When the Rev. Tony Lickteig, parochial vicar emeritus at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Overland Park, celebrated his 60th year in priesthood this winter, the Rev. Richard Storey knew he had to do something special.
Storey, the parish’s pastor, wrote a letter to Pope Francis requesting his presence in Overland Park.
Francis responded with an invitation to Rome.
And off they went. The two spent the second week of December with Francis, thanks to parishioners who provided plane tickets, hotel rooms and meals for the pastors.
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“It was the most fulfilling trip we’ve ever taken,” Storey said.
Sixty years after being ordained in Rome, Lickteig was back, greeting the pope and taking in his message.
“His approach is to emphasize that we win people not through our words but through our relationships,” Lickteig said.
Born in Greeley, Kan., Lickteig received a theology degree from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he studied Hebrew and learned Italian so he could communicate with the Italians.
During his college days, Lickteig spent much of his time traveling around the country by bike, since taking the train was so expensive. So he rode his bike to Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
He was ordained on Dec. 8, 1954, and celebrated his first Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Since then, he has served at a number of Catholic churches in the United States, from St. Agnes in Roeland Park to St. Joseph in Shawnee and now Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
Although Lickteig has traveled far and wide in priesthood, being back in Rome for his anniversary held more meaning.
“It was very special being there,” Lickteig said.
Not only was Francis’ message meaningful, he said, but his actions and way with people also truck a chord.
“Sixty-plus years ago, the pope was very formal. He wouldn’t have touched you,” Lickteig said. “But he’s out there, he takes a hold of you and it makes you feel welcome, relaxed and engaged.”
Lickteig said that even at 78 years old, Pope Francis took the time to go into crowds of people and personally greet parishioners in wheelchairs and make sure they felt welcome.
“He’s authentic,” Lickteig said. “He lives out his message.”
At 86, Lickteig said that meeting Francis was eye-opening and a great reminder that you’re never too old to stop learning.
“He’s a great example for all pastors,” Lickteig said.
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