LUXEMBURG — When Fr. Milton Suess retires in September as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Luxemburg and Holy Trinity Parish in Casco, he will miss celebrating weekend Masses and teaching religion to students at both parish schools. What he won’t miss is driving between both parishes at night.
“I often count the cars between Luxemburg and Casco at that time of the night and invariably it is 16,” he told The Compass during an interview at the rectory adjacent to Immaculate Conception Church, the place he has called home for 38 years.
The four and one-half minute drive from Casco to Luxemburg following Saturday evening Masses and Wednesday evening religious education classes got to be too much, he said. “I think the final thing that put it over the edge was coming back from Casco, night after night, and facing those headlights,” he said. “Sixteen times you have to drive against that glare and I said, ‘I can’t do that anymore.’”
Fr. Suess, who turned 82 on June 24, has spent 55 years in active ministry. Ordained June 1, 1963, by Bishop Stanislaus Bona at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Fr. Suess can count on one hand the number of parish assignments he’s had over those five decades.
After ordination, he served as assistant pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay for three months, then he was assigned to Sacred Heart Seminary in Oneida (now closed), where he taught Latin and religion. His next assignment was as pastor of St. Anne Parish in St. Anna in June 1973, where he spent seven years.
“Then this place opened up and I volunteered for it because it was close to my parents,” who lived in Pilsen, he said. “They were elderly at the time. Once I was here, I stayed here.”
In addition to Immaculate Conception, Fr. Suess was pastor in Champion when St. Joseph Parish was linked with Luxemburg for five years. He has been pastor at Casco for 14 years.
The two parishes will welcome a much younger pastor in October, when Fr. Daniel Schuster, outgoing diocesan vocation director, begins his pastorate.
Fr. Suess told a story that relates to the transition. “Two little girls were walking down the street and one of the girls said, ‘We have a new priest. He even has hair.’”
The priest said his most cherished memories will involve celebrating Mass for a close-knit, faith-filled community.
“I think the best part of being here was always the celebration of Mass,” he said. “The people are very devout. They come faithfully. They participate.”
He also boasts that the two parishes have 65 altar servers. “They are eager to do what they are doing and they do it well,” said Fr. Suess. “They like it so much they train others. That’s always been a happy part of the experience.”
Fr. Suess intends to move into an apartment in Luxemburg and remain a part of the community he loves.
“Luxemburg is still a community. People go elsewhere to work, but here is where they recreate, here is where they come to church, here is where they have celebrations and here is where they bury their dead — at the cemetery right across the street,” he said. “So it functions as a community and that’s what I always wanted (in a parish). I didn’t want to go to big places like Green Bay or Appleton, where you have five or six parishes and people flow back and forth because they don’t have a community in that particular church.
“It’s been a great gift. I appreciate that I’m here,” he added.
In retirement, Fr. Suess does not plan to retire from ministry. “I’m still healthy. I will volunteer for the new priest. I can take some of the things that I was doing – teaching or celebrating Mass,” he said.
He also plans to continue his hobby of gardening.
“I always found my recreation in having a garden,” said Fr. Suess. “All you have to do is change clothes and you’re there. Somebody told me one time, ‘You should get a cell phone and then if it rings in the garden you can answer it.’ I said, ‘The reason I go into the garden is to get away from the telephone.’”