By Michael Buhler
One of the area’s most prominent clergymen will be conducting his final service this weekend.
Fr. Ivan Eck, who pastors three rural Catholic churches – St. Joseph Ost in St. Joe, St. Rose in Mt. Vernon and St. Louis in Waterloo – has announced his retirement after 62 years in the ministry. He will conduct his final Mass on Sunday at 11 a.m. at St. Rose.
Fr. Aaron Spexarth, who has served at Church of the Magdalen as a priest in residence, will succeed Eck, effective Tuesday, June 11.
Gene Giefer, one of Eck’s parishioners at St. Rose, said that Eck will be missed, calling him a “phenomenal individual.” Giefer added that among the many things that Eck did was take the church’s youth on an annual waterskiing trip, including one last summer.
“To me he’s been an invaluable person,” Giefer said. “He’s about the most intelligent and cordial person I’ve ever met. He has a mind that is just phenomenal.”
Eck’s influence extends beyond the three Catholic churches he pastors. One example is Charlotte Rosenhagen, a Lutheran who met Eck many years ago at a function in Mt. Vernon with her late husband Raymond. The trio formed a long-lasting friendship that day.
“I think it started a long, long time ago,” Rosenhagen said. “He and Raymond were really close friends. We were over at Mt. Vernon for a supper and someone asked Raymond if he was Fr. Eck’s brother.
“That got to be a running joke. He would tell his parishioners that he was going to go to ballgames and sit with his brother. Anytime he would come to a football game or a basketball game, he would sit with us.”
Rosenhagen also praised Eck’s compassion, calling him a “very, very caring man,” especially since her husband’s death last year. Rosenhagen said that Eck was the first one to call after Raymond’s death and that he was a help to her in subsequent days.
Eck took the pastorate of the three churches since the mid-1990s, which was a homecoming of sorts for Eck, who was a member of the St. Joseph Ost parish as a child.
“I experienced a great comfort to be able to return to the parish of my roots,” Eck said, “and to give back something to them for what they gave to me as I grew up.”
Eck was ordained to the priesthood on May 19, 1951, by Bishop Mark Carroll, after being inspired to join by his parish priest at St. Joe.
“I had a pastor at St Joe that I thought a lot of,” Eck said. “It was my hope and desire to help serve people spiritually.”
From there, Eck served seven years as an associate pastor at Christ the King in Wichita, then received his first pastorate at Sacred Heart in Fredonia, where he served for five years. From there, he served for five years at St. Paul in Lyons and three years at Holy Name in Winfield.
After leaving Winfield, Eck spent 11 years shepherding the flock at St. Margaret Mary in Wichita before spending six years pastoring Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Pittsburg, where he also was involved with St. Mary’s Colgan schools.
“It was a great challenge pastoring a parish while also working with a grade school and a high school,” Eck said. “I had the help of a lot of good people.”
From there, he returned to south central Kansas, spending eight years at Blessed Sacrament Church in Wichita before coming back home to St. Joe to pastor the three churches.
“I’ve got a perception or a feeling of the entire diocese,” Eck said. “I’ve got a feel for the needs of the whole diocese.”
The members of his various flocks have left an impression of their own on Eck.
“The basic goodness of people in the parishes stands out,” Eck said. “I served a lot of people, and they are just basically good. There is just a basic goodness in a lot of people, more than there is bad.”
Eck, who will turn 87 in July, plans to enjoy his retirement.
“Just take it easy,” Eck said.