Aug. 25, 2012
I always thought of Father Vic Capriolo as family, even though we had no connection by blood or even by marriage, unless you count that he married my wife and me.
My parents and his parents worked together at Cutler-Hammer in Milwaukee, and when baby Victor Raymond came along in 1945, my father, Ken, was asked to be the godfather.
My dad died in 1971, and the next day an invitation came in the mail inviting us to Father Vic’s ordination as a Catholic priest. On May 29 of that year, my mom and we six kids piled in the car and drove to St. Agnes parish in Butler for the happy event.
And Father Vic has been in our lives ever since. He was good at that. He was the kind of person, according to his brother Mike, who would take forever to get anywhere because he stopped to talk to everyone.
He popped in at the homes of some parishioners Wednesday as he rode his bicycle near Fond du Lac, where he has been among the priests serving 16,000 people in a merged cluster of churches under the Holy Family Catholic Community name.
It was getting dark as he headed home to the rectory at one of those churches, St. Peter’s, in Malone. An experienced biker, Father Vic inexplicably rode out in front of an oncoming car at the place where the bike trail crosses Highway 151. Witnesses said the car had the right of way.
“We’ll never know whether he had other things on his mind at the time or what happened,” said Capt. Dean Will of the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department.
Father Vic died at the scene. He was 67.
The last time I saw him was at my mother’s funeral in 2011. He was one of the first people to arrive, walking in with both of his parents, Sam, 89, and Julia, 88. I can still hear the way Father Vic made my Irish mom, Frances, an honorary Italian by calling her Francesca. He was playful like that.
My sister Mary, who also had Father Vic preside at her wedding, remembers that when he would come over to the house what a wickedly good pingpong player he was. But he always beat you with a smile.
My wife, Denice, and I met regularly with Father Vic in 1981 as she studied to become a Catholic. He pronounced us husband and wife in September of that year.
Over the years, I sometimes lost track of what parish Father Vic was at, though in the 1990s he was assigned to St. Bernard’s in my Wauwatosa neighborhood. He also served Immaculate Conception in Milwaukee, St. Joseph in Grafton, St. Monica in Whitefish Bay and St. Nicholas in Milwaukee.
He spoke most excitedly about the three years he spent as a chaplain in Juneau, Alaska, beginning in 1988. He returned there many times, often inviting friends to come along and experience the natural beauty.
“He loved the outdoors. He loved life. He loved canoeing and kayaking and bicycling. He loved people and he would just reach out,” said Father Patrick Heppe, who served with Father Vic in Fond du Lac and now is vicar for clergy at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“He really did a great job of reaching out to the marginalized,” Heppe said. “He’d be working Matthew 25, you know, the Gospel. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Shelter the homeless. Visit the sick and the imprisoned. If you were suffering, he would be there to help you and guide you and make sure you didn’t feel alone.”
Vic grew up on Milwaukee’s east side and moved during boyhood to Butler. He was the oldest child in the family, followed by brothers Mike and Mark and then sister Carol. Before he was out of grade school, Vic knew what he wanted for his life.
“I think he was born to be a priest,” he mother said. “He loved every facet of it. He didn’t mind if people called him at midnight and had him come over. He would always say, ‘Well, that’s what I do as a priest.’ ”
Even his car license plate was VIC 4 JC. He was a police chaplain and was often called to tragic scenes.
Rhea Behlke, director of stewardship at Holy Family, said Father Vic made a darn good co-worker, too. He remembered staff members’ birthdays, wrote notes of appreciation for people and secretly left St. Nicholas Day treats for them. He was known to insert a joke or funny story near the end of each Mass with the announcements, and he kiddingly upgraded his job title to “the monsignor.”
His final day was filled with the duties of a priest. It started in the morning with an anointing service at Sacred Heart Church, where sacramental oil was applied to anyone who wanted it. Father Vic’s parents, who moved to Fond du Lac four years ago, were there, and they made sure to get in his line so he would anoint them.
“That’s another thing I’ll never forget,” Julia said.
Then they took Father Vic to lunch at their favorite place in Fond du Lac, Schreiner’s. As they walked to the parking lot to leave, Julia kissed and hugged her son. He called her Mumsy, his favorite pet name.
“He started to walk toward his car and, my God, I never realized that was the last time I would be seeing him,” she cried.
Father Vic then headed to the Taycheedah Correctional Institution to say Mass for the inmates, his final time wearing the vestments.
His last letter to the congregation appears in Sunday’s bulletin. He writes about a priest, Father Ed Sippel, who was turning 90: “Think of all the faith-lives he has touched and nourished through his administration of the sacraments, his teaching and preaching, and jovial spirit! What a gift he is.”
Were he not such a humble man, he could have been speaking of himself.
Visitation is from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday with a vigil at 7 at Holy Family, 271 4th St. Way, Fond du Lac. A second visitation at Holy Family is from 9 to 10:45 a.m. Tuesday followed by a Mass of Christian burial at 11 a.m. with Archbishop Jerome Listecki presiding. Private burial will be at Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee.
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Call Jim Stingl at (414) 224-2017 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org