Death comes to a missionary priest who understood people, cars and cameras

Father Frederick Rudolph, 1928-2009

Rudolph,_Fr_Fred_for_webRev. Frederick Rudolph SVD, 81, who was known in Northbrook for his warm smile, big heart and assistance to Our Lady of the Brook Parish, passed away on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009.

"People just loved him to pieces," said Rosalie Rodiek, business manager of Our Lady of the Brook. "You just couldn’t help it. He exuded love. He gave it all the time. He didn’t hold back at all. Nothing stopped him from being a person and a priest at the same time."

After Father Rudolph reached retirement age, he assisted the parish on a regular basis for more than ten years. Twice a week, he celebrated daily Mass at Our Lady of the Brook and sometimes on Sundays. "He couldn’t say no," said Rodiek, who added that he also filled in for pastors at St. Norbert in Northbrook and St. Anthanasius in Evanston and counseled parishioners in need.

He will be greatly missed, said Rodiek as she told the story of an infirm man whom Father Rudolph once visited. The man was not Catholic but his wife asked Father Rudolph to talk with him. She feared that her husband might be on his deathbed. The conversation with Father Rudolph helped the man gain the strength he needed to regain his health. Rodiek said, "They felt that Father Fred saved his life."

Father Rudolph first came to the northern suburbs in 1945 as a young seminarian. Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, he was the fifth of Aloysius and Gertrude (Mansmann) Rudolph’s nine children and nephew to two priests—an uncle on his mother’s side and another on his father’s side. Knowing from an early age that he wanted to be a priest, he entered Divine Word Seminary at Girard, Penn., in 1941 and professed first vows in 1947.

After ordination to the priesthood in 1954, Father Rudolph became assistant dean at the Brother Candidate High School at Techny, Ill., where he also taught Latin, religion and auto mechanics for two years.

"As a young missionary priest, Fred wanted to go overseas," said Rev. Mark Weber SVD, provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word’s Chicago Province. "However, he accepted the superiors’ decision and made an adventure of administrative work in the States."

In 1956, he left for Perrysburg, Ohio, and helped to establish the Society of the Divine Word’s tenth seminary in North America. Following his success with students at Techny, his superiors name him the first dean of students at the new school.

"I’m a lifelong fan of Fred Rudolph," said George Irish, vice president and eastern director of the Hearst Foundations and chairman of the Newspaper Association of America. "He was my prefect [dean] at the seminary in Perrysburg.

"He introduced me to both writing and photography," Irish said as he recalled that Father Rudolph allowed the students to use his bathroom as a photography darkroom. "He was a person who had a positive outlook. I remember him as a prefect who sometimes had to do battle with the rector over the conduct of the students. He was an intercessor on our behalf. He has been a lifelong friend."

In 1961, Father Rudolph began 18 years of work in the vocation offices of Techny and Epworth, Iowa. During that time he established the Vocation Office at Divine Word College in Epworth and became the Society of the Divine Word’s national vocation coordinator for North America. In 1977, the National Conference of Religious Vocation Directors of Men honored him with the St. Matthew the Apostle Award, acknowledging his inspired and tireless efforts to give young men opportunities to discern a religious calling.

In 1979, Father Rudolph attended "Focus on Leadership, Ministry Training Services" at Loretto Heights College in Denver. This education opportunity led to his next pastoral role as spiritual retreat director at Divine Word International, which is now Techny Towers Retreat and Conference Center. While spiritual retreat director, he specialized in retreats for teenagers and young adults.

Continuing his work with youth, Father Rudolph was named rector of Divine Word Theologate in Chicago, where he served from 1982 until 1985. He returned to Techny in 1985 to serve as superior delegate for 11 years. As superior delegate, he managed the activities of Divine Word Missionaries from provinces outside of North America who came to the United States to study. He provided for their academic and medical needs.

Father Rudolph enjoyed outdoor activities, including golfing, hiking, skating, swimming and softball. In many ways, he was fearless. In 1941, his parents were surprised when they arrived to visit their 13-year-old son, and his forehead was bleeding. Prior to their arrival, he dove into the shallow side of a swimming pool and grazed his head, but the incident did not dampen his love of sports.

At age 38, when some people give up risky sports, Fr. Rudolph learned how to downhill ski. He also relished the story of a particular photo.

In 1951, he photographed a carefully orchestrated shot of a Divine Word ordination in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Techny. In order to capture the angle that he wanted, he carefully lay across beams in the center of the chapel’s ceiling—four stories above the altar—and peered through an air vent. He not only captured the photo but also a 1952 Catholic Press Association (CPA) Award for best photography.

Father Rudolph realized at an early age that photographs could convey the stories of the missions in a powerful way, Father Weber said. In addition to the 1952 recognition, Father Rudolph won CPA awards for his photographs of missionaries in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. And his images also helped to chronicle the nationally recognized work of Brother Charles Reckamp, SVD, a botanist who is known for his hybridization of irises and daylilies and recipient of the Chicago Botanical Garden’s first Award of Linnaeus for lifetime achievement.

As with sports and photography, Father Rudolph applied his daring to his vocations work. In 1974, he partnered with Rev. John McHenry, SVD, director of Divine Word News Service, and Dennis O’Brien of the public relations and marketing firm Dennis O’Brien & Assoc. They applied innovative marketing techniques to inform and attract young men who were called to religious life. Although they received criticism for a poster that proclaimed "Do a wheelie for Jesus," the gamble paid off. Within six months, they received more than 1,400 inquiries.

Father Rudolph used that same creativity in other arenas as well. From his father, a World War I veteran and a private chauffeur for a well-to-do family in Pittsburgh, Father Rudolph learned the art of auto mechanics. Over the years, he accepted donated cars, repaired them and sold them for money to send to the missions.

Ironically, Father Rudolph did not obtain his driver’s license until after college. However, he did learn to drive during his high school years. He and his classmates helped the missionaries farm the land. And he frequently drove the potato truck. Whether in a potato truck, with a camera in hand, or for the religious education of youth, Father Rudolph gladly went where he needed to go.

Visitation will begin at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 31, at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Techny Towers. A wake service will follow at 7:30 p.m. Father Rudolph’s Mass of the Resurrection will take place at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1. Techny Towers is located at 2001 Waukegan Rd.

Father Rudolph is survived by a brother, Alfred Rudolph; three sisters, Sr. Celesta (Agnes) Rudolph, Celine Ann Miller, and Theresa Marie Rudolph; and numerous nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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