PRIOR LAKE (AP) -- Bill Seefeldt's friends thought he was just scraping by, living in a cluttered cabin, clutching coupons and wearing threadbare clothes.
But when Seefeldt died last year at 89, he left $4.6 million to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"He never let on that he had that kind of money," said Jean Thompson, a friend and music director at Prior Lake's Church of St. Michael, where the retired military chaplain said mass every Monday until he was 87. "Father Bill was so tight. He was a cranky old thing, but lovable."
Seefeldt was a chaplain for 30 years -- first for the Army during World War II, then for the Minnesota National Guard and the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center, retiring in 1972.
But for the past 20 years, St. Michael's was his spiritual home and family. Once a week he would arrive at the parish office with stale doughnuts or his signature banana bread for the staff, bragging about the deal he got on bananas.
Seefeldt "dearly loved the church," but he was an old-fashioned, Ten Commandments-kind of priest, Thompson said. He would arrive to say Monday mass with his worn book of the saints and notes for his homily. He didn't much like new songs in the Gather II hymnal.
"So I made up a 'Father Bill Hymnal' with old songs that date to the late 1940s," Thompson said. "He'd hand it out at the beginning of every mass."
Unlike members of religious orders, diocesan priests take no vow of poverty. Seefeldt parlayed a family inheritance of $100,000 and pensions from the Army, civil service and his Social Security into a fortune with the investment advice of Roy Stueve, a friend of 50 years.
"Father Bill had the Midas touch," Stueve said. "He gave me some money to invest in the market. I said I could lose it all. He said not to worry, the good Lord would provide."
They bought St. Jude Medical stock, which split many times, reducing his cost to 25 cents a share. At Seefeldt's death the stock was selling for $85 a share. Stueve borrowed against the profits, buying more stock on margin. They also invested in a four-plex and a 23-unit apartment building in Bloomington.
"You don't go into the priesthood to get rich," said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath. "It's such a novelty because he had so many sources of income, he was very frugal, and he had a very astute adviser."
Did Seefeldt have any qualms about being a man of the cloth with such wealth?
"We never discussed it," Stueve said. "I handled most of the finances. We'd get together. The only time he ever said anything was, 'I notice it went down $30,000,' and I'd say, 'OK, I'll buy lunch.' "
To get income tax deductions in recent years, Stueve said, he persuaded Seefeldt to donate stock worth $125,000 to $175,000 to several charities -- Sharing and Caring Hands, St. Paul Seminary and St. Michael's church.
But getting him to make a will was "like pulling teeth."
"He didn't want to pay an attorney to do it," said Stueve, who offered to pay half. Embarrassed, Seefeldt finally agreed but howled when the bill topped $50.
They kept his will simple, leaving everything to the archdiocese with the intention of amending it later to include several pet charities, Stueve said. But Seefeldt died before that could happen.
He was out shopping for groceries with Bob Klehr, a close friend, when it happened.
They would often drive to three stores to find bread 30 cents off. Seefeldt would hit the bakery first, looking for free samples. If he had a 2-for-1 coupon, he might treat Klehr to McDonald's.
On Feb. 7, 2002, they were on one of their shopping trips and, though Seefeldt's eyes were bad, he insisted on driving. Minutes after dropping Klehr off, he ran a red light, rear-ending a big truck.
Close friends were dismayed that the archdiocese used $800,000 of Seefeldt's bequest for its Clergy Benefit Fund, which, among other things, pays counseling and living expenses of priests accused of sexual abuse.
"Those of us who know and love Father Bill think he'd be rolling in his grave if he thought his estate was going to settle sexual-abuse cases," Thompson said.
But Austin Ward, archdiocese director of finance, said only a small part of the Clergy Benefit Fund goes toward such cases. Claims generally are paid from insurance.
Seefeldt's gift came without restrictions, and it benefits not only needy priests but underprivileged parishioners across the archdiocese. "He gave back what he felt the Lord had shared with him," Ward said.
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