Fr. Leander Nickel, 99, dies; was oldest priest in diocese

ALLOUEZ — Fr. Leander Nickel, the oldest priest in the Diocese of Green Bay, died May 11 at age 99.

Fr. Nickel was born in Jericho, Wis., the third of six children to August and Frances (Olbrich) Nickel. A childhood accident nearly prevented him from becoming a priest. While in eighth grade, he was struck by a tree branch, which caused some temporary paralysis to the left side of his body.

Fr. Leander Nickel

“I was under doctor’s care, so after eighth grade, I couldn’t go to seminary,” he told The Compass in a 2007 interview for his 60-year anniversary as a priest.

Following graduation from Chilton High School, Fr. Nickel attended St. Lawrence Seminary in Mt. Calvary, Wis. He was educated by the Capuchins and also thought about joining the Benedictines at one time.

“The work of a parish priest is what I preferred, so I became a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay,” he said.

He studied philosophy at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and theology at St. Francis Seminary near Milwaukee. Fr. Nickel was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on May 31, 1947, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.

His first appointment was assistant pastor of St. Mary Parish, Oshkosh. He also served as an assistant at St. Mary Parish, Algoma, and Sacred Heart Parish, Appleton.

In 1959, Fr. Nickel was appointed pastor of St. Michael Parish, Suring, where he served for eight years. During this time, he joined Fr. Bill Rickert to organize the Diocesan Clergy Credit Union for diocesan priests. Fr. Nickel served as credit union treasurer for 24 years.

“We really wanted to help out the priests with loans,” said Fr. Nickel. “We often had 15 to 20 loans out on cars. The priests were good (making payments) and it served a purpose.”

Fr. Nickel was appointed pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Clarks Mills, in 1967, and served until 1979.  He then served as pastor of St. Nicholas Parish, Freedom until 1990. His last appointment was pastor of St. Mary Parish, Stockbridge. He retired to senior priest status in 2002. During retirement, Fr. Nickel assisted by presiding at Masses at various parishes and at Relevant Radio.

“I liked all the parishes,” he said. “They were all good. They were all a little different, but there were a lot of good things about all of them.”

Fr. Nickel often used his handyman skills on the church properties. Among his building projects was a new entrance in Clarks Mills.

“I did a lot of things, a lot of carpentry over the years,” he said. “I was born on a farm. We did a lot of repair work. My dad was handy with tools, so I grew up with it.”

Reception of the body will take place at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 15, at St. Mary Church, Stockbridge. Visitation will follow and continue until a 6 p.m. prayer service. Visitors will be limited to 10 people at a time in the church with others waiting outside. All are asked to observe social distancing and proper sanitization. The prayer service will be limited to 10 people.

Visitation, limited to 10 people at a time, will continue from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 16. The funeral Mass will follow with Bishop David Ricken as the celebrant. Attendance at the funeral Mass will be limited to 10 persons, but the burial afterwards outside at Holy Trinity Cemetery, Jericho, is open to all, while observing social distancing.