My God, what a life!

Classmates’ roads diverge, but both lead to priesthood


by Marc and Julie Anderson
mjanderson@theleaven.org KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Once there was a time when, if you wanted Frank, all you had to do was find John. And vice versa.

Almost since the day the two became “Hilltoppers” — students of St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, living on the top floor of the Administration Building — Frank and John were always together. They shared a dorm room and ate together. They took the same classes and exams. They prayed and played sports together.

Now, more than 50 years later, the two are together again — at least in spirit. For although the Administration Building is now called St. Benedict Hall, the college has been renamed Benedictine, and even John has a new name — “Owen” — Father Frank Krische and Abbot Owen Purcell both recently celebrated their golden anniversaries as priests.

As the two classmates drew close to graduation, you see, they both discerned vocations to the priesthood. But there their paths diverged. Young Frank went on to Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo., while John became a novice — taking the name “Owen” — at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison.

Father Krische was ordained an archdiocesan priest on April 6, 1957; Father Owen, a Benedictine, on May 30, 1957.

A family tradition

It was no surprise to anyone in the Krische family that young Frank decided to pursue a vocation in the priesthood.

“I guess it’s in my genes, so to speak,” Father Krische said.

Several family members entered religious orders, including: his great-aunt Sister Mary Romana, with the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo.; his great-uncle Father George Moritz, with the Capuchin Franciscans in Germany; and his uncle Father Otto Krische, a Franciscan in the Province of Cincinnati.

“My Uncle Otto used to be a pastor at St. Joseph Parish at 16th and Paseo in Kansas City, Missouri,” said Father Krische. “He also was a pastor at St. Peter Claver Parish in Wichita and developed a ministry to African-Americans. Then, he moved to New Mexico, where he ministered to Native Americans there. I used to visit him a lot, so I was attracted to the priesthood from an early age.”

When he was in the eighth grade, Msgr. Anthony Blaufuss encouraged him to consider a high school seminary. So the future priest went to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, and, after graduation, to St. Benedict’s College. Despite having family members who followed their vocation into religious orders, Father Krische entered Conception Seminary with the encouragement of Bishop George Donnelly of the then-Diocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Like Father Krische, the seeds of Abbot Owen’s vocation were planted in his childhood.

“I began to feel an affinity or closeness to St. Benedict’s Abbey,” said Abbot Owen. “Because I was an altar boy, we often came to the abbey for picnics. Also, some of the monks from there served at my home parish. So, it seemed an attractive lifestyle to me.”

“Also, Father Florian Demmer (OSB), who later served as my novice master, was a friend of Msgr. Joseph Selting — my pastor back home — and often Father Demmer would come to my parish,” the abbot continued. “Later, as a priest, I was able to assist him in that same parish at Easter and Christmas.”

When he broached the subject of his vocation with his family, there were no objections.

“My mom died when I was a sophomore in high school, so she did not live to see me become a priest,” said Abbot Owen. “There was no opposition from my dad, though in some ways my absence was difficult for him.”

Abbot Owen fell a year behind Father Krische in his studies when he entered the novitiate — a time when he learned more about monastic life. His time was shortened, however, when he was ordained a priest “in simplex,” which meant he did not have faculties to preach or hear confessions. Thus, the two friends were actually ordained to the priesthood only a month apart.

A parish life, an abbey life

Because their paths diverged, the two men also had very different experiences in their priesthood.

The vocation of the diocesan priest is parochial work. During his years, Father Krische has served in nine different parishes, the longest stint being at Most Pure Heart of Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka for an astounding 24 years.

One of the most significant changes he has observed over the passage of time has been the increasing complexity of the administrative aspect of parish life. For example, as pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish, Father Krische was responsible for a $3 million budget. With a school, a parish center, and a variety of parish ministries, the administrative aspect can be somewhat demanding.

He has, however, been blessed by having a “great staff,” he said.

The vocation of the monk is to serve in community, so an integral part of Abbot Owen’s priesthood has always been the charism of the monastic life — even when he served as a pastor in parishes beyond the monastery walls.

“The service I have been able to give has been done in the context of teaching at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison and administrative work in the monastery — like being junior master, novice master, abbot and chair of various committees,” he said.

“Much of the ‘labora’ [of the Benedictine motto “ora et labora” — pray and work] could not have been done but for the fact that I was an ordained priest,” said the former abbot. “In that sense, my monastic life was changed. Had I not been a priest but remained a brother, much of this article would be different. We are all monks, some ordained and some not. Sometimes I feel I have taken the more, not the less traveled road.”

The great public landmark of both their priesthoods, agreed the men, was the Second Vatican Council, held from 1962 to 1965.

“I was ordained a priest eight years before the Second Vatican Council [ended], and I was really enthused with it,” said Father Krische. “I truly thought it was needed. As much as the survival of the church depends on the clergy, it also depends on the laity becoming holy people.”

Abbot Owen remembers the full significance of the council taking a long time to sink in.

“It took a while for me to realize the impact of Vatican II,” he said. “Accepting the thrust of it has made a huge difference in my life, my approach to the monastic life and to the life of the world I live in. To have experienced a bit of the Great Depression and to have lived through World War II have given me what I consider a good historical perspective.”

It’s a wonderful life

Sacrifice is a part of any vocation, but so, too, is joy and reward. Both men have experienced the joy and reward of their priesthoods in ample amounts.

Just one reward and joy known by Father Krische was the opportunity to help St. Ann Parish in Chimaltenago, Guatemala, the sister parish of Most Pure Heart. Another was witnessing the entry of a man into the full Christian faith before he died.

“While I was at Wamego, there was a man who always said he wanted to be a Catholic,” said Father Krische. “One day, I got a call [that reported that] he had been involved in an auto accident. When I got to the hospital, a neighbor told me he’d used water from the ditch to baptize the man, and we buried him from the [Catholic] Church. It was a particularly gratifying experience in that the neighbor fulfilled a longtime dream of this man.”

Abbot Owen, too, has experienced many joys and rewards from his vocation.

“Mine has been a grand life,” said the abbot. “I’ve been blessed to be part of a truly human religious community, and I have few regrets. I’ve been thankful that as part of our community’s ministry, I’ve been able to travel to Brazil five times and assist with the work down there.”

“Most recently, I spent four weeks in White River, Arizona, and ministered alongside the pastor there to the White Mountain Apache tribe,” he continued. “While there, we prayed a lot for snow to prevent forest fires due to the dry conditions that had been prevalent for so long. . . . Most importantly, it was a real change for me to minister to people who barely exist as human beings on the lowest rung of the American social ladder. . . . And yet the Apaches I met managed to show lots of love and joy.”

Just the instrument

Even as they cherish the memories they’ve gathered in their years of priesthood, the two men hope that those whom they’ve served will have good memories of them.

“I hope the people that I have attempted to serve both within and without the monastic community of St. Benedict’s Abbey will say of me, ‘He listened, he was very human, and I feel he loved as best as he knew how,’” said Abbot Owen.

Father Krische hopes that others will see — through the countless Masses, baptisms, funerals, weddings and confessions — that his work has been Christ’s work.

“I hope people remember me as a man for others, because that’s the key to the priesthood — as Christ was a man for others,” said Father Krische. “It’s God’s work. I’m just the instrument, and I hope people realize that.”

Quoting the poet and priest Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, Father Krische added this coda to his own experience of the priesthood: “My God, what a life! And it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ.”

Leave a Reply