The prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother (Dean) Francis Kjeldgaard, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Lyons, Nebraska, Br. Francis died in Austin, Texas on February 3, 2016. He was in his 60th year as a professed religious in the Congregation.
Brother Francis Kjeldgaard, CSC, 79, a member of the Moreau Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, passed away in Austin, Texas, on February 3, 2016. Born in Lyons, Nebraska, on April 15, 1936, Francis often spoke of being raised in a loving, generous family. Named Dean at birth, Francis was added as his baptismal name. He was the youngest of the five children of Emil Kjeldgaard and Mae Conway. The family lived on a farm outside of Lyons, but later moved close to Bancroft, a few miles further up in the northeastern corner of Nebraska. Emil raised alfalfa, corn and oats on the farm and ran a small feedlot operation.
Francis first attended a one-room country school, and then completed his elementary and secondary education in the Bancroft public schools. After high school, he worked for a while on the family farm. When he shared his feeling of being called to monastic life, his family encouraged him to try a year of college first before making the decision. After a year at Regis College in Denver, Colorado, the idea persisted. His hometown pastor, a former Holy Cross novice, directed him to the Congregation of Holy Cross.
After helping out with one last corn harvest at home, Francis entered the juniorate at Sacred Heart College, Watertown, Wisconsin, in November 1955. He was received as a novice at St. Joseph Novitiate, Rolling Prairie, Indiana, on January 25, 1956, and made his first profession of vows there on January 26, 1957. He professed his final vows as a Brother of Holy Cross on August 16, 1960 at Sacred Heart Church, Notre Dame, Indiana.
In a reflection on his “growing-up years,” Frank wrote, “I had nearly everything in my favor.” Being the youngest child, he, especially, benefitted from a family life he described as wholesome, gentle, down to earth; characterized by a genuine, deep love for each other. His father’s quiet ways and strength of character were reassuring. His mother’s home-cooking exemplified her loving care. Sundays were made special with visits from relatives; summers featured large reunions from both the Danish and Irish sides of the family.
Reinforcing this nurturing environment was the mutual support of the surrounding rural community. Neighboring farmers counted on each other and worked together to harvest their crops. In the evenings, it was common to visit among families to play cards or just to socialize.
Frank said that his family didn’t pray together much at home. They didn’t gather to pray the rosary; they didn’t talk about religious vocations. They just gave good example, and they prayed at meals. Firsthand, Frank witnessed and absorbed his parents’ real concern and help for others. He said that they accepted people as they were, even with problems, and without negative comment.
At the very heart of Frank’s religious vocation was sincere, deep gratitude. He wrote: “I wanted to dedicate my life to God in thanksgiving for having made me part of such a wonderful family.” The formation Francis received at home was manifested throughout his life and ministry as a Brother of Holy Cross.
After his first profession of vows, Brother Francis traveled to Austin, Texas, where he studied theology and psychology at St. Edward’s University for a year. In 1958, he was assigned to work in a special ministry of the Brothers of Holy Cross: Rancho San Antonio. Located in Chatsworth, California, and known as the “Boys Town of the West,” Rancho San Antonio is a child care facility for boys referred there through the state’s juvenile court system. Here at Rancho, Brother Francis began his long history of direct, caring service to people in need. Attending night school at UCLA, he soon completed his certification as a child care worker.
Brother Francis served at Rancho as an understanding prefect, a wise counselor, a compassionate father, and a model of integral faith, helping troubled youngsters to become productive young men. At the time of his departure from Rancho, there were many testimonies to the steady, positive influence Brother Francis had on the lives of the youth in his care. He was firm, but fair, treating them with respect and encouraging them to meet expectations. He inspired genuine hope in their lives by teaching them to be responsible and to take pride in their own good work.
After working at Rancho San Antonio for 27 years, Francis decided that he could use a fresh start. In 1985, when an opportunity came up in Casper, Wyoming, he was ready for it. Holy Cross Center, a food bank that had been founded there by Holy Cross Brothers, was looking for a new director.
Here too, for 23 years, Brother Francis quietly infused his ministry with a deep regard for each person, consciously communicating God’s love and concern without judgment. Arriving broken down and embarrassed in their need, people left feeling uplifted by the warm welcome and generosity they received from a team of volunteers motivated by genuine charity.
