Eucharistic Encounter Encore: Fr. John Hilkert

It was Good Friday afternoon, and the old priest wouldn’t let me open the confessional door.  

Hi everyone. This is Father Rocky at the Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier in Green Bay, WI with another lesson about the Holy Eucharist in our ongoing Eucharistic Encounters as we all prepare for the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July of 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 joyful man ever got upset was when priests would complain that they didn’t get paid enough or get to retire early enough. It drove him crazy! He wanted to ask, “Why’d 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’d give them something to help them get to the place where they wanted to go.

As he got older, he developed a heart condition. I knew he had it, too. On Good Friday afternoon, I offered to celebrate services with him because they’re demanding. Exhausting, even. At the end of the service, when everything gets shut down, I said, “I’m going to go back and hear confessions ‘cause there’s a line.” He said he’d come back too.

He was 80 years old. So I said, “You shouldn’t do that – you should go back to the rectory to 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 through my window. There was still a line waiting to go to this holy priest, waiting to go to him, so I walked out of my confessional and I walked over there. I wanted to open the door, to tell him and take a break, but he kept pulling it back shut.

It was like a tug of war, but I finally got it 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 to the last ounce of energy and courage to take care of God’s people.”

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

These are great stories about great people! Maybe they’ll all be canonized one day. Maybe they don’t need to be, but it’s a great story you can 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 of 2024. Let’s all show up for Jesus!

Attend the Congress! Let’s all show up for Jesus!

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


Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, "Fr. Rocky" is the Executive Director/CEO of Relevant Radio and a priest of Opus Dei.