GREEN BAY — With 70 years of priesthood under his belt, Fr. William Rickert has a lot of advice to impart on the sacrament of holy orders. During a Jan. 31 Mass at Annunciation Church, marking the 70th anniversary of his ordination, Fr. Rickert shared a few stories and advice for family, friends and parishioners in attendance.
“I never thought I’d reach this day,” Fr. Rickert said in his homily to the congregation, which included seven priests, two bishops and about 25 family members. “I’ve had a great run.”
Before Mass, a procession into Annunciation Church was led by the fourth degree Knights of Columbus. Fr. Rickert, wearing a black biretta, was joined by Bishop Emeritus Robert Banks, who served as concelebrant, and Bishop David Ricken, who was present in choir dress and did not concelebrate the Mass.
Fr. Rickert, who turned 94 on Dec. 27, was ordained by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on Jan. 31, 1945, the feast of St. John Bosco. He said he grew up in a time when attending Mass and knowing basic tenets of the faith was part of life.
“My neighbors in Freedom, we lived in a section where everybody went to church. We had vocations to the priesthood,” he said. “I came from a good home where Christ was welcome. We had a crucifix in at least one or two rooms and a picture of the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin. We knew that relationship with Christ.”
Fr. Rickert said it has “been a pleasure to do what Jesus said to Peter, James, John and all of the apostles: go teach all of the nations, tell them the good news.”
As a priest, he said, he’s been able to administer the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing, and witness marriages. “If you can do that as a priest, you’re really following the command of our Lord,” he said.
One way the church has changed, said Fr. Rickert, is fewer people are responding to a religious vocation. “We are short of priests,” he said.
Promoting vocations is the work of families and Fr. Rickert wondered aloud if there were any future priests or sisters in the assembly. “There must be someone here … to step forward and answer the call, like all of the apostles,” he said.
“The world is different than some years ago. Now people are very health conscious. They say, ‘If I’ve got my health I got it made.’ What I’d like to say today, your soul is more important than your body,” he explained. “Our bodies die. But if we keep the faith and stay close to Christ, we’ve got it made. Our Lord has a very good place for us in heaven.”
Fr. Rickert concluded his homily by thanking his fellow priests for celebrating with him. “I can think of no better way to explain what priesthood has meant to me than to have all of my priest friends here,” he said. He then recited a prayer of thanksgiving.
Following Communion, Bishop Ricken congratulated Fr. Rickert on his years of service to the church. “Thank you for your witness of faith,” he said.
While priestly vocations continue to be a challenge, said Bishop Ricken, he noted that 26 men are currently studying for the diocesan priesthood. “So don’t be discouraged,” he said. “Reinforcements are on the way.”
After acknowledging Fr. Rickert’s family, as well as Bishop Banks, priests and sisters in attendance, Bishop Ricken told the assembly that Fr. Rickert “is a real example of joy” that Pope Francis frequently discusses.
“Wherever you see him, he’s always got a smile on his face,” said Bishop Ricken. “He’s got a story to tell and that gleam in his eyes. The priesthood and his own personality have blended beautifully to (help Fr. Rickert) be a real servant of Christ to the many communities he’s served.”
After commending Fr. Rickert for his years of service, Bishop Ricken said he hoped many more would follow.
“I don’t know very many people who have 70 years of service in the priesthood,” he said. “We are so grateful to you, Fr. Bill, for your years and your continued years.”