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Sunday will be a trip down memory lane for two Catholic priests who serve at Immaculate Conception Church in New Richmond.

That day the church will help Father James Brinkman and Father Leonard Fraher celebrate their 25th and 50th year of priesthood, respectively.

"The last 25 years has gone by very fast," admitted Brinkman, who spent time last weekend creating a collage of pictures representing his priesthood. "All the people who enter into your life, that's the miracle of what we do. We get to celebrate all the different stages of people's lives."

Brinkman said he looks forward to catching up with people he's baptized, married off and confirmed over the years. He noted that if everyone whose life has been touched by a priest showed up at such a gathering, "what a sight that would be."

Fraher agreed, noting that without nametags it may be difficult to place all the faces.

"But it will be great to see a lot of them," he noted.

The open house in honor of Brinkman and Fraher is planned 1-4 p.m. Sunday in the lower level of Immaculate Conception. The public is welcome to attend and refreshments will be served.

"People will be coming and going all afternoon," Brinkman said.

Father Jim

Brinkman was born and raised in New Richmond, the son of Ray and Sally Brinkman. His father was the plant manager at Doboy Feeds. His mother worked for St. Croix County in the Health Care department.

Brinkman attended St. Mary's Catholic School and New Richmond High School. He graduated from technical college and then joined the Brothers of Holy Cross at Notre Dame to begin religious life.

"I was searching," Brinkman said of his early life. "I wasn't fully happy. I just knew something was missing."

He eventually joined the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam.

When he returned stateside, Brinkman worked for seven years in advertising and public relations. He still was unsettled about his future, however.

"I went to see a priest that I knew and talked to him," Brinkman recalled. "He said 'I think God is calling you to be a priest.' I told him 'thank you for your opinion' but I thought it was off the wall."

As Brinkman continued to ponder his future, the words of the priest began to make more sense.

In 1976, Brinkman attended Sacred Heart School of Theology near Milwaukee. In 1981, he was ordained at Immaculate Conception Church as a Deacon. His first assignment was transitional Deacon in St. Francis Parish at Merrill, Wis.

Brinkman later served parishes in River Falls, Hudson, Rhinelander, Webster and Somerset. He's been in New Richmond the past two years.

"If you'd told me years ago that I'd be a priest, I'd have said you were slightly exaggerating," Brinkman said with a smile. "And if you'd have said I'd be a priest here, in my hometown... it's kind of unbelievable how it all happened. God works in many unique ways as we journey through life."

As for reaching a quarter-century in the priesthood, Brinkman said it hardly feels possible.

"As you get older, the years seem to go by faster and faster," he said.

Father Leonard

Fraher was born in Eau Claire and grew up in the Wilson and Glenwood City area. His father, James, was a dairy farmer and his mother, Elizabeth, was a teacher.

After graduating from Glenwood City High School in 1944, Fraher took a couple years before deciding upon a career path.

"I wasn't really sure what I would do," he said. "The idea was to be of service, and I settled on that point."

Fraher was ordained in 1956 at Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior.

Since his ordination, Fraher has served in parishes at Rhinelander, Merrill, Rice Lake, Clear Lake, Stanton, Solon Springs, Minong, Gordon and Cumberland. He's been in New Richmond for 10 years.

"I'm glad to have been an instrument of God to help people strengthen their faith in a variety of ways," he said. "I have always tried to make service to the people a priority in my life."

He admitted that it doesn't feel like 50 years have passed since his ordination.

"Some of the years have been great and some have been not so great," he said. "That's true for all of life. There are ups and downs."

"Amen to that," Brinkman agreed.