Fr. Jordan Blecha, O.Praem., sets up deer camp at cabin built by Norbertines in 1937
carries on hunting tradition
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Fr. Jordan Blecha, O.Praem., admits that he is slowing down at age 88, but not enough to give up deer hunting.
"When that time comes around each year, I still get excited," he said. "I shot a deer last year after not getting one for a few years. Saturday night in a deer camp is an experience that everyone should have. It's exciting beyond imagination. Shooting a deer is not the important part. I enjoy spending time in the woods with the animals and birds, and the friendship with the other hunters is wonderful."
That friendship includes Harlin Mercier of New Franken and members of his family, Fr. Blecha's hunting companions. Mercier met Fr. Blecha through his wife, Betty, who served as a nurse at St. Norbert Abbey. While hunting, Mercier maintains radio contact with Fr. Blecha. Each year, the men travel north to the Norbertines' cabin in Sayner, Wis.
"It's a beautiful place with 160 acres," said Fr. Blecha. "It's in the woods. When you get out of your car, you're in the woods. When you go out the door of the cabin, you're in the woods."
The cabin was built in 1937. Previously, Norbertine priests made regular trips by train to the Eagle River and Sayner area to celebrate Mass for the tourists. It took an entire day to get there by train. The priests would make the long trip back by rail following the Masses.
"A guy felt sorry for them, so he harvested his woods of oak and pine and gave the land to the Norbertines," explained Fr. Blecha. "Our guys built the cabin and stayed up there during the summer."
Fr. Blecha celebrates Mass at the cabin each year during the opening deer hunting weekend.
"Hunters from the area come to Mass," he said. "We should have about 20 people this year. I met a fellow from West De Pere who is going to hunt nearby. He knew that I say Mass on Saturday night, so he asked if he could come with his son, so they will be joining us."
Fr. Blecha remembers taking an interest in hunting as a boy growing up in Athens, Wis., but credits Howard Eslien, an attorney from Oconto Falls, with fueling his hunting passion.
"Howard and I discovered we were relatives when his son was at Premontre High School (Green Bay)," said Fr. Blecha. "Years ago, he invited me to hunt with him at Chute Pond. I had to take care of his son. His son sat with me. I didn't get off a single shot, but I loved it. I got bit."
For a number of years, as many as nine Norbertine priests regularly hunted at the cabin in Sayner, but Fr. Blecha is the last remaining hunter from the group.
"The others have died or no longer hunt," he said. "The first year I hunted with the other priests I shot a buck. I shot bucks for four years in a row. There is no wisdom in my deer hunting. It's all luck. I have been lucky enough to shoot more than 20 deer."
"One time I shot at a deer and missed," he continued. "The deer came back and I missed again. He went toward another hunter who scared him back to me. The third time I shot him."
Fr. Blecha's hunting rifle has an interesting history.
"I bought it for $5 from the ROTC at Premontre," he explained. "They had used it for drills. A friend put new stocks and a scope on it for me. It still works great."
Fr. Blecha, who has suffered with asthma for many years, enjoys visiting the cabin during all seasons, walking, spending time with family and friends and staying as active in ministry as possible. He especially enjoys retreat work including Cursillo, TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) and Koinonia.
"I have enjoyed working with the young people through TEC," said Fr. Blecha. "Koinonia is for the parents who are so bewildered when their kids come home from TEC. They don't recognize their kids who now talk about Jesus and the Bible. I have also done Quest, which is for grade school kids, and prison ministry. They have all been wonderful experiences."
Fr. Blecha hopes to hunt as many years as possible.
"I still enjoy getting up early to be in the blind before dawn," he said. "I enjoy being alive. I've been blessed by God with a wonderful life."