by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Parish priest, educator, editor, author, and friend to many. . . When Father Harold Wickey came into the world on Sept. 7, 1929, God gave him a rich and variegated path to follow. He did so willingly, embracing its many challenges and using them to do what he often said he liked most about his priesthood: “Make God better known and loved.”
Father Wickey’s journey ended on July 14 at Villa St. Francis in Olathe; he was 77 years old.
The son of a butcher who ran a meat shop at 8th and Quindaro in Kansas City, Kan., Father Wickey lived most of his life in that area, attending Blessed Sacrament Grade School and Bishop Ward High School.
After high school, he went to St. Benedict’s College in Atchison and St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. He also did undergraduate work at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Mo., and Regis College in Denver. Later, after he entered the priesthood, he went on to get a master’s in education and a Ph.L. from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 1955, Father Wickey was first assigned as associate pastor to the Cathedral of St. Peter and then to Blessed Sacrament, both in Kansas City, Kan. He was also chaplain at his old alma mater, Bishop Ward.
Father Wickey joined the faculty at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan., in 1960, where he taught philosophy and theology for 10 years, quickly becoming a favorite of students.
Joyce Klingele, secretary to Archbishop Joseph Naumann, had the privilege of having him in class.
“I remember that everyone wanted to get into his class,” she recalled. “He was interesting, so time went by quickly; he was a good teacher.”
Father Wickey was instrumental in developing the GED (general equivalency diploma) program at Donnelly and extended the scope of the college’s teaching into the community through educational programs in parishes.
Father John Rossiter, now retired and living in Topeka, knew Father Wickey in the seminary and as a fellow teacher at Donnelly.
“I thought he was a very fine teacher who cared about the students he taught,” he said. “I had a great deal of admiration and respect for him as a teacher and as a priest. He was well-prepared and researched — one of the few ‘shoes-polished’ priests at all times.”
During his tenure at Donnelly, Father Wickey wrote his first book, “The Living Mass.” Father Alfred Rockers, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Basehor, recalled reading that book as a young priest.
“It was very inspiring to me,” he said. “It revealed his obvious love for the Eucharist and how we might invite others to the Mass.”
“I believe Father Wickey thought that writing was a major part of his ministry as a priest,” Father Rockers concluded.
In 1965, Father Wickey took that ministry a step further by adding to his diverse resume the title of editor of the Eastern Kansas Register, predecessor to The Leaven newspaper.
His 10-year tenure as editor began just as the Second Vatican Council was concluding. Under the guidance and encouragement of Archbishop Edward Hunkeler and then-Archbishop Ignatius Strecker, Father Wickey used the newspaper as a tool to educate Catholics about the changes and renewal the council brought about.
Father Wickey also initiated changes in the paper itself, enhancing the format with creative layouts and giving it a tabloid-size look, making it an outstanding vehicle for local, national and international religious news.
He launched a religious education campaign through a “Know Your Faith” insert and was instrumental in promoting the original “Call to Share — Prayer and Study” program through articles and columns in the Register and through the editing and preparation of brochures and discussion booklets for study groups throughout the archdiocese.
Call to Share has since become the foundation of the archbishop’s annual appeal and is considered the original source of the parish ministries that exist today.
Jim Owens, formerly the chief financial officer of the archdiocese, worked closely with Father Wickey during his time as editor and remembers him as a low-profile individual who chose to pursue change through his talent for writing.
“He was the right guy for that time, fundamentally using the paper as an organ for developing and helping renew the church in its time,” he said. “He brought The Register to what is known today as The Leaven: an instrument of development in education rather than just a newspaper.”
In 1974, Father Wickey’s efforts merited the “Best Editorial Page” award given by the national Catholic Press Association.
After leaving the newspaper in 1975, Father Wickey continued to write, producing a steady stream of books and pamphlets, including a three-book series that opened with “Practicing the Presence of God: Daily Readings to Brighten the Ordinary Events of Everyday Life.”
Over his years of ministry, he also served as pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Perry, Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park, Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg, St. Paul Parish in Olathe, St. Lawrence Parish in Easton, and St. Joseph of the Valley Parish in Leavenworth.
In 1995, Father Wickey was assigned to St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., as senior associate pastor to his lifelong friend, Msgr. Michael Mullen.
“I first met Hal Wickey the day I entered the seminary in 1954. It happened that we were the first-year freshman class and he was seven years ahead,” Msgr. Mullen said. “He was always a good friend — a young priest who took an interest in us, a mentor who encouraged me — and I was grateful for that.”
Msgr. Mullen recalled what he termed a “priest fraternal group,” that included Father Wickey, whose members often got together to golf or play cards or discuss different topics of theology.
“Sometimes he and I, when he was associate pastor here, would host a group or we would go to another rectory for an evening,” he said. “But it was always a nice time to relax, and he enjoyed those moments.”
When Father Wickey retired in 1999, he lived for several years in a small home in Bonner Springs. Then he went first to Villa Ventura in Kansas City, Mo., and later to Villa St. Francis in Olathe.
Though his health was poor, he continued to write, deepen his prayer life and enjoy time and conversation with friends. One of his frequent visitors was Father Charles Andalikiewicz, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg.
“He was a very good source of spiritual reading books,” Father Andalikiewicz said. “He was very intellectual, very spiritual and very understanding of people. Priests often went to visit and talk to him about spiritual things.”
Msgr. Mullen considers Father Wickey’s greatest legacy to be his role in helping to explain and implement the changes and renewal of the Second Vatican Council to Catholics of the archdiocese.
“As you look at the history of our diocese in the last 50 years, he among many others played a significant part in the growth and development of the archdiocese in response to Vatican II,” he said. “As a priest, he always loved the priesthood, and I think he made a wonderful contribution to the church.”
Would you ever consider re-printing Practicing The Presence of God in Everyday Living series?
It has bee so instrumental to so many of
my family members young and old as well as friends and acquaintances. I first purchased the book in the town of Ft Leavenworth while we were stationed there from July of 95 until June of 1996. I gave it ro family and friends and it still is read every day and it has been passed on to
many others. I would love to be able
to get it again . I truly believe that it would truly be embraced by so many . Thank you for your time. Jill Herman