By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
CARROLLTON — Father Ken Criqui had a quick answer. When asked how he would react to being reassigned from St. Mary Parish in Carrollton, where he has served for 18 years, and Sacred Heart Mission in Norborne, where he has served for 13 years, the answer was also diplomatic.
“I’d obey the bishop,” he said, quickly adding, “but I wouldn’t like it.”
If the ambition of a corporate climber were in his DNA, Father Criqui might lament the fact that not once in his 50 years as a priest for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has he served as pastor of a huge, city parish, brimming with thousands of families.
Instead, with the exception of his early years spent as an associate pastor in Kansas City and St. Joseph, Father Criqui has been the personification of “country priest,” and one very happy with the way his life has turned out.
Get him out of Carrollton? You might as well ask a bass, which he loves to fish, to jump onto the shore. Or a deer, which he loves to hunt, to take a stroll through Kansas City’s Crown Center.
Oh, he’d do it, but “I wouldn’t like it.”
Father Criqui said he certainly couldn’t begin to predict a life as a country pastor as he was growing up in Leavenworth, Kan., which is quite a chunk of city compared to his pastorates in towns such as Hirlingen, Hamilton, Gallatin and Carrollton.
His was a family very open to religious vocations. His grand-uncle was Msgr. A.J. Doman, one of the early priests of the Diocese of Leavenworth which became the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
His aunt was Sister Angela Marie Doman, a longtime educator and Sister of Charity of Leavenworth. His uncle was Father Aloysius Doman, who died tragically young at the age of 38, when the future Father Criqui was just two years old.
“I lived a block south of the grade school which was run by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and two blocks from the old cathedral in Leavenworth where I was an altar boy. We had three priests in the rectory, and they were all friendly and supportive,” he said.
“It seemed like a natural thing to do, but I didn’t think much about being a priest until my sophomore year in high school,” Father Criqui said. “Up till then, I hadn’t thought much about what I was going to do with my life.”
With the encouragement and recommendation of his pastor, Msgr. Alexander Harvey, Father Criqui applied in 1955 for the seminary in his home diocese. And in one of the many “you might not want to put this in the paper, but . . .” moments that peppered his interview with the Catholic Key, Father Criqui gave the reason his application was rejected.
No matter. Msgr. Harvey was a seminary classmate of then-St. Joseph Bishop John P. Cody, the future Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago, and encouraged the young Criqui to try across the Missouri River.
“He said to me, ‘You still want to be a priest, don’t you?’ I said yes, so he said, ‘Why don’t you be a priest in the St. Joseph Diocese’ which was right across the river,” Father Criqui said. “So he drove me to St. Joseph to see Bishop Cody.”
Bishop Cody not only accepted him, but did something extraordinary, Father Criqui recalled.
“He said that since you are volunteering to be a priest, you choose where you want to go to the seminary,” Father Criqui said. “Msgr. Harvey then told him that I wanted to go to St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.
“So on the drive back, I asked him, ‘Why do I want to go to St. Thomas in Denver?’ He said the seminarians I had gone to grade school and high school with were students at St. Thomas. So I guess I wanted to go there,” he said.
But the feeling didn’t last long. One year later, after the Diocese of St. Joseph was merged into the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the future Father Criqui realized he was the only seminarian from the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese there. He would put the offer of Bishop Cody, now the ordinary of the newly merged diocese, to choose his seminary to the test.
“I asked to be transferred to Conception,” he said. “In six days’ time, I got a letter telling me I was enrolled at Conception.”
Among five priests to be ordained on May 25, 1963, Father Criqui got his baptism of fire under pastors who worked their associates, particularly the newly ordained ones, like sled dogs – Msgr. Martin Froeschl at St. Mary’s Parish in Independence, and Msgr. Richard Schumacher of St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City.
He had several “you probably don’t want to put this in the paper, but . . .” stories to tell about those early years, but not one of them told with a trace of bitterness.
“It was tough,” he said, but with a laugh. “Msgr. Froeschl would never give a compliment to anyone under him. His idea was that if they never knew where they stood with him, they’d work harder to try to please him.”
Two years later, he went to St. Elizabeth and Msgr. Schumacher.
“He wanted you working all 24 hours of the day,” he recalled. “At breakfast, he wanted to know what you did the previous evening. At lunch, he wanted to know what you did that morning. At supper, he wanted to know what you did that afternoon.
“He wanted me to go to everything – Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, CCD, RCIA, Legion of Mary. I had up to 10 meetings a day, 29 to 30 days out of the month. I found myself saying my prayers (the Divine Office) at midnight because I was so busy during the day, I couldn’t find time.”
After two years at St. Elizabeth, Father Criqui was assigned with Msgr. Charles Noland at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Msgr. Schumacher hosted a going-way party at St. Elizabeth, and invited Father Criqui’s seminary classmates, all of them still in Kansas City area parishes. They ribbed the young priest about going to the “boondocks.”
