by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Many people remember Father Anthony E. Blaufuss as a man who cared about many things — the salvation of souls and social justice being at the top of the list.
Father Blaufuss, who retired as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Ottawa in 2000, died on Dec. 21 at Golden Heights Care Center in Garnett.
Father Thomas Kearns, who was one year behind Father Blaufuss at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, described the late priest as a friendly, low-key guy who loved sports.
“We used to play handball together at the seminary,” said Father Kearns, now retired and living in Kansas City, Kan. “He was good. I was not necessarily so good. He was good in all sports — basketball and softball. He was a good snow skier throughout all his life.”
As long as he was able, Father Blaufuss and a group of friends would take ski trips to Colorado, or go on pheasant hunts. He loved to travel oversees and skied the Italian and Swiss Alps. He even visited China.
Father Blaufuss was “green” before it was fashionable, said Father George Seuferling, now retired and living in Meriden.
“He was really, deep down, an environmentalist,” said Father Seuferling. “He had a love for nature. He raised pecans and walnuts, too. He would get so upset when hordes of blue jays would come and raid his trees, oh boy.”
He knew what to do with all those old missalettes: They made excellent mulch for his trees.
Father Blaufuss cared about people. He expressed this caring not only through his priestly ministry, but also in the way he tied his ministry to his activities for social justice.
“[Father Blaufuss] was probably one of the smartest guys I’ve known,” said Father Seuferling. “He was really a people person. And he had a deep sense of personal justice. Injustice really rattled his cage.”
Sometimes he would share his concerns about justice through preaching challenging homilies, but he didn’t restrict himself to the pulpit.
“He was very interested in the church as developed after the Second Vatican Council,” said Father Kearns. “I remember at [clergy] regional meetings, how strong he would be on some particular issues.”
He was so opposed to the building of Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant near Burlington that he lay on some railroad tracks to protest transfer of nuclear material.
In his funeral homily for Father Blaufuss, Father Ken Kelly, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Mission, noted that the late priest always had a “cause,” and that one of his causes was reform and change within the church.
Father Kelly also noted that Father Blaufuss, who came from a farming family, was committed to justice in agriculture. He believed that the small family farm could be viable, and he was very critical of large agricultural corporations. Naturally, he took an active role in the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
Father Blaufuss was concerned about racism, fair housing, women’s issues and poverty as well. And he cared about empowering the laity.
“He was very kind and trusting, and he knew how to delegate,” said Joyce Klingele, who was director of religious education at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., when Father Blaufuss was pastor. “Once you took a job, it was in your ball field. You were totally responsible for it.”
His nephew Ken Frank, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Garnett, called Father Blaufuss “a humble servant of God.”
“He never wanted to go by ‘Father Blaufuss.’ He always wanted to be called ‘Father Tony’ or just ‘Tony,’” said Frank.
“He was very open to other people’s ideas and thoughts, and was always happy to discuss things with an open mind toward them,” Frank continued. “I thought he was a very inclusive person who was always embracing other people in the Catholic faith and other Christian faiths.
He was always open to communicating with them.”
Father Blaufuss was a caring and effective pastor as well, said Msgr. Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan. Before he succeeded him in 1995, Father Blaufuss led efforts to build a much-needed multiuse building.
The late priest had two gifts, in particular, said Msgr. Mullen.
“In the area of social justice, he inspired his people and all of us to look ahead and look more critically about society and the church, and see what we could do better,” said Msgr. Mullen. “He had a prophetic voice like John the Baptist.”
His second gift was bringing people together, said Msgr. Mullen. Father Blaufuss did this not only for the new building at St. Patrick Parish, but also for a new parish center at Sacred Heart Parish in Ottawa.
And he was a stickler for getting the job done right.
“He would not approve a project until it was done to his satisfaction,” said Msgr. Mullen. “I attribute that to his rural background. He wasn’t afraid to tackle big projects.”
The final blessing and legacy of Father Blaufuss may not be his advocacy, his orchard, or even his building projects. It might be his open, honest gift of himself.
“He had a great sense of integrity,” said Father Seuferling. “What you saw was what you got. There was no guile in him.”