When Father Carl Dekat was only in middle school, he stayed for a week with his uncle, a priest, at his uncle’s parish in Kansas City.
Dekat, raised in the 1930s on a farm in Flush, in a house full of hardwoods and linoleum, was so in awe of his uncle’s fine carpet that he convinced his 11-year-old self he wanted to be a priest, too.
Of course, as he grew, his reasons for taking the robe changed and matured, but his path never faltered from that point. Recently, Dekat celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest.
“I wanted to just skip it (the celebration),” he said. But he couldn’t because of the number of people who wanted to recognize him.
Although he officially retired in 2006, Dekat has been, for all intents and purposes, an associate pastor to Father John Pilcher at St. Joseph Parish in Flush for the past seven years.
He moved back to Flush knowing the rectory, which stands only feet from the church, was empty and that he would be able to attend mass every day with parishioners. “It’s not like a private home, but that’s okay because the parishioners have been very good to me,” he said.
Above all, Dekat knew he didn’t want to become one of those priests who retire to their own apartment and celebrate mass alone at their kitchen table.
Now, Dekat spends his weeks traveling between the four parishes Pilcher serves, conducting mass and taking communion to the sick. “It’s good for me to keep going,” he said.
Dekat conducts three masses every weekend, switching among Wamego, Alma, Paxico and Flush. He also conducts mass at Flush every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday morning.
He officially retired at 79, nine years past the standard age of retirement. He is now 85.
Born and raised into a Catholic family, Dekat attended Catholic schools, where, he said, the Benedictine teachers encouraged their students to think about religious vocation. So the seed was planted early. “It’s not that I didn’t like girls, because I did,” he said. “But you have to give that up.”
It also didn’t hurt that he comes from a family of priests, including his uncle Father Eugene Dekat, with whom he stayed, and his mother’s uncle, Father Bernard Nuttman, who built St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Wamego. A younger cousin, Earl Dekat, will retire to Flush in July.
“I’ve always been sorry (Eugene) died (in 1951)two years before I was ordained (in 1953),” Dekat said of his mentor.
Dekat attended Conception Seminary College in Missouri in June of 1945 when he was just 17. One of the priests in Flush told Dekat to enroll before he turned 18 so he would not be drafted, though Dekat now wishes he had been.
Despite loving Conception, Dekat completed his studies at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Missouri at the advice of his uncle, who attended the college, and the priest at Flush, who also served as Dekat’s mentor while growing up.
A farm-boy, Dekat had trouble fitting in with the St. Louis clique at Kenrick. But he says the experience showed him how much he wanted to be a priest. He spent eight years in the seminary before being ordained.
Since then, Dekat has served at parishes in Wathena, Holton, St. Marys, Baileyville and Perry, among others. “(Somehow) I’ve always been north of the Kansas River,” Dekat said. Wathena, near St. Joseph, is the furthest Dekat has ever served from home.
Though content to retire in Flush, Dekat said he enjoyed serving near larger cities, where he could enjoy cultural events such as plays and musicals.
Dekat was one of nine children, the baby of the family. While most have passed on, his older brother Donald, 92, lives in Blue Springs and his older sister, Dorene, 88, lives in Westmoreland.
The farm they grew up on is only 2-and-a-half miles from the rectory where Dekat now lives.
It was his brother Gilbert, 4 years older, who took over the farm for the family, a life Dekat could’ve envisioned for himself had he not become a priest.
“I’m just a farm-boy at heart,” he said.