knowledge of theology in preparation for major seminary. Bishop Morneau recited the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, taught by Fr. Gilsdorf.

“It’s all there, God’s grandeur, creation, our sin, our fall, our weaknesses and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I thank Fr. Gordon for forcing us to learn it,” said Bishop Morneau with a laugh.

“Everything is Grace,” a book of poems by Fr. Gilsdorf was given to those who attended the visitation and funeral Mass. Bishop Morneau chose a favorite poem from Fr. Gilsdorf’s book, “The Same Five Notes,” to recite in his homily. The poem, “A Saint,” is only 16 words, but delivers an insightful message about sainthood, said Bishop Morneau. It reads as follows:

We look

for mystic gold

and silvered ecstasy and find a tempered, twisted piece

of steel

Fr. Gilsdorf did other writing in addition to poetry. He collaborated with Fr. Bill Zimmer on the “History of the Diocese of Green Bay,” published in 1968 for the centennial of the diocese. In 1960, he wrote a centennial history of St. Nicholas Parish, Freedom.

Teaching continued for Fr. Gilsdorf after Sacred Heart Seminary. He served on the faculty at St. Joseph Academy, Green Bay, from 1976 to 1990. He then joined the faculty at Notre Dame Academy, Green Bay, where he taught through December of 2011. In 2010, Fr. Gilsdorf was honored with the National Catholic Educational Association Secondary Education Award.

Bishop Morneau also commended Fr. Gilsdorf for being a good steward. He shared his gifts by celebrating weekend Masses at St. Nicholas Parish, Freedom; St. Benedict Parish, Suamico; and St. Pius X Parish, Little Suamico.

Fr. Gilsdorf is survived by a brother and a sister: Richard (Lucy) Gilsdorf, Charlesburg, and A New Genesis Sr. Marita Gilsdorf, Sherwood, who was Fr. Gordon’s primary caregiver. He is further survived by 14 nephews and nieces and many grandnephews and nieces.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Othmar and Mathilda (Gehl) Gilsdorf; two brothers, David and Fr. Daniel; two sisters-in-law, Jean (Richard) Gilsdorf and Bernetta (David) Gilsdorf, as well as a nephew, Tom Gilsdorf and a niece, Marian Gilsdorf.

The funeral Mass was celebrated on Oct. 17 at St. Mary Church, Hilbert, with Bishop Morneau as celebrant and homilist. Bishop Robert Banks concelebrated. Entombment followed at Allouez Catholic Masoleum.