Klaphecke, Father Paul

1950, June 3

Date of Birth: 1875, December 8

September 1, 1950

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

You may carefully page through the Etat of the Society of St. Sulpice, but you will not find the name of the confrere whose obituary notice I am about to start writing. Although he had worked all his life with our American confreres, he never asked to be one of us. Timidity, reserve, humility, desire to serve indeed but never to be bound – did all his dispositions taken together perhaps keep him from seeking admission on his leaving behind his seminary years, and perhaps hold him back from taking that step in the course of his long years of teaching?  It was only six weeks before his death, when he knew himself doomed by his illness, that Father Klaphecke asked, as a final favor, to be admitted into the Society. Without hesitation, I deferred to the wish of that fine priest who had dedicated his whole life to our work in the United States, sure that in doing so, I was responding to the wishes of the Provincial Superior and of the consultors of the province. Forty years of work are worth all probation periods!

Paul Klaphecke was born at Elberfeld, near Dusseldorf, in Germany on December 8, 1875. His very religious family gave him an excellent education. Two of his sisters are still living, as are numerous nephews and nieces. When he was old enough for military service, he enlisted in the navy. It was only after his term of service that he left for the United States with the hope of becoming a priest.

Father Klaphecke made his secondary studies at St. Louis University. With the priesthood in mind, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore as a candidate for Rockford, a suffragan see of Chicago’s. Cardinal Gibbons ordained him priest on June 21, 1911.

If after ordination he did not return to Rockford to exercise his holy ministry, it was doubtless because of a friendly agreement between his ordinary, Bishop Muldoon, and Father Dyer, Superior of St. Mary’s. For while he was still a seminarian, Father Klaphecke had already been teaching in 1910-1911 at St. Charles College, run by the Society.

Be that as it may, Father Klaphecke found his road during that year. Teacher at St. Charles – so he remained to his last illness. After teaching at Ellicott City (where the minor seminary had its beginnings), he moved with it, after it was destroyed by fire, to Catonsville, where it has since been magnificently rebuilt. He did not leave it any more, except in 1915-1916, when he was appointed to teach Philosophy at St. Mary’s Seminary.

He always taught the same subjects: Latin, Greek, and German. Like his confreres, Father Klaphecke was both teacher and spiritual director to a more or less considerable number of students. From the beginning he had agreed to be chaplain to the Dominican nuns whose convent was near the minor seminary. To those community ministries he added some external ones like week-end ministry at the parishes of Sacred Heart in Glyndon, St. Jerome in Hyattsville, St. Leo, Sts. Philip and James, St. Edward, and St. Cecilia in Baltimore.

He fulfilled his every ministry, apparently overlapping as can be seen, always undertaken with care and a very simple devotedness which won him the admiration of his confreres and the laity.

“The whole course of his priestly life,” said Father Lawrence A. Brown, S.S., in his eulogy preached on the day of the funeral, “his only thought, his only desire, was to fulfill exactly, faithfully, and carefully, the particular duties assigned to him. With him, there was never any question of half-measures. It was always ‘all or nothing!’, and it is impossible for us to picture him doing nothing!  He regarded his teaching as a sacred obligation, confided to him by God. All his efforts were bent toward the perfect fulfillment of that obligation. All those intimately associated with him as fellow workers or students knew quite well with what complete disinterest he gave himself to his classes, and with what care he prepared each of them. He never gave up that application, nor that zeal, through the forty years of teaching that he offered to St. Charles with a perfection that never wavered.

“He worked hard, and he wanted those entrusted to his care to work as hard as he. Strict in the demands made on his students, he knew how to be paternal and remarkably kind in adapting himself to all those on whom his influence as a teacher could operate, extending a helping hand to any one of his students who was having difficulty in study. He was a man of indomitable will, that was readily seen when illness began to make inroads on his robust constitution. He wanted to stay at his post as if nothing were happening, while his strength was draining away and making it impossible for him to continue in his work.”

This priest had the Sulpician spirit before actually becoming a Sulpician. He loved the minor seminary. He spent his vacations there. His happiness was finding himself among boys and young men – those destined for the priesthood – and doing good for them. “His interest in his students was not confined to the classroom. He was with them in recreation, took part in their games. Often, at the cost of his own time and personal convenience, he spent hours with them, helping them to enjoy their leisure, at the pool, at the famous little hut in the woods, or on free-day excursions to some nearby beach. His jolly presence always added to their pleasure on such occasions. One of his deepest regrets in the last days of his life was not being able, on account of poor health, to be with his students to accompany them on their walks.”

We have hinted that Father Klaphecke spent his summer vacations at St. Charles College. At that time of year, St. Charles had few students or none at all. Our confrere, whose winning ways were known in the parishes where, at one time or another, he helped out, took advantage of the absence of the students to let come or to invite to St. Charles the boys of the neighborhood. The pool was like a magnet to them. No doubt Father Klaphecke used it to teach them to swim, but also to teach them their religion, to form them in a human and Christian way, to gain their trust, and to continue to be available to give them advice about the conduct of their moral and social life. More than one of them, while our confrere was ill or after he died, declared that when he had grown up he remembered advice given him by Father Klaphecke, that he followed it, and that he found himself better off for it.

“It goes without saying that Father Klaphecke remained attached to those who were close to him and who remained so dear to him: the members of his own family. He had not seen them for a long time, but he corresponded with them faithfully, and at times he came to their help, particularly in the sad times of both World Wars.”

It can be seen that Father Klaphecke held a high place among those who have contributed the most and the best in bearing aloft the name and reputation of St. Charles College. He was, in the words of his patron, St. Paul, “an untiring worker.” It has been said that he was a “priestly priest,” which means thorough, integral, perfect. His lively faith explains his fidelity in conscientiously accomplishing all his duties. As a true priest of Jesus Christ, above all he placed his daily Mass. The heaviest of his crosses was to take the advice of his doctor who, out of prudence, counseled him not to go to the altar. Frequently he was found visiting the Blessed Sacrament or reciting his breviary seated on a bench in the rear of the chapel. The recitation of the Rosary, which was his life’s joy and the sure sign of his devotion to Mary, remained his stay in the trials of his illness.

When it became known how seriously ill he was, he was taken to Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore. He died there on Saturday, June 3rd, attended by his confreres. For two years his health had been deteriorating. Nevertheless he continued to perform his duties up to Easter of this year. The good servant hardly ever rested. If he was an eleventh-hour Sulpician, he was first of all a first hour worker. From the dawn of his priesthood, he gave himself to St. Sulpice. Under that heading he merits our remembrance and our prayers.

Father Klaphecke’s funeral was held on Wednesday, June 6th, in the chapel of St. Charles College. The Requiem Mass was sung by His Excellency, Bishop Lawrence Shehan, Auxiliary of Baltimore. After the service his body was carried to the little Sulpician cemetery, which is on the college grounds. It is there that he rests and that the hundreds of Catonsville, Irvington, and other places, who knew him, whom he counseled, and who owe him the best that is them, can come to visit him. May we unite ourselves with them and with our American confreres to pray for the good servant who, knowing our purpose, wanted to become our confrere when he appeared before the Savior “after accomplishing – like Jesus Christ Himself – the task which Providence had laid out before him.”

Please accept, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my very devoted affection in Our Lord.

P. Boisard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice