ALLOUEZ — Fr. Robert Rank traveled parts of the globe during his 50 years of priesthood, and looking back, he’s thankful for the missionary experiences and the people he served.
Fr. Rank ministered locally in the Diocese of Green Bay, in Texas and in other countries, including Mexico, Venezuela, Italy and Belgium. For the Green Bay native, serving in these varied locations allowed him to interact with different demographics of people.
“I had never encountered persons from other cultures … different from my own. So the experience was a bit overwhelming at first, to say the least,” he said. “But as time went on, I discovered that I really enjoyed this diversity and the experience of different cultures and languages — all of which I began to see as part of the vastness and mystery of God’s creation.”
Although Fr. Rank saw differences between the cultures, it was the similarities that stood out the most.
“We all are similar in the sense that we’ve all been created by God and loved by God. That’s the greatest learning that I took from those experiences,” said Fr. Rank.
Growing up on a farm 10 miles outside of Green Bay, Fr. Rank wasn’t exposed to much cultural diversity but he was exposed to the strong devotion his parents had for their Catholic faith. In fact, practicing the faith was a part of daily life for Fr. Rank, his two sisters and brother.
“Before the TV came into the house when I was about 10 or 11, we’d always have the rosary around the kitchen table, my mother leading. It was a prayerful, religious family,” he said.
The presence of God was strong in his childhood home, but it was the reverence for the vocation that initially drew Fr. Rank to pursuing the priesthood.
“At that time, there was tremendous respect for priests,” he said. “One thing I always remember, I never heard my parents say a negative thing about a priest. We’re all imperfect and there are negative things that can be said, but that’s just kind of the way they approached it.”
Fr. Rank attended high school and college at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He then studied theology at Gregorian University, North American College, in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Francis Reh on Dec. 21, 1967, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Fr. Rank’s first priestly assignment in 1968 was as associate pastor/parochial vicar at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Appleton. He spent three years at Sacred Heart before being assigned to St. John Nepomucene Parish in Little Chute, where he also served on the faculty at St. John High School. In 1973, he was appointed associate pastor/parochial vicar at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.
Fr. Rank’s ministry took a different path in the mid-1970s when he decided to expand his reach as a priest.
“After ordination and serving in several assignments in the diocese, I was grateful to Bishop (Aloysius) Wycislo for his affirmation of my desire to join a missionary order serving communities in other parts of the world,” he said.
Fr. Rank began serving with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, formed in 1958 by Fr. James Flanagan to provide missionary services around the world.
“The founder, Fr. Jim Flanagan, was a diocesan priest from the Boston Archdiocese and one of the most dedicated priests I have ever met,” said Fr. Rank. “In the last half of the century under his leadership, the society was able to open new missions in some dozen countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. For some three decades, I served as an associate priest in the Society of Our Lady, while retaining my ties of incardination with the Diocese of Green Bay.”
The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity provides services to the needy such as drug rehabilitation, parish work, education at all levels, work with the destitute, health care, radio evangelization and orphanages.
In the last few years before his retirement in 2012, Fr. Rank was asked to serve as pastor on the Menominee Reservation.
“I renewed an interest in the history of the Menominee people and a respect for this people whose culture, language and religious traditions have survived despite great odds, and they continue to thrive,” he said.
This interest in Native American culture continues to this day for Fr. Rank, who spends about half the year in Green Bay and the other half in Tucson, Ariz.
“I’ve kind of become something of a collector, at the minimal level that I can afford, of Native American art,” he said. “This part of the country in Southern Arizona, Tucson, with several Native American tribes is a very, very interesting place.”
No matter where he has ministered, Fr. Rank said he’s found the key to reaching the faithful.
“Always take people where they are at and not make judgments of people because of the fact they come from a different background, a different culture,” he said. “Accept them as they are rather than making judgments from (your) own culture or (your) own background.”