“They said stuff like, ‘Somebody has to go to Siberia,’ and ‘Keep your gas tank filled so you can get back to civilization,’ Father Criqui recalled. “After the party, Msgr. Schumacher came up to me and said, ‘What a bunch of losers!’”
Father Criqui treasured his five years in St. Joseph.
“Msgr. Noland had a sense of humor,” he said. In fact, he recalled when the rather short monsignor introduced the rather tall Father Criqui to the parish council.
“He said, ‘We’re Mutt and Jeff,’” after the characters in a popular comic strip.
Msgr. Noland also had a clear division of work.
“He said, ‘I’ll take care of the administration of the parish, and you take care of organizations,’” Father Criqui said. “I was very happy in St. Joseph.”
He also made a decision that would affect the rest of his career. When the Catholic chaplain of the Air National Guard wing based at Rosecrans Airport in St. Joseph left the military to be a missionary in South America, Father Criqui took his place. He would serve weekends once a month and summer tours with the Air National Guard for the next 25 years, taking pastoral assignments in rural parishes to fit his schedule.
But not immediately. In fact, his first assignment as pastor came unexpectedly during his next assignment as an associate at the inner-city Blessed Sacrament Parish with Father Lawrence McNamara, the future bishop of Grand Island, Neb.
“One year after I got there, Father McNamara became the national head of the Campaign for Human Development in Washington, D.C., so they just left me there by myself,” Father Criqui said.
“Now, Bishop (Charles) Helmsing had this policy that he would never ask a priest to pastor a parish without asking them first,” he said. “So one day after I’d been there awhile by myself, he met me at the drinking fountain in the chancery, and said, ‘How are things going at Blessed Sacrament?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ So I guess he asked me, because the next thing I knew, I was pastor of Blessed Sacrament, and that was the only contact I had with him about it.”
Not that he objected.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “I enjoyed the challenge of taking a parish that was tens of thousands of dollars in debt and getting that debt down. I enjoyed helping a lot of poor people with groceries when they were in a bind at the end of the month. But mostly, I enjoyed being my own boss for the first time.”
It was at Blessed Sacrament where Father Criqui said he received the greatest compliment he ever got, albeit second-hand.
“Mel Browning from Urich was a deacon. He was also a firefighter in Kansas City in the Blessed Sacrament area. So one day, he asked one of the guys in the station what kind of guy Father Criqui was. The man said, ‘He ain’t bad for a white man.’”
From there, it was rural and small town parishes for the rest of his career, each one still special in his heart — St. Ludger’s in Germantown, Blessed Sacrament in Bethany and it’s mission in Cainsville, Good Shepherd in Smithville and Annunciation in Kearney, Seven Dolors in Hirlingen, Sacred Heart in Hamilton and Mary Immaculate in Gallatin, St. Joseph in Trenton and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Princeton.
He still loves those parishes.
“I go back to those parishes every time they are having a celebration,” he said. “It’s like kids when they grow up. You are in contact with them the rest of your life.”
But unlike most priests, for whom picking a favorite parish is like picking a favorite child, Father Criqui does not hesitate.
He loves Carrollton and Norborne most of all.
“I plan on being here as long as I am physically able,” the 75-year-old Father Criqui said.
The hunting and fishing is great, he said. And the people of both parishes are now his family. In fact, after he is physically unable to pastor any longer, he not only plans to retire in Carrollton, he’ll show you the assisted living center in the town where he plans to live.
In 18 years, he has become a pillar of the community, serving as president of the Ministerial Alliance and with the local Lions Club.
And when he heard that Mid-Missouri Energy Corp. was looking for a site to build an ethanol plant which would be owned and operated by the farmers who produce the corn, he got in on the ground floor, securing a $25,000 grant from Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph to get the plans off the runway. Within two years of opening the plant in 2005, it was so successful that Mid-American Energy repaid the grant double — $50,000.
But Father Criqui measured the success of the ethanol plant in nearby Malta Bend the way priests do.
“In 2008 (when the national recession hit), everybody’s collection went down. Ours went up,” he said.
Msgr. Froeschl and Msgr. Schumacher might be pleased to know that they trained Father Criqui well.
In addition to serving two communities, he also makes the rounds of nursing homes and shut-ins from Waverly to Hale, delivering Communion every First Friday. He also says Mass every two weeks at the Chillicothe Correctional Center for Women. He also celebrates Mass every second Friday for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist in Independence. And he continues to serve on a variety of community and church boards.
And he loves it.
“If you enjoy what you are doing, and the people you work with want to keep you going, what is the benefit of retiring?” Father Criqui said.
“It’s like being a husband, a father and a grandfather,” he said. “There are challenges, but that’s part of life, whatever you do.”
Besides, he said, St. Mary is the first assignment as pastor where he’s had a “staff” — parish secretary for 13 years, Cheryl Stewart, who will retire this fall.
“He’s a fantastic boss, kind and considerate. He is involved in so many things in the community, and he gets along with the public so well,” she said.
And how would the town react if Father Criqui were to leave?
“I don’t think they’d like that,” Stewart said.