Fr. Howard (William) Hansen, OFM Conv. 1930-2011

FATHER HOWARD WILLIAM HANSEN, OFM Conv.,died Sunday April 17, 2011, at his home, St. Joseph Cupertino Friary, Prior Lake, Minnesota. Fr. Howard was born in Genoa, OH, on November 22, 1930, to Howard and Verna May (Hoppes) Hansen and baptized William.

He entered the Novitiate of the Conventual Franciscan Friars on July 4th, 1949 taking the religious name “Howard,” and professed his first vows July 4, 1950. Father Howard made his solemn profession on July 4, 1953 and was ordained to the Roman Catholic Priesthood on July 14, 1957.

As a Franciscan Friar he received an STL from the Pontifica Facolta Teologica, Rome, Italy, and a JCL from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. Fr. Howard served as a professor of Canon Law at Assumption Seminary Chaska, MN. While continuing work as a Canon Lawyer, he served as associate pastor or pastor of Catholic Churches in Angola, IN, Lorain, OH, Ames, IA, and Bloomington, MN. He served on the Marriage Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the early 1980’s. In recent years Father Howard served on the retreat team and provided sacramental ministry for Franciscan Retreats, Prior Lake, MN.

In 1974 Fr. Howard entered Guest House for treatment of alcoholism. It was a significant turning point in his life. In his 37 years of sobriety he ministered to countless men and women affected by alcoholism. In these last months, he said that the spirituality of the 12 Steps had given him the grace to accept his physical limitations as well as to accept the loving care of his brothers in community, and the staff of Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his beloved brother, Bobby.

Fr. Howard referred to his brother Bobby (pictured here) as “the greatest gift God gave him”.

May he rest in peace.

In loving memory

Fr. Howard was my canon law professor in the early sixties. His classes were never dull. He would lecture while we took notes and his tests were a challenge but fair. He always had us laughing. He certainly loved life and people!

For me, he was a mentor; a compassionate brother and support in ministry. Once after a retreat Mass at which he attended, he told me that I out did myself with the homily. I will always remember that compliment because when Howard gave you a compliment you knew he was sincere, direct, and impressed.

Since Sunday I keep living through the daily routine here when Howard was alive. I would often fill his oxygen tank in the morning and check if he wanted a cup of coffee. I would pass by his room when the door was closed and wonder if he was ok. I see his place at the dining room table where he always checked the sports page at breakfast. The Friary and Retreat Center are filled with memories. I can honestly say that I am a better person because of Howard’s presence in my life.

Fr. Jim Van Dorn, OFM Conv.
Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center

It is with deep gratitude that I remember Father Howard Hansen. For the many years that I have known him, I have so often been blessed by his wisdom, his ready humor, and his zest for life. Even as his health diminished, he seemed to find joy in whatever he was still able to do. Perhaps especially during the past year, the fruits of his humble “yes” to God have been so apparent to me. Being in the chapel as he celebrated Eucharist has often inspired me. When I think of people whom I quote because of their wisdom, Father Howard is at the top of my list.

A time that I cherish was a trip he made to our lake home. I was a little worried about how we would entertain him. He arrived with his “Big Book” and a history of the Native American peoples of the region, ready to enjoy what was to come. I witnessed what an adventurer he was as we explored Thunder Bay and the North Shore.

Father Howard did not tend to “over spiritualize” things. One day I sought his council with a problem I was having. He looked at me, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “Kris, bug out”, which he followed with his wisdom and perspective. With that, I was able to let go of my “over responsibility”.

I am better for having known him, and I will miss him. I think of him now with his beloved brother Bobby, and joined with the Lord he gave his life to. May God bless him and hold him close.

Kris Joseph
Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center

It seems so fitting that Father Howard’s passage from this world to the next should come on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holiest week of the year. It seems equally right that in his final days his beloved and beleaguered Cleveland Indians finally occupied first place in the Central Division of the American League.

Father Howard’s love for God and baseball were what made him both a deeply spiritual person and a wonderfully human one. Those of us on staff knew that if Father Howard was scheduled to preside at Eucharist he would be fully vested and in the chapel an hour before the liturgy began. We chuckled at his proclivity for punctuality, but I suspect he just liked spending time in a space where he felt so close to his God. We also knew that if his schedule permitted and the Twins or the Indians were playing Fr Howard would be watching with, shall we say, enthusiasm.

