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Fathers are important

By Father Richard Smith, the Vicar General for the Diocese

The Importance of Fathers in Our Lives

 

I was born the day before Father’s Day, and every year my family celebrated the two occasions together. Today we remember not only our Dads but also the many priests we have called Father. I want to tell you about a couple of Fathers I have known who have been important in my life as a Catholic and a priest.

My Dad was the best I could have wished for, and you can imagine the worry I had when, at age nine, I was told by Sister Dolores that anyone who was not baptized could never go to heaven. My Dad was not baptized, and Sister told me to pray he would be some day, or I would never see him or be with him together with my mother in eternity. That Christmas I wrapped up my catechism as a gift and gave it to him Christmas morning. Subtle?

The next year, our parish got its first associate pastor. He played ball with us at recess or just talked with us on the playground. My Dad started seeing Father Arthur Maher for “convert instructions” to be baptized. As I watched my Dad having water poured over his head, Father Maher became my lifetime hero. He was making it possible that I could someday spend eternity in heaven with my Dad, Mom and Jesus. I looked up at this priest and knew that someday I wanted to be just like him. My Dad and I were confirmed together that year, and no one was surprised when I took Arthur as my confirmation name.

Father Maher has been a model for me, and when I visited him a few weeks ago in the hospital, I told him what he meant to me, and that he would always be my hero.

A few years later, my pastor, Father Lloyd Bowden, told me about a new seminary for Joliet, and he thought I should go. I applied and was accepted as a seminarian for Bishop Martin McNamara, our first bishop in Joliet. I left home at age 15, and now, at age 70, I have been able to have served for all six of our bishops.  I was humbled to preside at the funeral Mass of Father Bowden, a loyal priest who had reached the milestone of 70 years as a priest of Joliet. The saddest part of his funeral Mass was to see a congregation of only 50 people, most of whom were family.

I was ordained a priest of Jesus in the very church where I was baptized, by the second bishop of Joliet, Bishop Romeo Blanchette. My first pastor and longtime friend of so many of our priests was Father James Lennon, the most terrific mentor and a true shepherd. I learned so much from him — and still do. He continues to serve beyond retirement and touches the lives of so many people, as have so many of our senior priests who continue to serve unselfishly the people of Joliet.

The third bishop of Joliet, Bishop Joseph Imesch, accepted my offer to help one day a week in the Marriage Tribunal, which, at the time, was overburdened with cases. I had no idea that helping one day a week would become a full-time, 12-year ministry of working on marriage cases. One of the gentle souls who worked in the Tribunal was Monsignor Peter Seidl, who was there over 25 years working on cases. He was a kind and generous man with a great sense of humor. I will always remember his embarrassment when he was in the nursing home and called the bishop to see if he could have $25 for a new pair of pajamas. This man had served the Church his entire life.

When Bishop Joseph Siegel became the Bishop of Evansville, Indiana, I got a call from our fifth bishop, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, asking me as a favor if I would fill in as vicar general in Bishop Siegel’s absence, just for a short time of maybe three- to-six months, until a new auxiliary bishop was announced. Almost three years later, after our sixth bishop, Bishop Ronald Hicks, was installed, he asked if I would serve fulltime as his vicar general. It has been a tremendous experience to witness and be a part of the transition for our new bishop, who is so happy and excited to be the bishop of Joliet.

The future has so much hope that will urge us on to be active disciples of Jesus Christ. But our past is also extraordinarily rich with beautiful souls of so many men who have dedicated their lives to serving us, the people of the Diocese of Joliet. Let us never forget them, as I am sure they have not forgotten us.


The Father’s Day Collection for Diocesan Infirmed and Elderly Priests will be held on June 19-20, 2021, in parishes throughout the diocese. The annual collection is to help meet the needs of our elderly, infirmed and retired diocesan priests, especially those who have extraordinary medical expenses or catastrophic illnesses above and beyond what insurance can cover. The money also helps to pay for repairs at the St. John Vianney Villa Priest Retirement Home and to continue to solidify the Retired Priests’ Pension Plan. To donate online, go to the following website: https://www.givecentral.org/scfd21