50 Years as a priest. Fr. Frank Kriski is featured in this week's Catholic Key

Father Frank Kriski, CSsR, is remembered certainly as one of the most respected and admired of the priests that served the Latin Mass Community at Our Lady of Sorrows. He was our chaplain from 2002 until 2005. He has recently observed his 50th anniversary as a priest and is recovering from prostate cancer for which he underwent surgery a couple of weeks ago.

John Heuertz, a member of Old St. Patrick, wrote this fine article published today in the Catholic Key.
"He’s one of the most gentle, humble and devoted priests I have had the pleasure to know." Kansas City area businessman Joe Farris speaks for many who know Fr. Francis Kriski, pastor since Advent of 2005 of Our Lady of Peace church on Kansas City's northeast side.

Francis Kriski was born in 1936 into a farming family in Elba, Nebraska, northwest of Grand Island. He's the only priest from his home town so far. A middle child, he grew up with four older sisters, three younger brothers and one younger sister. But he was threatened with a serious ear infection at once, and a kind of omen attended his Baptism.

"Our pastor was away for some reason, and the bishop himself was substituting in this little country parish," Fr. Kriski says. "But he was a Polish bishop." Francis' Baptism was quickly arranged, and Bishop Stanislaus Bona baptized him personally. Then he said to Francis' uncle and godfather, "Now it's up to you to make him a priest."

It was a close, religious family and Francis enjoyed pretending to say Mass for his brothers and sisters, using a colorful old rug as a chasuble. A great-uncle was a prominent Franciscan friar, and in 1950 Francis left home for a Franciscan minor seminary in Chicago. But he was 13 years old, and soon he was homesick. He came home that Christmas to stay until 1954, when he began formation as a Redemptorist after high school. "My uncle had talked for years about how much he liked the Redemptorists in Omaha, and my father wanted me to be a priest," he says. "I got a lot of support from my family."

He became a professed Redemptorist in 1958 - "It turned out the Redemptorists didn't go home for Christmas!" - and was ordained a priest six years later, taking parish assignments in Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Kansas City and Indiana. He also served as an Army chaplain and a hospital chaplain. "Denver's General Hospital a big place with a big emergency room. You get calls at midnight, calls at 3 a.m. You do what you can do for people in ten minutes. The good thing is, if you make a mistake you can start over with the next person. In parish work, you have to live with your goof-ups."

Our Lady of Peace is in a diverse neighborhood with diverse issues, and pastoring a bilingual parish has a set of challenges all its own. "I learned Spanish in the seminary and I try to do as much in Spanish as I can, but I'm not really that fluent," he says. "Usually if I ask enough questions I can find out what someone is saying."

A less experienced priest might find fertile goof-up ground everywhere in this parish and neighborhood. But "Father Kriski's done a good job of balancing the needs of the two communities," says Deacon Don McCandless. "He did it by listening to people and soliciting ideas.

"He has a pastoral approach to people. I would describe him as being a very humble man."

"Our parish has always been Polish, Mexican, German, a real melting pot," says lifelong parishioner Mrs. Bernadine Ohmes. "But Fr. Kriski didn't come in like gangbusters wanting to change everything. He is so kind, and very easy to work with."

A truly green thumb is a gift, but a modest man might not mention it. "When he came to the parish he converted a small area in the back into a grotto," Mrs. Ohmes says. "He planted tulips and hostas and a rosebush for a statue of the Blessed Mother he put in. "He really takes pride in the grounds and we were happy to see that."

"I once brought him the Epistle and Gospel texts for that week's Latin Mass, and found him tending a small flower garden at Redemptorist church," says Michall Holmes of Lee's Summit. "He explained with great joy that tending the flowers was one of his responsibilities at Redemptorist.

"I've often thought his love for tending flowers was like his love for tending souls."

Fr. Kriski was ordained for the Tridentine (Latin) Mass, and over the years would sometimes say a private Tridentine Mass for friends - or even perform a small wedding in the old liturgy.
Thus he didn't start completely from scratch when he began serving Kansas City's Latin Mass community as chaplain and de facto pastor in Advent 2002.

"Vatican II has certainly had an impact on my life as a priest and it was positive, but I still hanker for the old days," he says. "Something important from the pre-Vatican II church seems to be missing. It's hard to put your finger on. Perhaps a kind of conviction is missing."

"There's something kind of missing from the English Mass too," he says. "It seems so plain. "There's no soul in it. The Latin Mass has soul. I enjoyed saying it."

He served the Latin Mass community for exactly three years, inheriting the community from Fr. Ambrose Karels and passing it on to priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

"Father Kriski was one of the finest priests to serve our community and we owe him much. Many thanks, Father," says community member John Quastler.

Perhaps many changes inside the Church since the 1960s were hardest on priests of all. "The priesthood was looked up to then, but I'd say it's different now," Father Kriski says. Yet the Catholic Church cannot function without priests.

Then where do vocations come from, especially in a changed environment? Prayer, meditation and family and community support are indispensable. “Altar boy service is probably one of the most important experiences in the formation of a young boy who feels he might have a vocation,” he says.

"Appreciation is a great thing. If you're doing something and people care, it adds a lot." Father Francis Kriski fought a recent, successful bout with cancer and might retire someday, to the extent that any dedicated priest retires. He looks forward to the Church's future with optimism.

"Sometimes it seems like nobody listens to anything the Church says," he says. "But if there's something beautiful, people are attracted to that and maybe that will help some people to stay with the Church.

"So my advice is to look to the future," he says. "As long as there's a future, there's hope."

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