At his last Mass before leaving St. Joseph Parish in Libertyville for a nursing facility, the Rev. Victor Ivers left worshippers with this challenge: "Who will fill my shoes?"
Literally, Ivers removed his shoes and put them on the altar before proceeding out in his stockinged feet.
Ivers died on Saturday, but his shoes and the challenge he made in 2007 endure. The Archdiocese of Chicago picked up the idea and used it as the banner for a vocations event last November that drew 140 young men.
"He was beloved in our parish and he inspired young and old," said the Rev. John Trout, pastor, "but he also inspired other priests. He was a great role model."
Ivers died at St. Benedict Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Niles, where he ministered to other residents, anointing them in their final days, from his wheelchair. He was 95.
Ivers carved out an unusual career during his more than 60 years as a priest. After early assignments at St. Mary Nativity Church in Joliet and Holy Rosary Parish in Chicago, he was one of eight priests assigned by Cardinal Samuel Stritch to military chaplaincy at the outbreak of the Korean War.
He began serving in the Navy in 1951. His assignments spanned 30 years and took Ivers to Korea and through the Vietnam War.
He served so long, and to so many sailors and their families, that Ivers had achieved the rank of captain by the time he retired and was profiled in the Veterans' History Project for the Library of Congress.
Ivers returned to the Chicago Archdiocese in 1980 and served at both St. Mary's in Lake Forest and at Immaculate Conception Parish in Waukegan before retiring in 1987 and becoming a resident priest at St. Joseph.
One of the ministries where Ivers helped was at weekly reconciliation services, where he listened to parishioners and absolved them of their sins.
"He brought a lot of healing to people," Trout said. "He had a lot of compassion in dealing with people going through difficult times."
Ivers loved St. Joseph School and interacting with students. For years, Trout said, he trained altar servers and he insisted they formally fold their hands, with their fingers pointing upward. That way, he told them, God will answer all your prayers.
Ivers will lie in repose from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, before an 11 a.m. funeral Mass on Saturday, both at St. Joseph Church, 121 E. Maple Ave. in Libertyville.