Eucharistic encounter Encounter: Fr. Johannes Hilkert

It was Good Friday afternoon and the old priest would not let me open the confession door.

Hello everyone. This is Father Rocky at the Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with another lesson on the Holy Eucharist in our ongoing Eucharistic encounters as we all prepare for the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July 2024.

It was Good Friday afternoon around 1998, and the pastor of Saint Mary’s Parish in Akron was an older, cheerful priest named Father John Hilkert. The only time this cheerful man ever got upset was when priests complained about not being paid enough or not being able to retire early enough. It drove him crazy! He wanted to ask, “Why did you become a priest?”

He must have come from a wealthy rubber family in Akron, like a Goodyear, because he grew up with homeless people coming to his door and he gave them something to help them get to where they wanted to go.

As he grew older, he developed heart disease. I knew he had it too. On Good Friday afternoon I offered to celebrate the services with him, because they are demanding. Exhausting even. At the end of the service, when everything was wrapping up, I said, “I’m going back to hear confessions because there’s a line.” He said he would come back too.

He was 80 years old. So I said, “You shouldn’t do that – you should go back to the parsonage and rest.”

“No,” he said, “I’m going.”

So he sat in one confessional and I sat in the other, and after an hour, an hour and a half, I looked out my window. There was still a line to go to this holy priest, waiting to go see him, so I walked out of my confessional and walked over there. I wanted to open the door, tell him and take a break, but he kept closing it.

It was like a tug-of-war, but I finally got him open – and he was covered in blood because of his high blood pressure, and he didn’t want anyone to see him. I said, “Man, that’s the kind of priest I want to be: 80 years old, giving every last ounce of energy and courage to care for God’s people.”

Where did he get that strength and generosity? Because he adored Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He celebrated mass every day. He made sure that every parishioner in his diocese received the Anointing of the Sick or Confession, or the Viaticum, which is your last Communion.

These are great stories about great people! Maybe one day they will all be canonized. Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s a great story to tell in the Catholic Church.

That’s why I want to invite you and everyone you know to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, July 2024. Let’s all show up for Jesus!

Attend the conference! Let’s all stand up for Jesus!

If you are interested in attending the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July 2024, check out our best price tickets here!

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