ALLOUEZ — Fr. Michael Koch expected to serve as a parish priest his entire priesthood, but he ended up being called to chaplaincy work for more than half of his years in active ministry. He described both ministries as blessings in his life. Fr. Koch, 87, died Feb. 24 at St. Mary’s Home at Felician Village in Manitowoc.
Fr. Koch, who was born in Manitowoc, grew up one of 11 children on the family farm. He became interested in becoming a missionary when he was a student at Holy Cross School in Mishicot. Instead, he decided to pursue diocesan priesthood. Fr. Koch attended high school and two years of college at St. Nazianz. He then studied philosophy and theology at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee. Fr. Koch was only 24 years old when he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on May 30, 1953, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.
Fr. Koch’s first assignment was assistant pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Menasha. While at St. Patrick, he taught religion at St. Mary High School in Menasha. In 1965, he became pastor at Holy Trinity Parish, Pine Grove. He then served five years as pastor at St. Mark Parish in Two Rivers, where he assisted in the consolidation of the Catholic schools.
In 1976, Fr. Koch was appointed to serve as chaplain at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton. Fr. Gerald Foley was serving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He arranged for Fr. Koch to receive CPE (clinical pastoral education) training at the medical facility in Washington, D.C.
“I learned how to deal with young men who came back from active duty,” said Fr. Koch in an interview with The Compass to mark his 60-year jubilee. “Their whole lives had been changed.”
Fr. Koch also served as director of pastoral care at St. Elizabeth. He served 20 years, beginning in 1978, as coordinator of health affairs for the diocese. From 1989 to 2007, he was chaplain to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in Oshkosh. During his time in Oshkosh, he also served as temporary administrator at St. Vincent de Paul Parish and St. Peter Parish. Other service included serving as a field advocate for the marriage tribunal, chaplain of the Oshkosh Serra Club and as a regional vicar. Fr. Koch retired to senior priest status on June 30, 2001, but served as chaplain at the McCormick Memorial Home in Green Bay from 2007 to 2012.
When marking 60 years, he reflected on his vocation.
“I have time to reminisce, to say thank you to the Lord,” he said. “I feel blessed and thankful.
“God does things in unusual ways,” he added. “I’ve been happy in my priesthood. Has it been challenging? Yes. Are there things I would have done differently? Yes. Would I do it all over again? Yes.”
Fr. Koch is survived by three sisters: Patricia Boring of Kenosha, Carol Martin of Two Rivers and Dorothy (Thalmas) Rappley of Two Rivers; a special nephew, Fr. David Koch; special niece, Sister of St. Francis of the Holy Cross Donna Koch; and many other nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Michael and Phoebe Ann (Stoneman) Koch; four brothers: Twins DePaul (Bernadette) Koch, Vincent (Rita and Eileen) Koch, Elmer (Lucille) Koch and Aloysius Koch; four sisters: Eva (Lester) Mach, Kathryn (Ted) Gorny, Mary Jane (Edward) Geiger and JoAnn Ploeckelman; and two brothers-in-law: Earl Martin and William Boring.
The funeral Mass was scheduled for March 2 at Holy Cross Church in Mishicot with Bishop David Ricken as the celebrant and Fr. David Koch as the homilist. Burial to follow at Holy Cross Cemetery.