Fr. George Kramer: 60 years of championing active discipleship

Golden Jubilee Mass, noon, Saturday, April 2, 2022, St. Louis Parish Hall, Bonnots Mill


“We need to be thankful for simple goodness among us,” Father George Kramer insists. “Even though we often try to cover it up.”

The Catholic priest from Bonnots Mill often laments the polarization and legalism he sees stamping out the joy in too many Christians.

“I think differently,” he acknowledged. “I’m a dreamer. I’m always thinking about possibilities. I think in paradigms and philosophies. And that drives a lot of people nuts.”

He paused before sighing.


That’s a common interjection for Fr. Kramer, who taught ministry formation classes throughout the Diocese of Jefferson City for 35 years, has served as spiritual director of numerous Cursillo and Residents Encounter Christ weekends, and is currently celebrating his 60th priestly anniversary.

“It means, ‘Let it go,’” he stated.

Fr. Kramer will offer a diamond jubilee Mass at noon on Saturday, April 2, in the St. Louis of France Parish Hall, located near the church, in Bonnots Mill.

A simple luncheon will follow.

“I’ve had a good life in Priesthood,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it all. I’ve had great parishes and some wonderful people. Some fought me tooth and nail, but some just love me to death.”

Family dynamics

The two-time Ph.D. holds fast to his RFD roots.

“I am a simple country boy from Bonnots Mill, with French and German background,” he said. “If you ask me a question, I’ll ask you one back, because I don’t understand where you’re coming from until you tell me.”

Fridolin and Leoba (Vogel) Kramer named the second of their three sons after his uncle, George, as well as Fr. George Haukap, the priest who married them and baptized him.

His parents had 12 siblings apiece.

“I’ve got tons of uncles, aunts, and cousins,” Fr. Kramer pointed out. “I think I’m related to just about everybody in the area.”

He served at Mass regularly in St. Louis of France Church atop a steep hill sloping down to the Osage River.

“All of our priests were good,” he recalled. “But I think I liked Father (Gerard) Poelker the best. He was very creative back then. He was the first priest I ever saw say Mass with the altar facing the people.

“Fr. Poelker was an intellectual,” Fr. Kramer continued. “He took care of the needy. He was always there for the parish.”

Young George was quick to make known his priestly aspirations.

“I always said from the age of 4, ‘I’m going to be a priest,’” he recalled. “I went through grade school, I went through high school, and no priest or nun ever said anything about it.”

His background didn’t endear him to many of his teachers at the old Bonnots Mill School, a public school staffed by Catholic religious sisters.

But his eighth-grade teacher, Ursuline Sister Scholastica (later Eileen) Mullen, saw his potential.

“She was the one who changed my life,” he recalled. “She was the one who really got me going. She was one of the best teachers I ever had. She recognized what I could do and encouraged me to do my thing.”

Fr. Kramer had two cousins — Fr. Herbert Kramer and Brother Norbert Kramer — who were members of the Society of Mary in St. Louis. He went up to visit their novitiate in Kirkwood.

“After that, I let it go for a while,” he said.

He went to Fatima High School in Westphalia, where English and Latin teacher, Sister Diona of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, continued to encourage him.

After graduation, he became a clerk typist for the Missouri Office of Employment Security in Jefferson City.

“It took about two months for me to realize I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life,” he said.

He talked to Msgr. Poelker, who helped him apply for the seminary.

One for the books

Fr. Kramer studied philosophy and pre-theology for two years at Cardinal Glennon Seminary, followed by theology studies at Kenrick Seminary, both in St. Louis.

He served as head librarian at Kenrick for two years.

“I’ve always been a reader,” he noted. “I kept abreast of everything that was going on — especially the (Second Vatican) Council and theology and the Liturgy.”

Did he like what he was reading about the future of the Church?

“Yes! It was going where it was supposed to go,” he said.

When the diocesan boundaries were changed and two new dioceses in Missouri were created in 1956 while he was still in the seminary, he was given the choice of remaining in the St. Louis archdiocese or becoming a priest of the new Jefferson City diocese.

“I chose to stay here in the country,” he said.


On April 7, 1962, in what was then the Cathedral of St. Peter in Jefferson City, Bishop Joseph M. Marling C.PP.S., founding bishop of Jefferson City, ordained Fr. Kramer to the Holy Priesthood.

He spent a few months at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia, then was sent to Holy Rosary Parish in Monroe City to assist the pastor and teach high school and grade school religion.

He was appointed associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Rolla and moderator of the Newman Club at what is now the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“I was teaching in the grade school there, and high school classes, and in the Liberal Arts Department at the university,” he recalled. “I loved it! I love teaching!”

