Fr. Jack Kissling (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Fr. Jack Kissling (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

His farewell cake had little plastic palm trees, a miniature bottle of scotch and a tiny craps table on top.

“I’ve been known to go to the casino,” said Fr. This reminded me of the one time – and got to visit one of the most brilliant, vivid and best online casinos, a weekend I’ll never forget. Jack Kissling, a priest from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, who retired in Chetek in 1997.

Seventeen years later, Fr. Kissling is relocating again – moving back to Iowa to live near longtime friends, he doesnt leave his home to play though, with real money online casinos for US players being opened up, makes it very easy for seniors to play. The going-away party over and the cake half-eaten, he stopped to chat July 14 before catching his ride home.

“I had Protestant friends,” is how the priest explains his move to the tourist town in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Despite his retirement, Fr. Kissling has been deeply engaged in the local parish, St. Boniface, since his arrival, and he has helped out at other area parishes as well.

“The 17 years that I was here, I missed only one … only one time did I not say Sunday Mass,” he said.

A Dubuque native and 1953 graduate of St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, Maryland, Fr. Kissling was an anti-war protester during the Vietnam War era. He served as a draft counselor and ministered at the University of Northern Iowa from 1968 to 1982.

“I spent a lot of my priesthood in the Waterloo, Cedar Falls area,” he added. “This was the ‘60s. You had to get up in the morning and think about where you were going to march.”

Fr. Kissling likes to recall the old days – brushes with political figures and prominent priests – but he has learned much in retirement that would have been useful when he was younger.

“The whole experience has been rewarding, and not only that … spiritually rewarding,” he said.

A couple of things he believes sincerely?

“Sunday should be the very best,” Fr. Kissling observed – the best preaching, the best choir, the best lectors. “Sunday is when it all comes together. This is where the people become graced.”

“You have to know who you are preaching to, and that means being involved with the people and their lives,” is his No. 2 maxim. “Sometimes we get so involved in the preaching and forget who we are preaching to.”

“Those two things are very important,” he said, “to know who you are serving.”
He likens this concept to Pope Francis’ encyclicals, which are written in accessible language rather than the academic style of his predecessors. Knowing how to reach his flock is every shepherd’s concern.

Another bit of wisdom:

“In any given parish, there are people who have talents you can tap.”

At St. Boniface, Fr. Kissling has found much to praise in parishioners and the wider community.

“The people here are extremely, extremely good and accepting,” he said.

In his time in Chetek, he has worked with a number of priests, currently Fr. Jim Bartelme, the parish’s sacramental minister. Fr. Kissling was invited to move into the rectory before the Fr. Bartelme arrived, so the two have been sharing what Fr. Kissling jokingly calls “the home for unwed Fathers.”

Priests tend to be independent, he said, so they both went through a period of adjustment. Fr. Kissling was initially surprised by Fr. Bartelme’s very vocal support of the Green Bay Packers during football games, and his seemingly endless array of frozen dinners.

Overall, they’ve both found the arrangement to their liking.

“It’s been good,” he added. “It’s been good for both of us. He really does have a good sense of humor.”

Fr. Kissling’s friends in Iowa invited him to live in a furnished apartment above their high-end boutique, so that’s where he’s going. He’s informed the diocese of his return, in case they need him for Masses, but he’s unsure whether he’ll be called.

He looks forward to the move and his new digs. Protestant ministers “may have better halves,” he said with a grin, “but we have better quarters.”