The ‘go-to guy’

Father Frank Horvat remembered for his friendliness, sense of humor


by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The priesthood does not require a sense of humor — but it helps.

Father Frank Horvat, who died on April 14 at 82, was known for his friendliness, affability and his well-developed sense of humor.

“He loved to play jokes on people,” said Pat Shultz, parish secretary at Corpus Christi Parish in Lawrence from 1985-2014.

One morning, Schultz came into the office, as usual, to begin another day. As she sat in her office chair and moved it forward, she began to hear little sounds: “pop, pop, pop, pop.”

“Before [Father Frank] came into the office, he put bubble wrap under the floor mat,” said Shultz, with a chuckle.

Father Jim Shaughnessy, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Marysville and St. Malachy in Beattie, recalled a similar incident.

“He’d sneak up behind you when a dog was barking, and he’d reach down and grab you by the ankle,” said Father Shaughnessy.

That was the side a lot of people saw, but there was another side as well.

“Even though he was very outgoing and loving to everyone, I often got to see the side of him where he was a quiet, reserved, spiritual person,” said Shultz. “I don’t think he let many people see that side of him.”

Father Horvat died at Brookdale Senior Living in Overland Park. He suffered a stroke on Ash Wednesday 2011 and, since then, had been in declining health. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at his former parish, St. John the Baptist, in Kansas City, Kansas. He was buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas.

“He had great people skills,” said Msgr. Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. “He was a friendly man and he got along with people. He could relate to people in different settings.”

“He was a kindly person who cared about people and was willing to help in any way that he could,” said Father Jerry Spencer, a retired archdiocesan priest. “If people took a problem to him, he’d do his best to help them work through the problem.

“He was a go-to guy.”

He was born Francis Horvat on Sept. 7, 1932, one of nine children of Matthew and Bara Horvat. They were Croatian immigrants and founding members of St. John the Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

Later, his parents established a farm — which still exists — near 49th and Leavenworth Road in Kansas City, Kansas. The family joined Christ the King Parish when it was established in 1940.

Father Tom Kearns, a retired priest of the archdiocese, went to high school with Father Horvat.

“I first got to know him at the [former] farmers’ market at 38th and State,” said Father Kearns. “Our family used to get our produce there.”

In those early years, Father Kearns noticed the future priest’s friendliness and good humor.

Father Horvat graduated from Bishop Ward High School in 1950 and entered Donnelly College, which had only opened in 1949. He then entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.

“I have fond memories of him,” said Father Spencer. Father Horvat was an upperclassman when Father Spencer arrived in 1957.

“He was so warm and welcoming, and it was really good to have a smiling face for me when I was a newbie,” said Father Spencer. “It was good to have someone from back home who really cared that I was there. He was a real inspiration to me.”

Father Horvat was ordained on May 31, 1958, by Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler at St. Peter Cathedral. Assisting at his first Mass were his brother Father Matthew Horvat, SJ, and cousin Msgr. John W. Horvat. He took up his first assignment on June 21, 1958, as an associate pastor at Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park.

During his 53-year ministry as a priest, Father Horvat served at 13 parishes and touched the lives of many. Father Shaughnessy got to know Father Horvat when he was his pastor at St. Michael Parish in Axtell. He also succeeded Father Horvat as pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Lawrence, of which Father Horvat was the founding pastor.

“He had a knack of hiring really good staff people, who were very, very good to me when I became pastor,” said Father Shaughnessy. “He just seemed to be able to get people to do things. He knew how to help [people] deal with change.”

He was also known as a good neighbor. Both Father Shaughnessy and Father Kearns were pastors in neighboring cities at different times, and they found that Father Horvat was always willing to help, listen and offer friendship.

“He helped me a lot when I was first ordained,” said Father Shaughnessy. “He helped me with being a priest and leading a parish. He was a person I could go and talk to.”

Phyllis Hampton, long-serving parish secretary at St. John the Baptist Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, said his management style was “low-key.” He listened to people, told them what he thought and “let them do what they felt best doing.”

He spoke Croatian, said Hampton, which was an asset when making home visits to the elderly. And he was deeply involved in North American Croatian Relief during the Yugoslavian breakup and civil war.

“He went to Croatia several times to visit the orphanages,” said Hampton. “[We] sent clothing, money and all kinds of medical supplies . . . container after container.”

Father Horvat was recognized by Donnelly College as a distinguished alumnus and inducted into the college’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 2012. He was also honored by the American Croatian Relief Organization for his humanitarian leadership.

Father Horvat was preceded in death by his parents; his sisters, Mary Thomas, Helen Horvat, Emily Sercer, and Anne Theno; and brothers, Mi- chael, John, Joseph and Father Matt.

He is survived by his sisters — Rose Waller and Barbara Caroll — and many nieces and nephews.

Parishes served

  • 1958 — Associate, Queen of the Holy Rosary, Overland Park
  • 1958 — Associate, Holy Name Parish, Topeka
  • 1961 — Associate, St. John the Evangelist, Kansas City, Kansas
  • 1961 — Associate, St. Joseph Parish, Shawnee
  • 1963 — Administrator, St. Columbkille, Blaine
  • 1964 — Pastor, St. Columbkille
  • 1966 — Pastor, Sacred Heart, Gardner
  • 1969 — Pastor, Holy Rosary, Wea
  • 1971 — Pastor, Holy Angels, Garnett
  • 1972 — Pastor, St. Michael, Axtell
  • • 1978 — Pastor, St. Gregory, Marys- ville, and St. Monica, Waterville
  • 1981 — Pastor/founder, Corpus Christi, Lawrence
  • 1992 — Pastor, St. John the Baptist, Kansas City, Kansas

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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