Kuse reminds a church is more than 'brick and mortar'

Father Mike Kuse at Blessed Sacrament Church expects to retire at age 75, in about three years. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Mar. 9, 2013 3:54 pm Updated: Mar. 23, 2013 9:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Monsignor Mike Kuse realizes the majority of his life as a priest is now in the rear-view mirror.

And that's OK.

"I have enjoyed the priesthood," he said.

Kuse, who will be 72 in July, has no problem talking about retirement, which is likely a little more than three years down the road. Priests now must retire at 75.

A native of Quincy, Kuse has served here for the last 17 years. He received the title of monsignor in 2002.

"Life has changed," he said.

And with it, the day-to-day Catholic existence.

Kuse enjoys talking about the times when Catholic parishes were strictly defined by geography, a guideline that remains in place but not necessarily subscribed to by all members of the faithful.

The here and now find many Catholics living in one parish, but attending church in another. To which Kuse reminds people that the church itself is not merely a physical building, but rather the spirit and the faith of those who make up its congregation.

"A church is more than the brick and mortar," he says. "Some (parishioners) are just more comfortable in another setting."

Kuse grew up in Quincy during the 1950s and early 1960s, a much simpler time for the Catholic church, which was not the focus of numerous high-profile scandals as it is in many areas today.

"When I was growing up (in St. Boniface Parish), it was not unusual (for young men) to enter the priesthood," Kuse said.

The road to priesthood is at least an eight-year process, a combination of college and theological study and preparation. Many drop out along the way.

At the time Kuse was working toward his ordination, about half of those who started the process eventually changed their mind and only about one in seven are active today. With that kind of natural attrition, coupled with fewer young men entering the priesthood, it is easy to see why there is such a need for priests in today's world.

Kuse was ordained in 1967 and last year was one of three local priests honored for more than 45 years of service to the Catholic faith. Kuse and the Revs. Don Knuffman and Ken Venvertloh were feted in July during a celebration at the Knights of Columbus. Venvertloh passed away two months after the event.

Kuse's career, which has now touched six decades, is filled with memories, most of them tied to his parishioners.

"Meeting so many families has been a delight, seeing the kids go through school, get married and have their own children," Kuse said. "It's been exciting. I've gotten to know a lot of people ... Quincy is a good, Christian community, and not just Catholic."

One of Kuse's passions in recent years has been monitoring the progress of the Rev. Augustus Tolton's cause for sainthood. Tolton, who had strong ties to the area and is buried in Quincy, was born a slave and became the first American diocesan priest of African descent.

Kuse feels if Tolton is eventually canonized, it would not only heighten Quincy's tourist status, but make the city a destination for religious pilgrims.

Tolton died in Chicago in 1897 at age 43.

One of the most difficult periods for Kuse was helping oversee the closings and combining of some local parishes, churches and elementary schools about eight years ago. The downsizing was needed after the local Catholic population had decreased in recent decades.

That still did not make the task any easier.

"I sense the people realize this is a difficult process, but they seem to be very open," Kuse said at the time. "We simply need to do this, although it is not necessarily what we want to do.

Kuse also has served in Springfield, Decatur, Effingham, Villa Grove, Hume, Brocton and Jacksonville. He moved to St. Mary Parish in Quincy in 1996 and became the founding pastor of the new Blessed Sacrament Parish in 2006.

Kuse has held numerous positions in the Diocese of Springfield, ranging from dean of the Quincy Deanery to spiritual adviser for the Ladies of Charity and Deanery Council of Catholic Women.

Kuse is a 1959 graduate of Quincy Notre Dame High School and took his philosophical and theological studies at Mundelein Seminary.

Kuse has no plans on leaving Quincy when he does retire. He talks about wishing to remain active in the community through volunteering and other activities.

"I will be staying here," he said.