June 14, 2013

Father Harold Ripperger chose priesthood over possible baseball career

By John Shaughnessy

Father Harold RippergerFather Harold Ripperger, a retired archdiocesan priest who answered God’s call to be a priest over a possible career as a major league baseball player, died on June 8 in his residence at Guerin Woods in Georgetown. He was 80.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on June 12 at St. Mary Church in Lanesville, where he previously served as pastor for nearly 20 years.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the principal celebrant of the Mass.

Burial followed in the cemetery at St. Mary Parish in Lanesville.

“He was always a great example of how to live a Catholic faith, and he made it easy for you to consider growing in your faith,” said Chuck Lynch, a longtime friend and a president of the St. Mary Parish Council during Father Ripperger’s tenure at the parish. “He was a servant to us all and a friend to us all. He brought us closer to the Lord and closer to each other.”

Father Ripperger also had a wonderful combination of “an absolutely fun, dry sense of humor” and “a holy, reverent style” that led people to want to serve the parish and the Church, Lynch noted.

“I credit him with getting me out of the pew and into doing something for the parish,” Lynch said.

Those two qualities—a sense of humor and a sense of reverence—showed in one of the ways that Father Ripperger once described his priesthood: “I’ve always thanked God for getting paid for praying.”

Early in his life, Father Ripperger turned to God in prayer to help him make a decision that shaped his future forever.

Home from the seminary for the summer when he was 19, he sat in his parents’ house and listened as a Major League Baseball scout made him the most tempting offer he had ever heard.

The scout told Ripperger that he had seen him play baseball in Richmond that summer, and Detroit Tigers officials were interested in talking to him about becoming a professional baseball player.

The more the scout talked, the more the idea appealed to him. He could play the sport he loved, maybe get married and have children, and even possibly get rich pursuing one of his childhood dreams.

Yet, there was also this other childhood dream he had. Ever since he was in the seventh grade, he thought about becoming a priest. Torn about what to do, he prayed to God—and continued his path toward the priesthood.

“I thought it was what God wanted me to do,” Father Ripperger told The Criterion in 2008, the 50th anniversary of his ordination. “When I look back, I think I was really lucky that God gave me the vocation. Who would have thought that a little old farm boy who moved to Richmond in the sixth grade would have so many contacts with so many people through the years? I got to experience their joys and their sorrows. I was the lucky one to minister to them.”

His older brother, Father William Ripperger, recalls the choice his younger sibling had to make. Most of all, he remembers his brother’s devotion to God and the Church.

“He was very sincere and devoted in his service to the Church and the parishes he served,” said Father William Ripperger, who is a retired archdiocesan priest. “He was that good in sports, but he wanted to be a priest. He was very faithful.”

As a priest who enjoyed a round of golf, Father Harold Ripperger played well enough through the years to have a handicap of three. At the same time, his spirit of generosity didn’t have any limitations, according to another longtime friend.

“He always considered the needs of people,” said Msgr. Harold L. Knueven, a retired priest who spent 12 years in school with Father Ripperger at Saint Meinrad and traveled with him through the years. “He was always generous with his time. Whenever anyone called on him, he was there for them. He was a very honest, sincere, friendly and open person.”

Harold Aloysius Ripperger was born on July 12, 1932, to William and Hilda (Wissel) Ripperger, and was baptized at St. Peter Parish in Franklin County.

In his 2008 interview with The Criterion, he talked about his parents’ desire for one of their six sons to become a priest. He also mentioned his mother and father—the parents of eight children—in the context of his favorite piece of writing.

“Something that I really value is the writings of a lady who happened to be my mother,” he recalled. “She was a teacher, and she loved to write. She reflected upon her background, meeting Dad, having a family and what it meant to her. Those things mean a lot to me. My Mom and I were extra close.”

When his family lived on a farm, he attended St. Peter School in Franklin County and later St. Michael School in Brookville. After his family moved to Richmond, he finished his grade school education at St. Andrew School. He then graduated from the former St. Meinrad High School in St. Meinrad in 1950.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Saint Meinrad College and School of Theology in St. Meinrad in 1958.

He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on May 3, 1958, at Saint Meinrad’s Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrad.

In talking about his approach to his priesthood, Father Ripperger noted, “I’ve tried to be just me. I have faith in Jesus Christ. I love the Church and I love people. I like to see them smile, and I like to smile myself.”

He celebrated his first holy Mass on May 4, 1958, at St. Andrew Church in Richmond.

Father Ripperger received his first parish assignment on May 20, 1958, as associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in New Albany.

On June 19, 1959, he was also named an instructor at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville while continuing his role as associate pastor at St. Mary.

Seven years later, on Jan. 24, 1966, he was appointed associate pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis and an instructor at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis.

On May 23, 1967, he was assigned as associate pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis.

He became the associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg on Sept. 7, 1970.

Father Ripperger was named to his first pastorate on July 5, 1973, at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Aurora.

Ten years later, on July 6, 1983, he became pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin.

On July 2, 1986, he was appointed as pastor of Holy Guardian Angels Parish in Cedar Grove and St. Joseph Parish in St. Leon.

Three years later, on July 5, 1989, he became pastor of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville, where he served until his retirement on July 1, 2009.

Reflecting on his priesthood, Father Ripperger said, “It’s just been a rewarding life. I’ve had good health, and I’ve had a lot of support from parishioners wherever I went.

“If you had the life I had, you would jump at it. The priesthood has been a great blessing from God for me.”

Survivors include his sisters, Helen Lawler and Mary O’Donnell, and his brothers, Father William Ripperger, Edward Ripperger, Louis Ripperger and Robert Ripperger. †

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