Fathers play a vital role in society and within families. As Father’s Day approaches, we are reminded of the impact that fathers have on their children, and we hear about the difficulties that fatherless children face. But as Catholics, we understand that even if one is without an earthly father, no one is ever truly fatherless—as we all have God our Father. And here on earth we have priests as our spiritual fathers. These faithful men of God represent Him and give us a tangible reminder of His love and His mercy.
In honor of Father’s Day, I want to introduce you to four amazing priests who have made an incredible impact on the people around them. These holy men not only help us strengthen our faith lives but they teach us how to live according to the word of God. Their witness shines God’s love and mercy on us, and their guidance helps us on the path to heaven. Men like these are truly unique, but the beauty is that parishes throughout the world are blessed with equally unique and wonderful leaders who dedicate their whole beings to helping their flocks grow closer to God.
So let us look at how some of these priests have made a difference in the lives of people entrusted to them by God. Allow their stories and their actions to inspire you to get to know the priests in your life.
Fr. Bob Lochner served as a CSC priest for the majority of his life. In that role, he mentored and taught students at the University of Notre Dame and he worked with Fr. Patrick Peyton on his rosary initiative. Later in life, he served a community in Florida. I recently heard a story about him that not only warmed my heart but that illustrated the depth of his love for Christ and for others. Fr. Bob would take frequent walks on the beach, always wearing his stole and carrying his breviary. This, of course, did not go unnoticed. People would approach him and ask if he was a Catholic priest. Naturally gregarious, Fr. Bob would then strike up a conversation, eventually finding that some had fallen away from the Church. He would talk to these people and counsel them. And on several occasions, he would hear their confession right there on the beach! This spiritual father—whom I am blessed to call my uncle—led people back to God while doing something so common as walking on a beach. What a blessing he was to all around him!
I can say the same for Fr. Greg Green, who was also a CSC priest at the University of Notre Dame. Among his other roles at the university, he served as the priest in my dorm. What always struck me about Fr. Greg was his joyful presence. He made himself available to all the students by keeping his room door open—a sign that welcomed all into not just his room but his life. He gave us something incredibly valuable—his time. Because of that, we became friends, and he eventually baptized all of my children. For a while after graduation, I lived near campus, and we would frequently have him over for dinner. We relished these times with him, and I know he did too because he became a part of our family. He was wonderful with my children, and they loved him. He passed away a few years ago, but his impact on our lives—and on the lives of countless others—will never be forgotten.
Fr. Jim Chern serves as director of the Newman Center at Montclair State University. Fr. Jim understands the importance of being an authentic witness of the faith to others, especially to the students on campus. Not only is he a spiritual father to those on campus, but he tells a beautiful story of the impact a spiritual father had on him when he was a child. He explained that one of his first memories was when he was just five years old. He and his family were out for the day visiting family, and when they returned home, they found that their parish priest had stopped by and left a note. At the end of the note, he wrote, “Make sure you keep getting Little Jimmy to Mass every Sunday.” Just a few words, but words that had a huge impact on that small boy who suddenly realized that God knew him and wanted a relationship with him. This and other signs from God eventually led Fr. Jim to become a priest. And now he leads others to Christ through his witness and his actions—something that is vital in today’s culture as he helps students navigate college life. One of the main problems he sees is that many students today don’t have the foundation of faith necessary to combat the evil of the world. The spiritual growth and development of students—especially those who have minimal faith or who have lost their faith—is of utmost importance to him, and he strives every day to help them see that God loves them and has a plan for them. Priests like Fr. Jim are vital in today’s college campus culture where students are surrounded by confusing messages and by people who care little about their souls. He is a true leader who brings God to students and students to God.
Fr. Doug Owens is the vicar general of All Saints Catholic Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Unlike the other three priests mentioned here, Fr. Doug was not born into the Catholic Church. But after many years searching, he found the Catholic Church. And once he did, he discerned a call to the priesthood. Today, Fr. Doug—who just celebrated his twelfth anniversary as a priest—leads his parish with jubilance, love, humor, kindness, authority, and real-world experience. When listening to his homilies, parishioners are blessed to hear a bit of Church history, some theology, and an explanation of God’s word. His skills at public speaking and communicating bring an understanding and offer enlightenment to the congregation. This is crucial today, as he demonstrates the courage necessary to tell the truth despite what society wants us to believe. These characteristics make him a model spiritual father. Fr. Doug said recently that one of the best ways he has found to build relationships with parishioners is through confession, and he encourages people to go frequently. The one-on-one nature of the sacrament truly helps shape our faith life and gives the parishioner the undivided attention of the priest. Through honest conversation with a man who cares about their souls, parishioners know that they can speak openly and honestly, find solutions to problems, and receive forgiveness from God for sins. The people of All Saints are exceptionally privileged to have Fr. Doug as their spiritual father.
Like our real fathers, our spiritual fathers care for us, nurture us in the faith, offer advice and encouragement, and guide us to an eternity with Christ. In our real fathers, we have immense trust, and so it should be with our spiritual fathers. But as with any relationship, we must cultivate it. I urge you to make the priests you know a part of your daily life or your prayer life. Take time to get to know your parish priest. Thank him for his service to God and His Church. Pray for him. Make him dinner or a dessert once in a while. Welcome him into your home.
Let us appreciate the impact that these men have on our lives, and let us never forget that our spiritual fathers truly make a difference. We could not survive as a Church without them.