By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Since his ordination, Fr. Nicholas Landsberger, affectionately called “Fr. Nick,” has spent 40 of his 53 years in the priesthood serving parishes in Morrison County.
He has not only been a pastor celebrating the Eucharist and taking part in nearly every occasion in his parishioners’ lives — baptisms, weddings, illnesses, funerals, but has been a school principal, bus driver and owned and operated a greenhouse that inspired several students to be successful in that business.
Fr. Nick, 78, was born and raised in St. Cloud, the eighth of 11 children. He was ordained as a priest June 3, 1961.
He spent his first two months as a priest assisting at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Little Falls.
From there he was sent to serve as assistant pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in Pierz, under Fr. Voigt. He then taught at Cathedral High School for one year, before being sent to pastor St. John’s Nepomuk Church in Lastrup.
Fr. Nick served St. John’s, which had an elementary school at the time, from 1967 – 1979. It was at St. John’s that his greenhouse flourished. Students helped with the greenhouse and Franciscan Sisters, who lived in the convent at the time, helped sell the plants cultivated.
Fr. Nick learned at the knee of his grandparents and uncles, who were truck farmers. At a young age he would help in the weeding and harvesting of vegetables that would be sold from a truck.
Although gardening remains a steadfast hobby for Fr. Nick, he always knew he wanted to be a priest, at least since the third grade.
Using his love of gardening, Fr. Nick estimates that at the Lastrup greenhouse, he and the students grew 65,000 plants a year. He’d prepare the soil and take care of the plants and the students interested would help transplant and work in the greenhouse.
Two students in particular continue to work in the greenhouse business. David Gross, who runs greenhouses for Bailey’s and Kevin Happke, who owns Rolling Hills Greenhouse in Pierz.
When Gross was a senior in high school, Fr. Nick said with pride that the FFA from Pierz won the national championship and Gross took number two in the country. “It was second nature for him,” said Fr. Nick. “That’s why he’s doing so well now.”
It was also at St. John’s that he drove school bus for 11 years. He remembered how tricky the turn-arounds could be.
From St. John’s, Fr. Nick would again be sent to St. Mary’s in Little Falls, until 1983. At that time, he was sent to serve 12 years at his home parish, the Cathedral of St. Mary, where he had gone to school, attended and served as an altar boy at Mass as a child.
“I had 12 summers of major repair and renovation there,” said Fr. Nick. He said there were quite a few renovations at St. Mary’s in Little Falls, as well.
One of Fr. Nick’s brothers, Fr. Robert Landsberger, served at St. Joseph’s in Pierz for 11 years.
In 1995, Fr. Nick was sent back to serve St. Mary’s in Little Falls. It would be his last parish move, but in 2001, Holy Family Church in Belle Prairie was put under his pastoral care as well.
For years, many priests have served multiple parishes as the church suffers a shortage of young men being ordained.
In 2012, Fr. Joe Herzing became the pastor of Holy Family Church and Our Lady of Lourdes, with St. Mary’s still under Fr. Nick’s care.
At age 78, at precisely noon on Tuesday, July 1, Fr. Nick will be officially retired and move out of the rectory at St. Mary’s.
He will move to the Speltz House in Sauk Rapids, but plans to come back to St. Mary’s over the summer to take care of his vegetable garden near the cemetery.
Just a day or two after his official retirement, Fr. Nick will travel to the East Coast to visit family and then will head to Italy.
That’s something he said he was lucky enough to be able to do as a priest — travel — all over the world. He hasn’t made it yet to the Holy Land, but that’s on his list of places to travel.
Another one of Fr. Nick’s favorite things to do is to sing. In addition to singing at Mass, he’s been part of many choirs. He has been practicing with Helen Pikal to sing something special at his last Masses in Little Falls.
The parish community is planning a farewell retirement picnic for Fr. Nick Sunday, June 29, at St. Mary’s following the 10:30 a.m. Mass (there will be no 9 a.m. Mass).
Fr. Nick said the picnic will be fun, but bittersweet. He’ll miss the people he’s served for so long.
“So many, many good people,” he said.