After ministering for two years at the former Blessed Sacrament Parish in Hannibal, he became pastor of St. Mary Parish in Milan and the Mission of St. Mary in Unionville; then Immaculate Conception in Macon and the Mission of Sacred Heart in Bevier; then pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Moberly, and the former Mission of St. Mary in Higbee.

In all of these assignments, he preached, pleaded with and cajoled his parishioners to become active worshippers at Mass and collaborative participants in parish life.

“The message was: Participate! Be part of the action! Don’t just watch me pray. I come as the representative of Jesus to unite your prayers!” he said.

Back to school

After 16 years of parish work, Fr. Kramer was ready for a change.

“I told the bishop I was tired and wanted to go back to school,” he said.

Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, the diocese’s second bishop, offered to send him to The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to study canon law.

“That isn’t what I had in mind,” Fr. Kramer told him.

Instead, he wanted to explore new ways to help people embrace their baptismal call to active discipleship, which had been a major emphasis of the Second Vatican Council.

“Go ahead,” the bishop told him.

“So I went back and studied group dynamics and psychology and Scripture and philosophy and renewal and even a bit of canon law,” said Fr. Kramer.

The priest then returned to the diocese to work on his doctoral thesis in pastoral ministry, titled, “The Intensive Group Process and the Cursillo Experience: Implications for Spiritual Formation of Participants.”

His thesis focused on developing effective follow-up for the three-day Cursillo weekend as a way of promoting long-term spiritual growth.

“Cursillo is the best thing you can do to regenerate your system, your life, and put some real joy into it,” he said.

Since attending his first Cursillo weekend in 1972, Fr. Kramer has served on numerous Cursillos in the Jefferson City diocese and Quincy, Ill.

He also became involved in Teens Encounter Christ; Residents Encounter Christ for prison residents; Handicapped Encounter Christ for people with disabilities, and the Koinia movement for spiritual renewal.

The right questions

Fr. Kramer began teaching ministry formation classes throughout the diocese while serving as pastor of St. Peter Parish in Fulton and working on his second doctoral thesis, titled, “In Search of a Methodless Spirituality.”

“It’s different from other manifestations of spirituality in that most of them are ‘head trips’ built on structure that someone thinks is the only way to get there,” he said. “This is a heart trip, in the spirit of St. Teresa of Avila. It’s about a relationship.”

In 1984, he became the full-time director of the diocese’s ministry formation program, developing a seven-semester course to help laypeople discern and carry-out their specific ministry in the Church.

Several thousand people went through the course, studying the Biblical and sociological underpinnings of ministry, assessing their own strengths, reflecting on the needs of the Church around them, and developing a ministry for themselves.

“Ministry means being there for others in the name of Christ Jesus,” said Fr. Kramer. “Formation means finding out who YOU are and letting your love go forth from that source.”

The curriculum was heavy on reading, writing, discussing, sharing, bonding, discerning and practicing the universal baptismal call to holiness and action.

“I would give you something to read, have you write a personal reflection on it, and then we’d talk about it,” he said.

“If you’re not ready to ask the questions, you’re not ready to learn the material,” he added. “So we’d talk about the things you’d bring up, not the things I wanted to talk about. And we’d eventually get through almost all of the material that way, anyway.”

Many still remember his exhaustive inventory of “Georgisms,” including:

  • “Name it, claim it, let go of it.”
  • Faith, hope and love, these three remain, but the greatest of these is a sense of humor.”
  • And his favorite: “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself ... and don’t ‘should’ on each other!”

“Being present”

Fr. Kramer regularly put over 60,000 miles per year on his car with the custom license plate, “FRDRDR” — designating a priest with two doctorates.

The order of the letters is not an accident.

“I am a priest, first and foremost,” he said. “Being a priest means to be the lover of your people.”

This means spending time with the people and leading them by word and example.

“I believe in relationships,” he said. “That’s what the Church is. It’s not a hierarchy of power. It’s a relationship of all the people, who are one in Christ.

“The action is based in love,” he added, “not in ruling, not in organizing, but in just being present to your people.”

It bothers him how difficult it is for many people to embrace the joy of the Gospel.

“Salvation happened!” he said. “Do you realize and remember that Jesus loves you and saved you? Your salvation was given to you on the cross and at Easter. Now live with it!”

At his jubilee, Fr. Kramer asks for prayers for simplicity, humility, understanding, and love of all the people of God.

“There’s always forgiveness in understanding,” he said. “We really need to work on understanding each other better.”

To those who believe God might be calling them to Priesthood, Fr. Kramer suggests: “Go for it. Give it a try!”