Still serving God in his golden years
By Dan Russo
FARLEY — At 90 years old, Father Richard Kuhn still drives, goes bowling, and, most importantly, lives out his calling as a priest.
The spry nonagenarian and a seminarian classmate of his traveled to Rome recently to celebrate their 65th anniversaries of ordination. During the trip, they concelebrated Mass with the pope and met with him afterward thanks to a connection they made through studying for the priesthood at the seminary at Conception Abbey in Missouri. Their friend, now a high-ranking member of the Benedictine Order who lives in Rome, was able to arrange the special visit to the Vatican.
Aside from his latest international adventure, Father Kuhn relishes in his relatively quiet day-to-day life as a member of the St. Elizabeth Pastorate based in Epworth. He receives his mail at the pastorate offices there and lives at the rectory in Farley. With the support of Pastor Michael G. Schueller and the rest of the parish staff, he still plays an important role in the life of the community, despite being officially retired from active ministry. His activities include assisting with Masses, marriages or funerals or just being present for those who may stop by his residence on the grounds of St. Joseph Parish.
“I had a lady come by (the rectory) yesterday with cancer, and she wanted to talk, and I prayed with her,” recalled Father Kuhn in a recent interview.
Born in Osage to parents Sylvester and Elizabeth (Sullivan) Kuhn, he became interested in his vocation very early in life.
“I was 25 when I was ordained,” said the priest. “I’m 90 now. When I was in high school I got the notion I maybe wanted to be a priest. I told my pastor. … He said, ‘I’ll get the entrance exam for the college right away,’ so I skipped my senior year in high school. I took the entrance exam and won $100. That was a big thing in those days because room, board and tuition at Loras was $640 for a year in 1945.”
On May 17, 1953, Archbishop Leo Binz administered the sacrament of holy orders for Father Kuhn at his home parish. For the first 16 years of his priesthood, he was an assistant pastor at various parishes around the archdiocese. Then he spent many years as a pastor. During this time, he became interested in serving as a military chaplain.
“I had a brother-in-law who was a naval officer, and he used to take me on training cruises,” said Father Kuhn. “I tried to get in the Navy when I was young, but Archbishop Byrne wouldn’t let me go.”
This wasn’t the end of the dream, however. In 1985, Archbishop Daniel Kucera, OSB, allowed the priest to accept a commission as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy at age 57. For the next five years, he served in various places, including Alaska and San Diego, California.
Upon returning to civilian life in Iowa, Father Kuhn became a pastor in Ossian, then later Festina, Peosta and New Melleray. He helped with the construction of Seton Catholic School before retiring in 2012.
“I stayed until we built the new Seton school,” he said.
It’s not uncommon for people in the St. Elizabeth Pastorate to see Father Kuhn keeping busy, wearing a fedora-style hat and scarf as he goes about his business during this time of year. As a priest in his golden years, Father Kuhn is grateful for his decades in ministry and is still embracing the idea that “You can’t be afraid to talk to anyone.”
Father Kuhn is one of five priests of the archdiocese who marked 65th anniversaries of ordination in 2018. Fathers John W. Carpender, Donald Hawes and Herbert L. Tegeler were ordained on May 16, 1953. Msgr. Dean Walz was ordained on Dec. 19, 1953.
Father Richard Kuhn of Farley (above) traveled to Rome Nov. 8-14 with seminary classmate Father Jim McEvery of the Diocese of Madison. Both priests are celebrating the 65th anniversary of their ordination in 2018. On Nov. 12, they concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis in his private chapel at the Vatican and were able to meet him afterward. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)