Local Religious life

Working shepherd for the working world

by Joe Bollig

ATCHISON — Father Gerard Senecal, OSB, was a lot like Kansas itself — a study in contrasts. Plain vanilla he was not.

Those who knew him describe Father Gerard in many ways: a hard worker, a brilliant mind, a soul in love with God, a good friend, one who most certainly did not suffer fools gladly, and a kindly confessor.

He was their beloved curmudgeon with a heart of gold — not interested in doing what was popular, but what was right. He was not a people pleaser, but many people were pleased to know him.

“He showed me the love of God, but he didn’t say it with valentines,” said Claudia Crifasi, wife of Benedictine College assistant professor of philosophy Anthony Crifasi.

“The tough, gruff, irascible quality which endeared him to me didn’t always have universal appeal,” she continued. “But he was a working shepherd for the working world. He had true pastoral grit.”

Crifasi used to tease him by introducing him thusly: “This is Father Gerard Senecal; he was my pastor, and he’s a pistol!”

Father Gerard, 85, died on Jan. 19 at Senior Village in Atchison, where he was recovering following a stroke a week earlier. His funeral was in the St. Benedict’s Abbey church on Jan. 26, and he was buried in the abbey cemetery. His brother, Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, was at his side when he died.

Father Gerard was born John Carl Senecal on July 27, 1929, in the family home in Atwood. He was the oldest of the seven children born to Lionel John and Clara (Strecker) Senecal. The family was French-  Canadian in origin.

He was influenced by his uncle, Father Lucien Senecal, OSB, to attend Maur Hill Prep School in Atchison. Upon graduation, he entered the monastery in 1948. Two younger brothers would follow him — one becoming abbot.

Father Gerard easily lived three or four lives in one lifetime. He was a monk, a scientist, a teacher, a college administrator, a pastor, and much more.

Father Gerard was preceded in death by his parents John and Clara, and brothers William and Richard. He was survived by his two sisters: Clare Kearney of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Mary Hansen of Kansas City, Missouri; and two brothers: Abbot Barnabas Senecal of Atchison, and Nicholas Senecal of Hyde Park, Massachusetts.

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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