Two memories stand out for me today. One took place last winter when Fr. Howard’s health had deteriorated and he was forced to sit on a stool as he broke the Eucharist Bread. There beneath the imposing cross in the chapel Fr. Howard was being broken and far from being depressing or demeaning it was beautiful to behold.

The second memory of Fr. Howard always makes me smile. He often presided at the 7:30 AM mass at the Poor Clare’s in Bloomington, a service I had once regularly frequented but hadn’t attended for some time. I walked in one morning about a year ago and Fr. Howard was sitting in the silent chapel waiting to preside. While his body gradually weakened, his booming voice did not, and when he saw me he shouted, “Well look who is here, there is a God.” After getting to know him better I think that was Fr. Howard’s way of saying welcome.

Terri Mifek
Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center

Fr. Howard’s Happy 80th Birthday Message (bottom right) displayed at the Minnesota Twins game he attended last year with Bro. Bob and Nancy Murzyn

I’m going to miss Father Howard. I loved to listen to him preach. He had a clear, strong voice that needed no artificial amplification. His words were straight and to the point and he had a way of cutting through the confusion and getting to the heart of the matter.

I’m going to miss Father Howard. I loved to talk baseball with him and exchange some good-natured ribbing about our favorite teams and players. One of my all time favorite experiences was going to a Twins game at Target Field with Fr. Howard and Brother Bob last year.

I’m going to miss Father Howard. I was fortunate enough to post his homilies on this website and in doing so I would read his words over and over again. There were times when his words inspired me. There were times when his words challenged me and made me think, reflect and pray. I never

failed to be moved and instructed by his faith, humor, wisdom, honesty and humility.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that the last homily Father Howard wrote for the website was for the Easter Vigil and the Resurrection of Jesus. Fr. Howard’s body had weakened, but his spirit was strong and full of faith, hope and love, and he was at peace.

I have always had a soft spot for in my heart for Father Howard and I will miss him dearly.

Nancy Murzyn
Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center

What impressed me most about Father Howard was his willingness to share his weaknesses and his witness as a recovering alcoholic. He helped many on their own journeys of recovery and most of these we have not yet met, but God knows!

Corrine Kindschy
Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center

In a time when we do not hear enough good things about the priests of our Church, the passing of one of our ‘great’ ones cannot go ignored. Although, Fr. Howard, by now would be blushing at my words if he were sitting here with me and may possibly attempt to silence me by turning his head away and shaking it. But now, I will not be silenced by his holy shyness…a shyness and humility that was genuine and so often overlooked and misunderstood.

I have been encouraged in my life as a writer by several Franciscans but it wasn’t until I became a parish wedding coordinator for Fr. Howard that I understood his great love for the feminine. He told me more than once that I brought “that feminine touch to the place.” More than once he strolled toward the back of the church to use that great boom of a voice to silence unruly crowds so that ‘his coordinator’ could have their attention. You may only guess what it was he shouted but it was amazing how a group of fifty plus excited people would go silent in a heartbeat. And he had rules for me to follow; if there was a rose to be given to parents, it was the only thing to be lying on the altar, there was to be no gum chewing, and the wedding had to start on time–respect given for the ritual, you know.

But he allowed me to offer my feminine critiques, always a dangerous thing to do. After listening to him over the course of twenty five weddings, I would tease him about one particular homily he loved to use. It involved a dead leaf and a mud pie being married and eventually dying together. I told him I felt it was absolutely horrible to tell such a depressing story to young couples starting life together.

So he challenged me to find him a better story and in all his days here with us in Ames, I never could though I looked and read and looked and read and looked and read!

Now many years later, I find when reflecting back to the leaf and mud pie story that it was a good one for young marrieds and that he was right after all. In any marriage, no matter who or what, there is always a dying and a rising, day after day. He was a real life example of such.

And there is no doubt in my mind and heart, that Fr. Howard is rejoicing in his new life, a new life where he can say, “Sue, I tried to tell you so!”

I will miss you, Fr. Howard!

Sue Stanton
Ames, Iowa

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