Father Henry Hildebrandt
remembered at funeral Mass
Parishioners past and present, friends, and family gathered April 1 to celebrate the life, and to mourn the loss, of Father Henry Hildebrandt, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Ness City, and St. Aloysius Parish, Ransom, who succumbed to a heart attack on March 26, 2016, his 61st birthday.
“I knew Henry as a 15- or 16-year-old boy,” Bishop Emeritus Ronald Gilmore said. “Even then he was obviously living a rich inner life, no matter what was going on around him. As he grew, he developed more of an eye for the invisible. In all the years I knew him, the invisible, the source of all things invisible, was breaking upon him....”
Father Henry was notoriously late for many engagements, Bishop Gilmore said to laughter. “But that was because he was running toward someone ... being attentive toward someone.”
Even in his last moments, when he was reviewing the sacraments and liturgy in preparation for the Easter Vigil, he was called away.
“This Missionary of Mercy, faithful to the end, even then made time for a few late confessions. He sat there to review the vigil readings, turning pages, looking over divine words that he had long cherished. And then he had someplace to go. Then he had something to do.”
The Lord was there when Father Henry took his final drive, the bishop said, when he collapsed. ... He was there in the pain. He was there in the loss of consciousness.
“He was there, deep, deep inside all those things. Because, he, the Lord himself, he had lived through all of that in saving us. How? Through his own dying. ... He was the one Henry was going to meet. I am the Resurrection and the Light. Henry’s light is now hidden with him.”
Henry Hildebrandt was born March 26, 1955 in Grove City, Pa., the son of Henry Ford Hildebrandt, Sr., and Dolores Dorothy Buehler. Before studying for the priesthood, he served as pastoral minister at Sacred Heart Parish, Pratt (1976 to 1983). He took seminary studies at the University of Dallas (Holy Trinity Seminary) in Irving, Texas, and Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio.
He was ordained to the priesthood on June 20, 1987, by Bishop Stanley G. Schlarman at Sacred Heart Church, Pratt. He served as an associate pastor at St. Rose of Lima, Great Bend (1987-1990), before receiving his first pastorate at St. Anthony of Padua, Liberal (1990 – 2001).
During this assignment he also served in the following diocesan positions: Director of Vocations and Director of Seminarians; Director of Pastoral Ministry Formation and the ITV Network; and Chair of the Building Commission. His pastoral assignments following his tenure at Liberal included: St. Lawrence, Jetmore, with St. Anthony, Hanston (2001 – 2004), with additional responsibility for St. John the Baptist, Spearville (2003 – 2004). He had served as pastor of the parishes at Ness City and Ransom since July 1, 2004. He was a strong advocate of Catholic education and made known his desire for assignments in parishes with schools.
Father Henry received a Papal mandate by Pope Francis in 2016 designating him a Missionary of Mercy during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. In this capacity he was to be a visible symbol of the Father’s mercy and a living sign of the Father’s loving kindness.
During a particularly moving part of the funeral Mass, Bishop John Brungardt, still recovering from having a brain tumor removed March 8, called forward sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from Sacred Heart School, many in tears, who surrounded Father Henry’s casket.
“Father Henry’s body is in this casket; he doesn’t need it anymore,” Bishop Brungardt gently told the children. “After Mass, we will put the casket in the cemetery: a place of prayer, a place of honor, a place of peace.
Father Henry’s soul is gone to the Lord. We pray that he sees the face of God soon.
“This white cloth is called a ‘pall.’ It helps remind us of our baptism, when we wore white clothing. Father Henry was baptized when he was one month old; he received First Holy Communion when he was 8; he was Confirmed when he was 10 years old; and Father Henry was ordained a priest at age 32.
“Why do we have a Funeral Mass? To pray for the soul of Father Henry, that he be purified, and live forever with Christ; and to pray for we who are sad. We miss Father Henry. We love him.
“Father Henry was a Missionary of Mercy, blessed by Pope Francis in February to be a ‘living sign of God’s love in the world’ (Father Henry).
“Each of us can show mercy by doing the corporal and spiritual work of mercy. [Children distributed note cards to each parishioner listing the works of mercy].
“Henry wrote: ‘The real goal is that every baptized Catholic be a missionary of mercy, sharing the love and goodness of God with every person they meet.’
“Let us be that person of mercy. Let us be strengthened by the Word of God, and by the Eucharist, Holy Communion at this Mass. Let us ask Mary, our Mother, for her prayers: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace ....’”
In a recent article in the Catholic, Father Henry said in regard to being a Missionary of Mercy, “How can we live on a planet with people who are poor and who are struggling in a multitude of ways, and not reach out to them somehow? How can we live in a world where people are fleeing war, and not try to do something for them? If we have experienced the love of our Father, how can we not share it?”
A parish rosary was held Thursday, March 31. The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Friday, April 1, with Bishop Emeritus Gilmore presiding. All were held in Sacred Heart Church, Ness City. Burial took place at Sacred Heart Cemetery.
Father Henry is survived by several aunts and numerous cousins in the western Pennsylvania and Washington DC areas.
Memories and words of support may be written in the guest book at www.fitzgeraldfuneral.com.
Memorial contributions in the name of Father Henry can be made to the Dechant Foundation and Sacred Heart School, Ness City, in care of Fitzgerald Funeral Home, Ness City, Kansas.