A prominent feature in the practical faith of Brother Francis was that “God reveals His love through people” – although he habitually discounted his own part in the collaboration. In early 1997, Brother Francis wrote to his provincial:
I truly enjoy the work here because it involves the satisfying of need (food), but also provides the challenge of trying to “move” some of the clients toward self-sufficiency . . . Also, as I take an overview of the whole operation, I can see that God has His hand in it. First, His goodness radiates through the persons of the volunteers, who give so freely of themselves. Nearly all of them will go “above & beyond the call of duty” – more than just their usual scheduled days. And the wonderful thing is, from this self-giving attitude springs a delightful congeniality. (I marvel at it all the while.) Then there are all my Wonderful Ones of Casper: the countless caring people who financially support and keep us going. Again His hand is there at such times as our finances get squeezed tight – somebody comes through with a surprising sizeable donation.”
In 2008, as health issues began to take a toll on him, Brother Francis reluctantly left Casper and accepted assignment to Austin, Texas, where he could receive needed support at the Brother Vincent Pieau Residence. His gentle presence, fraternal spirit and deep faith were a continuing gift to the community. In these past few weeks, a lung condition led to insurmountable pneumonia, and he received hospice care at the Brother Vincent Pieau Residence. There, supported by the nursing staff and the prayers of his brothers, Brother Francis entered peacefully into the presence of God.
– Brother Richard Critz, CSC
I was stunned and saddened to hear of the death of Bro. Francis. At the time, all my thoughts and prayers were focused on this saint of a man who had such an impact on my life and my faith. He was the finest example my peers and I could ever have.
My memories are countless and enduring. God chose Bro. Francis to direct us, confused, hurt and angry teenagers, to the majesty of our Lord and his kingdom.
By Brother’s humble example of kindness, charity and service to us, he gave us the strength to reevaluate and redirect our lives. He would always seek to serve others first and humbly seek to be served last.
Bro. never had a harsh word for anyone, and he would always see the good in those of us, despite our faults.
I know, if he was here with me now, Bro. Francis would tell me not to cry for him, for when I am sad, he is sad too, but when I smile at my memories of him, he smiles as well, because that has been the purpose of his service, to make us feel better about our lives.
As Rancho boys, we would say when we die and meet St. Peter, I would use Bro. Francis as a reference, and one way or another, St. Peter would sneak us into heaven.
I and all my peers will always be proud and honored to say we were given a wonderful gift in Brother Francis from God, and now God has received Bro. Francis in his embrace.
Shared by Br. John Crowe, CSC
When Dean Francis Kjeldgaard was called to religious life in Holy Cross, he was described in the initial formation reports with these words: “Gets along well, good steady worker, good wholesome character, indications are there is some depth to his piety, innately good.” These brief, perceptive remarks still ring true sixty years later.
Although I had met him previously at province gatherings, I got to know Frank especially through my visits to Casper, Wyoming, where he was directing Holy Cross Center. When Frank first arrived there in 1985, he admitted that he didn’t really know anything about running a food bank. But, we can safely say that he brought “transferable skills” to the job.
Brother Francis had just come from Rancho San Antonio where he served 27 years. His ministry there was to transform lives, to give genuine hope to boys who might not otherwise have a viable future. Frank said the program at Rancho was successful because it affirmed kids and let them know that they were worthwhile. As Provincial, Brother Patrick Sopher identified the core effect of Frank’s ministry: “I believe you have brought a true sense of God to the boys with whom you have worked.”
Holy Cross Center was founded in 1982 by Brothers Raymond Chiaromonte and Gerard Hagemann. In 1985, when it was incorporated as an ecumenical non-profit organization, Francis was hired as the director, and he held that position for the next 23 years.
After participating in 7:00 a.m. Mass at St. Anthony’s Church, Francis would collect food from local stores and head to the Center. The work was the same every day, but the variety came in the volunteers available, the amount of goods on hand and the clients in need. Sometimes up to 400 families were helped in a month. It was a well-organized, very efficient operation. But more than that, it was a ministry, work made holy.
Central to the way Francis lived, prayed and acted was the belief that God lives out his love through people. His religious vocation grew out of deep gratitude for his experience of God’s love through his family. He came to understand God’s love as overwhelming, embracing and uniting us all. In his own self-effacing way, Francis strove to incarnate God’s love.
He truly saw each individual as made in God’s image and thus worthy of respect. It was moving to see that those who arrived downtrodden and needy at the Center were treated with dignity, compassion and generosity. They received food for their bodies, but their broken spirits were nourished too, and they were roused to gratitude and hope.
