ALLOUEZ — Fr. Robert Vandenberg, who served 34 years as pastor of St. Paul Parish, Combined Locks, died Jan. 27 at age 88.
Fr. Vandenberg, a Kimberly native, wanted to “provide the presence and power of Jesus Christ to people” he said in a 2008 interview with The Compass in celebration of his 50-year jubilee. “That has been my fulfillment.”
Fr. Vandenberg served in the U.S. Naval Reserves and studied business and engineering in college before deciding to pursue the priesthood. He joined the Jesuits and studied philosophy at St. Mary College in Kentucky. The Jesuits wanted him to serve in a financial position. Fr. Vandenberg wanted to be a “priest of the people,” so he entered St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota to study theology and completed his education for the Diocese of Green Bay. Fr. Vandenberg was ordained a priest by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on May 31, 1958, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.
Fr. Vandenberg served in parish ministry for 46 years until his retirement in 2004. Following ordination, he was appointed assistant pastor at St. Therese Parish in Appleton. His nine years at that parish included teaching religion in the elementary school.
While at St. Therese, he also started Christian Family Movement groups designed to help members connect the Gospels with social action.
Fr. Vandenberg served as an assistant at St. Peter Parish, Oshkosh, and St. Patrick Parish, Green Bay, prior to being appointed pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish, Glenmore, in 1969. A year later, he became pastor in Combined Locks.
Among his accomplishments at St. Paul Parish was growing the high school religious education program. The program was so well respected that lessons from the parish were included in “The Green Bay Plan,” a comprehensive faith approach for families, parishes and the diocese, which gained national acclaim.
Longtime friend Msgr. James Vanden Hogen described Fr. Vandenberg as a “man who loved his priesthood … was very hospitable, very welcoming, with a heart of gold, but who could be stubborn at times.”
“Fr. Bob,” as he was affectionately known to many, was a classmate of Msgr. Vanden Hogen’s sister, Mary, and served as master of ceremonies for his first Mass on May 17, 1964, at then Holy Name Church in Kimberly.
Msgr. Vanden Hogen said that Fr. Vandenberg was always ready to serve.
“He was very faithful to the sick and making hospital calls,” he said. “He loved to celebrate the Eucharist. Following his retirement, he helped out at parishes. He also administered the sacrament of anointing of the sick and celebrated Mass at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton. He was a good priest, well-liked by the people.”
Msgr. Vanden Hogen added that Fr. Vandenberg was very supportive of the fraternity of priests. He would often assist with penance services at parishes. He served on the board of directors for the Leo Benevolent Society from 1969 to 2007. Fr. Vandenberg, treasurer, oversaw the investment of funds for retired priests. He said that it was important to have “a meaningful support system for elderly and sick priests.”
Fr. Vandenberg will be remembered as an avid fly-fisherman, hunter and sheepshead player, said Msgr. Vanden Hogen.
“We golfed together. We were part of a clergy golf team that included the Falk brothers (Fr. Gerald and Salesian Fr. Robert),” he said. “(Fr. Vandenberg) enjoyed traveling to Winterhaven, Fla., and spending time in Woodruff (Wis.).”
Fr. Vandenberg shared some advice for those in discernment.
“The most important thing is to be prayerful,” he said, “so that you can be humble so the grace of God can work through you.”
He is survived by two sisters, Rose Vanden Heuvel of Kimberly and Mary (Jim) Grist of Madison; and 10 nieces and nephews. Preceding him in death were his parents, Gregory and Marie (Lamers) Vandenberg and a brother-in-law, Joe Vanden Heuvel.
The funeral Mass was celebrated on Feb. 2 at St. Paul Church, Combined Locks. Bishop David Ricken was the celebrant with Bishops Robert Banks and Robert Morneau as concelebrants. Msgr. Vanden Hogen served as the homilist. Burial with full military honors followed at the parish cemetery.