A 50-year anniversary is always a time to celebrate. The Rev. Carl Ries will be doing just that, even though his early plans of a Mass and open house reception have been scuttled by that all-too-familiar foe, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had planned to celebrate the anniversary with a Mass at St. Boniface and an open house in May, but with the pandemic, that won’t happen,” he said. “Maybe there will be a Mass in late summer or even next year.”
Still, 50 years as a priest is nothing to toss away. Ries was ordained at St. Boniface May 23, 1970, after completing studies at Loras and St. Pius Seminary in 1969. The Seminary closed that year and he finished his deacon year in theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and the University in Baltimore, before ordination by Archbishop James Byrne in New Vienna.
He began his public ministry with an assignment at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Dubuque, followed a year later by a move to St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Rapids, where he stayed until 1976. During his time in Cedar Rapids, he also served as secretary to Bishop Dunn and the Metropolitan Tribunal, as director of the Family Life Bureau and moderator of the ACCW.
In 1976, he became the Archdiocesan Director of Vocations and Propagation of the Faith. That job ended in 1984 when he became associate pastor of St. Pius in Cedar Rapids. Three years later he was named pastor of St. Mary parish in Williams and Good Shepherd parish in Jewell. In 1991 he became pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Mason City and Dean of the Mason City Deanery. The year 2003 found him assigned as pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Charles City. Two years later, he added the job of pastor at St. Michael parish in Nashua and five years after that, added Dean of the New Hampton Deanery.
His retirement in July 2014 capped 44 years of service to Iowa Catholics and began a new phase of his life, as he settled in Dyersville to be near his extensive family. Ries is one of 11 children born to Art and Louise Ries of New Vienna, and many of his siblings still live in the area. “I considered retiring in some of the places where I had been stationed, but because of my family in the New Vienna and Dyersville area and my roots in faith, I decided to retire here in Dubuque County and be near family and relatives and be able to help with ministering the Sacraments as needed,” said Ries.
When questioned about the highlights of his years of service, he was hard-pressed to name just one. “Beginning with the ordination ceremony itself at St. Boniface, there are many experiences that qualify as special to me. Celebrating the sacraments with my many parishioners was/is definitely most special. The Eucharist on so many occasions in peoples’ loves, besides the Sunday celebration, for weddings, funerals, anniversaries, baptisms. Preaching God’s word and experiencing the Holy Spirit touch lives while listening to the Scriptures. Listening to peoples’ troubles in the office and especially the confessional. Experiencing God’s mercy and love for people is very humbling and touching in the sacrament of Reconciliation. And celebrating with parishioners in their important events from birth to death and all in between.”
Ries cited his parents and family as being among the most influential people in his life. “Their faith, service, love, goodness and example inspired me. The Franciscan Sisters of LaCrosse, who taught for 12 years at St. Boniface, were most encouraging. The priests at Loras College in the seminary program were both encouraging and a good example. And extended family members were also a good influence by their faith.
“I am grateful to the Lord for guiding me these 50 years with the power of the Holy Spirit and I ask you to pray in thanksgiving for God’s blessings. Please pray too for more young people to respond to God’s call to ministry and service in the church. I am the last priest ordained at St, Boniface.”
In retirement, Ries enjoys the extra time to pray and read, preparing homilies for Sacramental ministry when needed. He is also taking time to travel and to see family, touring the area. He said he has more time now for exercise he likes: swimming, yoga, golf, snow skiing, biking and helping at the family farm as needed. “Retirement also gives me extra time to socialize, play cards and enjoy the company of family, relatives and friends,” he said.
He was also named Grand Marshal of the AOH St. Patrick’s Day Parade last year (2019), something very surprising to him. “I was glad I was sitting down when Father Quint texted me with the news. I never thought about that, with my heritage of German and Luxembourgish, but the Hibernians are very supportive of the clergy. The parade is a good celebration of faith and heritage.”
So is 50 years of priesthood, even if one has to wait for a formal celebration until life gets back to normal.