A remarkable Eucharistic quality permeated the ministry of Holy Cross Center. Daily, Francis gathered his co-workers in prayer to renew their intention to reveal God’s presence to the poor. All were welcome at the Center. God’s love was spoken. Day-old bread was broken. People left touched and uplifted by the Good News.
It was evident too that the staff felt God’s closeness in the person of Brother Francis. As the crew left each day, they sought physical contact with him: a handshake, a hug, an arm around his shoulder, and his fond dismissal of them always carried the words, “God bless you.”
Frank was selfless. His gentle humility was an expression of his genuine regard and love for others.
He consistently deflected any accolades or praise, saying that he was only doing what he was supposed to do. Even if he managed to win a cribbage game from Jack (Brother John McLaughlin), Frank would somehow give the credit to St. Joseph.
Here in this very chapel, Brother Francis led the Divine Office and took his turn as lector at daily Mass. His prayer intentions became very familiar to us, each beginning with the same heartfelt formula: “In thanksgiving to you, Lord . . .” Then he would clear his throat, and there would be a brief pause, while we wondered in which direction he would launch. Often he expressed gratitude for God’s love as revealed in the Scripture readings we had just heard.
His two favorite intentions were: “In thanksgiving to you, Lord, for showing us your love through people,” and “In thanksgiving to you, Lord, for having so great a love for us that you even call us by name.”
He would bring directly from the news to prayer his concern for victims of any human tragedy. At times, he was moved to tears out of compassion for the suffering or in awe of God’s overwhelming love.
Our Brother Francis sought the face of God in the people he served. And he reflected the face of God to them and to us, his brothers.
May Dean Francis Kjeldgaard now see God face to face, and rejoice in eternal thanksgiving before the One who called him by name.
Our dear Brother Francis, God bless you.
Eulogy delivered by Brother Richard Critz, CSC,
Chapel of the Brother Vincent Pieau Residence, Austin, Texas
February 6, 2016
I served as a young priest at St. Anthony’s in Casper. I always appreciated the kindness and gentleness of Br. Francis. He would be very proud of the growth of his ministry in the Casper community. I will keep him in my prayers.
Fr. Carl Gallinger, Vicar General,
Diocese of Cheyenne
I was able to work with Brother Francis for two years in Casper. He was an inspiration and a holy man. I will certainly pray for him. I miss running into him in Casper, and I know that he will be praying for all of us in heaven.
Fr. Ray Moss
Prayers for you and the Holy Cross Community as we commend Francis to the Lord from whom he came as a gift. I lived with Brother Francis for nine years at St Anthony’s. He was a humble servant of God’s tender love, an example to me of unassuming charity.
Fr. Mike Carr
I am a retired priest (82) of the Diocese of Cheyenne, living in Cheyenne (my home town) and was stationed at St. Anthony’s, Casper, WY, when Br. Francis was there. I enjoyed his friendship. He is in my prayers. God Bless.
Fr. John Murray
Br Francis was a true friend. His gentle and caring approach was a great inspiration to me and a very effective way to minister to God’s people, especially the less fortunate. He served very much after the manner of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers. His love for the poor will stay with me.
Fr. Tom Ogg
Please know that Br. Francis is & will be in our prayers.
Yours in Christ,
Deacon John Bigelow
Br. Francis’ service in Casper for so many, many years was simply wonderful and all the people regarded him with such great admiration and love. Words cannot express adequately the gratitude we feel for him and the beautiful memories of his selfless giving.
Love and prayers,
Msgr. O’Neill and Sister Janice
The infant’s response of a smile
does lift mother almost a mile.
Exchanged love so mild
‘tween mother & child,
we all witness once in a while.
Consider! God’s love is the same:
so much so, He calls us by name.
He waits for our smile,
(which at times takes a while).
Relationship always His aim.
So, this sign “right here on the ground”
is truly no less than profound,
If we’d open our eyes,
we would then realize
He’d delight if we’re Heavenly bound.
— Br. Francis Kjeldgaard, 1993
Framed on the wall at Holy Cross Center:
Now could I ask for anything more,
When all that I see is sharing galore.
Together the laughter just comes to the fore,
while they share in the labor, provide for the poor.
No wonder that they’re in my prayers every day.
I look at them and I see The Way.
(You are precious to me.)
– Brother Francis