Props not needed for priest's recognition
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
For years, Father Carl Kramer kept parishioners in suspense when he would bring a box of props to the altar for his sermon during Mass.
This time, the "box priest" let others do the talking for him.
Kramer, 86, celebrated his 60th anniversary of priesthood last weekend, in the St. John's Chapel of Via Christi Village of Hays, where he now lives.
Bishop Edward Weisenburger, who made the trip from Salina along with retired Bishop George Fitzsimons to concelebrate Kramer's jubilee Mass, didn't use props, or mince words, while addressing Kramer.
"Thank you for all the good work, on behalf of the Lord, you have accomplished in these last 60 years," said Weisenburger, who wasn't yet born when Kramer was ordained in 1952.
"This is my 25th anniversary of priesthood," Weisenburger said, "and it puts (it) in perspective for me: when I was ordained, you had already completed 35 years of priesthood. What a blessed accomplishment."
Kramer served in parishes from Manhattan to Hays, and several places in-between, before retiring from active ministry in 1997.
Two of those were in the Hays area -- at St. Mary Help of Christians Parish in Gorham and Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Hays.
"I remember people calling him the box priest, but what I cherish most were our times together in the D of I," said IHM parishioner Stephanie Schumacher, who asked Kramer to be the state chaplain for the Daughters of Isabella organization during her time as the group's state regent.
"He was so sincere and wanting to get to know the members," Schumacher said. "It wasn't just a title for him."
Kramer said the story of how he started using a box during his sermons was simple.
He needed something to carry some things he wanted to use as a symbol for his sermon.
"A box holds quite a few things, don't you think?" he asked.
It seemed like a good idea, and using a box soon became a habit, and then a tradition.
During his time at IHM, a parishioner, Vince Newell, made him a wooden box with religious symbols painted on it, one that stayed with the parish after Kramer retired.
On Friday, Father Kevin Weber, current pastor at IHM, handed the box to Vince Kramer from the Ogden-Manhattan area, the only surviving nephew of the elderly priest.
"He said it belonged in the family," Vince Kramer's wife, Ramona, said of the box. "It will definitely be on display somewhere in our house."
Folks from far and wide came to pay their respects and offer their congratulations to Father Kramer at a reception that followed the Mass on the second floor of his home.
"I saw people I had not expected to see," Kramer said of the celebration. "I sure didn't expect that many people, but that was alright with me."
Millie Karlin, an IHM parishioner who got especially close to Kramer during her husband's illness, said she counted approximately 130 people from all across the Salina Diocese who attended the reception, including more than two dozen priests.
"It was a great turnout," said Karlin, who still visits Kramer often, bringing him ice cream about once a week. "I knew it would be; he is so well-liked."
Kramer waved off the mention of another anniversary of sorts quickly approaching.
He will turn 87 on Nov. 29. But he isn't planning anything special. Nothing could outdo Friday's celebration.
"I already had a party (last weekend)," Kramer said, adding, "We don't need birthday parties. (At this age,) you think more of eternity now."