By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — There was no mistaking it — this was not Mass as usual for the Third Sunday of Advent at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. With the choir in full voice, numerous altar servers proceeded Fathers Richard Rocha, Charles Rowe, Adam Johnson, Sandy Sinclair, Msgr. Brad Offutt, and Redemptorist Father Dick Quinn, all in violet vestments, in procession up the center aisle. They were followed by Father Adam Haake, Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Bishop James Johnston, Jr., Presider, and Msgr. William J. Blacet, Celebrant, escorted by Deacon Ralph Wehner. Father Haake, Deacon Ralph and Msgr. Blacet were all in rose vestments.
No, this wasn’t a regular Mass, this was Celebration. The parish, the priests and Bishop Johnston had gathered to honor Msgr. Blacet, who had celebrated his 95th birthday a few days before, and was now celebrating his 70th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Msgr. Blacet is the longest serving priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
His youngest sister, Elizabeth Kerns, and several nieces and nephews, including Martha Manteuffel and her husband, Bob, had traveled to Kansas City for the celebration.
And there were no empty places in the church.
After the reading of the Gospel, Msgr. Blacet stood at the ambo, speaking conversationally to all the friends and family there.
He said his days are like those of many other people, full of ups and downs. “Some days are wonderful,” he said, “and some days, you just wonder, ‘Why?’ But life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived!”
William Joseph Blacet was born Dec. 6, 1921, in St. Joseph. The family, which, when he was born boasted six children, lived in the Cathedral of St. Joseph parish. The family continued to grow; eventually there were eight kids.
His devout father was a hard-working newspaper engraver, who loved to sing and to laugh. His mother was the one the children ran to when they scraped a knee, cut a finger or were unhappy. She was devoted to her family and to the Blessed Mother. Msgr. Blacet recalled often coming home from school to find her ironing his father’s shirts. “Dad liked his shirts starched, but not too much, and she would iron him a fresh shirt every afternoon for the next day. Five buttons lay to one side of the shirt. His mom would say a ‘Hail Mary,’ and when finished, move a button. After five ‘Hail Marys’ and five buttons moved, she’d transfer all the buttons to the other side of the ironing board and begin with another ‘Hail Mary.’ After moving all five buttons, she would have said a decade of the Rosary.”
He shared other childhood memories of church and school — his father corralling eight children in a one-bathroom house to attend Mass, on time, where the family took up an entire pew. He recalled his sister running out of the house with her coat half on to jump in the car for Mass. He spoke of his father singing in the choir, “He was a bass.” And of going to confession every First Saturday, whether they needed to or not. His parents may not have known it, but their son credits them with planting and nurturing the seed of his vocation.
The Blacet children attended Cathedral School, then run by the Benedictine Sisters. Msgr Blacet recalled his fourth grade teacher asking the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. When it was his turn, he was ready. “I had her fooled,” he said, “she thought I was a pious little boy! I said I wanted to be a hobo! ‘A hobo? Why?’ I would have no responsibilities; I could travel by hopping on a railcar. When it got cold I could take a train south, when it got hot I could hop a freight train and go back up north. I’d be a free, traveling man. What more could I want?”
He said she never asked him about a vocation again, but she did attend his ordination.
Bill Blacet attended Christian Brothers High School, played basketball and the clarinet, and made the debate team. The priesthood was not something he thought too much about, although he enjoyed serving Mass and talking to Bishop Charles H. LeBlond.
During his senior year in high school, he approached the bishop to discuss his future, and the bishop suggested the seminary.
William Blacet graduated from Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis and was ordained for the Diocese of St. Joseph on Dec. 21, 1946. His first assignment was assisting at Holy Rosary parish in St. Joseph and, with his pastor, finally got to hitch a ride in a freight car. There had been a death in a family who lived in two abandoned railcars in a rural area, and Msgr. Rupp invited his new assistant to accompany him to pray for the deceased with the family. The pastor jumped on the train near the back, and the young Father Blacet of course followed suit. After comforting the family and praying over the deceased, the two priests walked the mile or so back to Holy Rosary Parish. Msgr. Blacet recalled thinking, “Thank you, God. This is the priesthood!”
He was reassigned to Cathedral Parish in 1950, where he served for almost a decade before going as pastor to St. James Parish in Liberty in the still new Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Msgr. Blacet was elevated to Papal Chamberlain in 1957 and Domestic Prelate in 1968. He served as pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes-KC, St. Thomas More and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception before being assigned to Our Lady of Good Counsel in 1992.
He received a licentiate in Canon Law in 1950, from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In addition to his parish work, Msgr. Blacet served as Vice-Chancellor; Secretary of the Matrimonial Curia; Defensor Vinculi; Assistant Chancellor; Vice-Officialis and Censor Liborum for the St. Joseph Diocese; Censor Liborum and Diocesan Consultor for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
In his remarks at the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Johnston said he had planned to compare Msgr. Blacet to Cal Ripkin, Jr., the former shortstop and third baseman who retired after 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. “Except I would have been wrong,” he said. “Msgr. Blacet hasn’t retired!”
He then wished Msgr. Blacet many more years of service as a priest of God.
The celebration continued with a party in the parish hall.