By Becca Thiry
The subject of fatherhood can be viewed in a multitude of ways. For some, when they hear the word “father,” they are brought back to fond memories of their upbringing, maybe the stereotypical playing catch with dad or their wedding day, and their beloved father waiting to walk his daughter down the aisle. For others maybe it’s more of a sensitive subject, they never knew their father or he was absent from the family for different reasons. Sometimes we immediately think of a priest as father or even God the Father.
Whatever it may be, the term father usually represents the head of a household. The backbone. A strong male figure. The reality is everyone views fatherhood differently, mostly based on our own personal experiences. When speaking on fatherhood within the family, we know a father’s spirituality is important and can have an impact on his wife and children.
Seeing Dad kneel down
Father Tony Klein is the parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Parish in Sioux Falls. Reflecting on his first year as a priest, he says it’s been awesome but a whirlwind.
“I imagine it [becoming a priest] is somewhat like becoming a father to a child. There’s a lot of excitement but everything is for the first time and is so new! While there is an excitement to it you’re also like, ‘what am I doing?’”
Father Klein said although the thought of going to seminary and becoming a priest was scary, he began his discernment his sophomore year of high school. It was during his senior year he began to more seriously consider seminary when doors began closing and it was becoming clearer that was where God was calling him.
A religious vocation wasn’t something foreign to the Klein family. He has one sister who is married and active in the Church and another sister who is a nun. Often Father Klein is asked, “How did your parents do it? What’s the trick?”
“We lived a very normal life, and I mean that in the best sense of the term. It was a nonnegotiable for going to Mass on Sunday,” he said. “We would pray together before we went to bed. But our house wasn’t one big Bible study. There was great normalcy that the faith is intertwined in everything we do.”
But Father Klein remembers a conversation with his own dad about three years into seminary. His dad told him how proud he was of him, but his being proud of him wasn’t dependent upon being in seminary. It was made clear that he was giving him total freedom to choose where he wanted to be, which isn’t always the case for others.
“It is a sacrifice for parents, it’s a beautiful sacrifice, but I can understand how parents who love their vocation desire their children to experience that vocation as well.”
Father Klein said he always wanted a brother but had two older sisters, so in his family, when the girls went and did things together, it was just him and his dad. They had a lot of time together fishing and being outdoors. During that time, he was able to watch and learn from his dad which helped slowly shape his own spiritual journey. He recalled the simple things that struck him as a child, like kneeling and praying in the living room and the impact of watching his dad kneel in their home.
“To see the male figure of your house kneel down says a lot. It said more than my dad sitting me down and trying to explain the faith and who God our Heavenly Father was,” Father Klein said. “It was all said when he knelt down.”
It was the little examples for Father Klein that made a huge impact. It wasn’t lectures or being told what he needed to do. It was watching his own father make simple acts of love for the Lord that helped shape his own heart and love for Jesus.
“My bedroom was next to my parents’ room and I was up late one night in my room and I saw him go to bed and before he shut the light off, he kissed the crucifix by the door,” Father Klein described. “I don’t think he saw me see him do it. But that was something I still remember to this day. That says a lot to a child.”
Now Father Klein is in his own fatherhood and has used the examples of his dad to bring forth his spiritual fatherhood. He explains how being a priest is a fatherhood that transcends certain dimensions of normal life. Being able to father men and woman who are much older than him, but look to him for their own guidance.
“I’m 27 years old and I’m a father to people over 100. People with much more life experience and a lot more wisdom than I have but they still call me Father,” he says. “I notice it most in the confessional that people trust even a brand-new priest. It has been really humbling to see that they are not coming to me because they see Tony Klein, they are coming to me because I am a father and God has given me the ability to forgive sins through the sacrament.”
Firm foundation of faith
Cole Hardie, 19, of Sioux Falls is another young man who is currently discerning his vocation while attending minor seminary at St. John Vianney College Seminary in the Twin Cities. Cole had a similar upbringing to Father Klein in that his father played a role in helping shape his faith formation.
“My mom likes to tell a story where at my first communion I told her I was going to be a priest. It’s a beautiful grace and it’s just been written on my heart a really long time,” Cole said.
The Hardie family also attended Mass every Sunday and strove to pray as a family together. In Cole’s words it was just easy to be Catholic in their family, and his father was there encouraging and supporting him and his siblings in their faith.
“His biggest impact on my faith is his example. He is a really virtuous man, who works really hard and loves his family,” Cole said. “He’s always been a firm foundation for me. God has given him a lot of gifts to help out and support his family, he goes to work and comes home and doesn’t stop serving and loving us. I don’t know where he gets the energy but he does it!”
Cole is one of seven children and said when he was in fifth grade they began praying family rosaries together. He recalls that his family grew in holiness together and stuck with the tradition of rosaries and daily prayer. The kids were also homeschooled up until high school where they attended O’Gorman Catholic High School in Sioux Falls. Cole said he enjoyed both his experience being homeschooled and also attending a Catholic school.
Now that Cole is in college seminary and preparing to potentially be ordained a priest later down the road, he reflects often on how his own relationship with his father is helping prepare him for spiritual fatherhood.
“The love of my own father and his family is really similar to a spiritual father and the love of his flock. I can just look to my dad and see how he gives his whole life to his family and how I’m called to the same as a priest. Even if I discern out and decide that marriage is for me, I’m still supposed to pour out to my family,” Cole said.
He shares that it is in the masculine heart that men can find their calling to pour out and to serve others. So regardless of the vocation, men are called to lay down their lives and serve.
He is learning that the most important part of the spiritual life is to know you are loved by God the Father, and that he is taking care of you.
“That has been easy for me to grasp because of my own father and what he has given to me,” Cole said. “It’s really necessary to have a good father figure in our lives. I’m so grateful for my own father and the impact he’s had on me.”