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Jan 212009
 

Father Philip Dehner works on stained glass at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga., in this 1995 photo. He died last month at the age of 90.

By Barb Arland-Fye

In response to our Vocations Week coverage of siblings who are priests or Sisters, we heard from some readers wondering why additional siblings’ stories weren’t shared.

Space and deadlines were the main reasons. Among the other sets of living siblings with connections to our diocese are Sisters of Humility Marilyn Jean and Elaine Hagedorn; Irene and Maria Louisa Munoz; Ana Maria and Luz Maria Orozco; Maribeth and Carla Takes and Catherine and JoAnne Talarico; and Fathers Chuck, Nick and Rich Adam and John, Bob and Tom Spiegel.

A quick perusal of the diocesan directory — past and present — shows siblings have long chosen religious life, sometimes in the same community and sometimes in different ones.

I’m intrigued by family connections and their role in fostering multiple vocations.

So, when Father Patrick Hilgendorf, pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington, e-mailed the obituary of a priest whose widowed father joined him in the monastery, I wanted to know more.

Father Philip Dehner, a member of the Order of the Cistercian of the Strict Observance and a native of Burlington, died at age  90 at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga., where he served for more than 60 years.

Several of his siblings also entered religious life and his father, Leo, joined him at the monastery after his wife, Celestine, died. Father and son shared religious life together for 30 years before Leo, known as Brother Ambrose, died in 1978 while his son was celebrating Mass.

Health challenges thwarted Fr. Philip’s first attempt to pursue a vocation to religious life during college, according to reflections that the monastery provided. After serving in World War II and holding several jobs, Fr. Philip, whose baptismal name was Thomas Raymond, still sensed a calling to religious life. 

“Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947, was the date which Thomas clearly heard God’s call through the words of his father: ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams.’ Fr. Philip remembered those words as a ‘revelation of new hope.’” That quote is taken from an article written by Brother Chaminade Crabtree of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit on the occasion of Fr. Philip’s 50th anniversary of ordination.

Thomas arrived at the monastery in August 1947, five months after his mother died, and a month later received the novice habit and religious name Philip. Two years later, his 60-year-old father followed him into the monastery.

“His father not only believed his words told to his son about the power of prayer, he wanted to live them himself,” Br. Chaminade observed.

Thomas professed solemn vows in 1952 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1953.

“There was a beautiful holiness about Br. Ambrose,” Brother Methodius Telnack told me during a telephone interview. “After raising a family, and the mother having died, the father just wanted to dedicate himself to God.”

Br. Methodius thinks Fr. Philip felt a responsibility for taking care of his dad, especially in his final years. “It was his dad.”

He also remembers Fr. Philip as a kind, considerate monk. The two worked together for a number of years in the monastery’s stained glass department. Fr. Philip lived his final years in the monastery infirmary, always with a smile on his face.

After Fr. Philip’s death, his fellow monks found among his papers a reflection written by one of his siblings, Father Eugene Dehner, a Benedictine.

“My family has had a strong inclination toward the religious life,” Fr. Eugene wrote in the letter. But it was a Sister, during his senior year in high school, who asked him whether he had ever considered becoming a priest. “That surprised me and got me thinking even more about the possibility,” Fr. Eugene wrote.

What I take away from his observation is the notion that family extends to our church.

Father Mike Spiekermeier puts it succinctly in the latest bulletin for St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport: “We depend on our whole parish community to be instrumental in inspiring young people to serve the Lord in church ministry.”

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