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Dear Fathers ...

A letter to the men who led me to the priesthood

Dear Fathers Pat, Ed and Charlie,

I wish to thank each of you for how you have helped me to respond to my vocation. Certainly, I have shared my gratitude and thankfulness with you individually. However, as far as I know, the three of you have never been together in the same place at the same time, so I’ve never had the opportunity to share my words of thankfulness and appreciation for your priestly witness and encouragement in a way that helps each of you to see and understand the important and unique role that each of you has played in my discernment.

 

Fathers Ed and Pat – You were the priests I came to know when I was growing up as a child in Saginaw. Of the two of you, I have known Father Pat the longest. I remember when then – Deacon Pat was assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas. You were pretty young at the time, you still had all your hair, and you were blessed by God with so many talents. Of all these, I recall your beautiful singing voice the most. What joy you brought to the Mass when you used your wondrous voice to lead us in sung prayer. Your voice brought joy and excitement to our religious education classes as you helped us to learn many of the songs we would later sing with you in church at Mass. It was always a thrill when your bearded face and funny-sounding Wisconsin-accented voice popped into our classroom for just a few minutes. The whole parish was thrilled when you were assigned to us after your priestly ordination. Thank you for reminding us that those who sing pray twice.

Father Ed – I thank you for the genuine joy you share as you serve God. I know this has not always been easy for you. I remember how, as a young priest, you asked for the prayers of the entire parish community. You were in the midst of discerning how to best serve God as a priest, and you asked for our help and support as you prayerfully sought to make the best decision you could. I have always appreciated your forthrightness and honesty in this search. Although your path ultimately led you from parish ministry to priestly ministry at a retreat center in your home state of Wisconsin, I know that God’s peace and joy continue to shine through you daily in your quiet and patient ministry, especially as you now care for aging Franciscan brothers and priests.

Finally, Father Charlie – I thank you for giving me the courage and inspiration to get off the vocational sidelines and actually respond to God’s call. I will always remember sitting in your office at St. Francis of Assisi one beautiful autumn afternoon in 1989, sharing a series of seemingly disconnected stories about how I felt God calling me. I had no idea what God was calling me to do, but I felt I had to share those stories with you. In turn, you, in your own not-so-subtle way, said, “Dwight, I think God is calling you to serve him as a priest.” Thanks for that. I needed someone to smack me upside the head, so to speak, and it seems clear that God chose you to do just that on that autumn day. For that day and for your guidance in the days since, I am truly grateful.

There are lots more folks who deserve my thanks as well, including my parents, a number of teachers, co-workers and fellow travelers on this path. For now, though, know how grateful I am to the three of you for your priestly witness, your joy, honesty, patience, guidance and faithful service. I pray that I can use what you have given me to help others find and follow this path. And so our journey in FAITH continues.