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Fr. Neri Greskoviak, OFM (1936-2021)

A life lived with joy

A widely circulated video features Neri Greskoviak dancing joyfully down the aisle to the delight of the congregation as they sang “And the Father Will Dance,” at the friars’ departure from Bloomington. He truly lived life with joy, according to fellow friars, family members and friends – joy in his relationship with God, his Franciscan vocation, parish ministry and the people in his life.

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A young Neri Greskoviak

“I imagine he’s dancing now in heaven,” said Provincial Mark Soehner, celebrant for Neri’s Aug. 18 funeral at Holy Family Church in Oldenburg, Ind.

Bruce Hausfeld, homilist, recalled a conversation with Neri that reflected his friend’s sense of humor: “He said, ‘now, Bruce, if they ask you to preach at my funeral, and if you start praising me and making me out as a saint, I’m going to get up and slap you.’ So I said to myself, ‘well, Neri, I ain’t going to praise you today. I’m going to let somebody else much better than me praise you and tell the world, tell all of us here in Oldenburg, what a good guy he is and what a good guy he always was.”

In the First Reading, noted Bruce, Jesus himself affirms “what a good guy Neri was and says to him, ‘Neri, come rejoice, be happy, be glad because I have saved you.’”

“The Gospel tells Neri: ‘Now, you lucky guy, you are enjoying the presence of God himself and your reward for being patient, being a loving guy, a faithful friar, a good relative and good to all people that your life has touched.”

“All these praises, Neri, are not from me,” Bruce said. “They’re from Jesus himself. He praises you. So, Neri, rest in peace. Enjoy your eternal reward.”

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Fr. Bruce Housfeld gives the homily during Neri’s funeral. Photo by Sr. Eileen Connelly, OSU

A love for parish ministry

Neri spent his entire ministerial life in parish ministry, and parishioners loved his down-to-earth, relatable, yet always prayerful, approach. The mutual love and joy shared between Neri and members of the faith communities where he served over the years are reflected in their memories of him.

“Father Neri spent many dinners with our family while I was growing up, the youngest of ten,” said Pattie Nauman Darling, whose family knew Neri during his time at St. Mary in Metamora, Ill. We requested and he officiated at our wedding. He was so kind to come out of retirement to do our parents’ funerals. He was the only priest that truly spoke to my soul. God lent us a great one for 85 years.”

Barbara Kieswetter Smith came to know Neri when he served as pastor at St. Mary of Lourdes Parish in Germantown Hills, Ill. “Father Neri performed many sacraments for my family and was the kindest priest. He was a friend to everyone. He came when I called him to my mother’s home right after he finished Mass when she was in Hospice. He gave her a blessing and sang as she took her last breath. I will never forget him.”

Doyne Gaetz, whose husband, Jack, served as a deacon at St. Mary of Lourdes during Neri’s tenure, said the friar’s presence was “a gift to our church. I’ll always remember his final words to me when he left the parish: ‘Remember me as loving you.’”

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Friars Kevin Duckson, Ric Schneider, and Neri Greskoviak at the farewell celebration at St. Mary’s Church in Bloomington, IL.

Mike Crotteau noted that Neri “had a huge impact on the children and adults,” at the parish, including his son, Joel Crotteau, TOR, was who received into the novitiate of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in May.

“I always enjoyed the banter we shared,” said Janie Obermeyer, retired parish secretary and business manager and lifelong parishioner at Holy Family. “Father Neri enjoyed teasing people as a way of cheering them up and drawing them out. Any time you talked to him, he made you feel better. I absolutely loved him, and we shared so many good times.”

Varied interests

Those who knew and loved Neri are quick to mention his endearing qualities and varied interests, from the ever-present toothpicks in his mouth to his love for the outdoors.

“He was such a fun, outgoing person,” recalled his sister-in-law, Beverly Greskoviak-Kapraun. “He love to play bocce ball and used ride a bicycle a lot. He became known as the Peddling Padre. He was definitely a people person and just loved doing what he did.”

His niece, Terri Uphoff, mentioned his fondness for doing puzzles, going on camping trips, whitewater rafting, whale watching and excursions to Civil War battlefields.

“Father Neri just truly loved life,” added nephew Mark Greskoviak.

Sr. Mary Ellen Gillman, OSF, Neri’s close friend for 41 years, said, “He loved nature, and no matter how he felt, or what the weather was like, he would be outside gardening, trimming or raking leaves. For him, everything was prayer.”

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Neri’s loved ones gather for a picture. Photo by Sr. Eileen Connelly, OSU

Faith and practicality

Neri faced his battle with cancer with characteristic faith and practicality. Sr. Mary Ellen, whom he had met when he served as chaplain for the Oldenburg Franciscan Sisters, visited him daily in his final months and was with him the day before he passed away.

“He said to me, ‘thank you for everything you have done for me,’ and I responded, ‘it was my privilege.’”

“I had a lengthy visit with my classmate last Thursday at St. John the Baptist Friary,” said Dennet Jung. “Neri was more quiet than usual. I could tell he was weary and weak. As we remembered the old days and as I talked about his health, he would say what he always says, ‘it is what it is.’ As I left the friary, I saw him in his bed, now brought into the outside courtyard, seemingly relaxing in the fresh air and the warm sunshine. That was his favorite place, the outdoors, on the soil, in the wind. That’s when I knew I would I would not see him again, and that everything was going to be all right. God bless him.”

And the Father ‘Neri’ Will Dance video from the friars’ departure from St. Mary’s in Bloomington, IL.