Fr. Robert Rhyner dies at age 88

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | July 1, 2022

Longtime Holy Martyrs pastor stayed active in ministry as a senior priest

Fr. Robert “Bob” Rhyner

ALLOUEZ — Fr. Robert “Bob” Rhyner, whose ministries included serving parishes, hospitals, married couples, and the Hmong Catholic community, died June 29 at age 88.

Fr. Rhyner was born in New London to John and Mary (Poet) Rhyner. His family moved to Green Bay, his mother’s hometown, when he was 2 years old. In a 2019 interview with The Compass for his 60-year priesthood anniversary, Fr. Rhyner said the call to his vocation began as far back as he could remember.

Fr. Rhyner attended high school and junior college at St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary. He then studied philosophy and theology at St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on May 23, 1959, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay.

Parish ministry was his calling, said Fr. Rhyner. His first appointment was as associate pastor (parochial vicar) of Holy Family Parish, Elcho, for the summer months. He was then appointed associate pastor of St. Agnes Parish, Green Bay, where he served for six years. This assignment also included teaching religion at St. Joseph Academy, the all-girls Catholic high school in Green Bay. Fr. Rhyner started with a class of 105 ninth grade girls in the auditorium.

“I did about three years of teaching,” he said. “The parishes all had schools, so I was in the grade school on a regular basis, but I’m not a teacher.”

In 1965, Fr. Rhyner was named associate pastor of St. Pius X Parish, Appleton. Four years later, he was appointed associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Sturgeon Bay. In 1970, he was named pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Phlox. A year later, he was appointed pastor of St. Luke Parish, Two Rivers, where he served for 14 years. In 1984, he was named pastor of Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Parish, Green Bay, a position he served in for nearly 20 years.

In 2003, Holy Martyrs and Holy Trinity Parish, Pine Grove, were merged to form Prince of Peace Parish. Fr. Rhyner moved to associate pastor of Prince of Peace Parish until his retirement to senior priest status in 2008.

As a senior priest, Fr. Rhyner helped out in many parishes and assisted living facilities. He also celebrated Masses for the Hmong Catholic community at St. Jude Church in Green Bay, and was a hospital chaplain for HSHS St. Vincent Hospital and St Mary’s Medical Center, both in Green Bay.

“It’s God’s mercy being called to the bedside of someone who is dying and they haven’t been to church for years,” said Fr. Rhyner.

“I don’t know how I got into hospital work. It wasn’t in my plans, but that’s the way God works. God pulls you in,” he added.

Fr. Rhyner was active for more than 40 years in Marriage Encounter, a program designed to make a good marriage better. He was involved in Green Bay Marriage Encounter and served as executive clergy for National Marriage Encounter.          

The vigil for Fr. Rhyner will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. on Friday, July 8, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay. Visitation will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 9, at the cathedral. The funeral Mass will follow at 11 a.m. Bishop David Ricken will be the celebrant. Burial in Allouez Catholic Cemetery will follow the Mass.

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