By Barb Arland-Fye
One of my dad’s closet buddies grew up to become a Maryknoll missionary who still serves in South Korea. Dad tells stories of riding with Joe Slaby in an old yellow convertible when they were teenagers, going on dates with girlfriends and playing golf. Dad also remembered that Joe attended daily Mass. The stories helped me to understand at a young age that priests are real people, too.
The two buddies lost contact while my dad was serving in the military overseas. When he returned home and started college, Joe stopped by to tell him he was going into the priesthood to become a Maryknoll missionary. Dad was shocked because Joe had a successful career as an engineer. But Joe said he felt he had a calling.
Among my earliest childhood memories was attending a send-off for Father Joe and receiving children’s religion books from him as Christmas presents.
One year when he was home for a visit and I was going through a difficult time in my early teens, my mom asked Fr. Joe to talk to me.
I wasn’t receptive to what he had to say then, but I appreciate now his commitment to serving one of God’s headstrong children.
Vocations to the priesthood and to religious life have always fascinated me, a product of parochial schools in the wake of Vatican II. I want to know the story behind each person who has chosen a counter-cultural way of life to serve God and the church.
What better way to find out than to share the stories that led to their vocations? That’s what we have done in this week’s edition of The Catholic Messenger, to coincide with National Vocation Awareness Week (Jan. 11-17).
In this issue you’ll read stories about siblings who answered the call to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, some of them influenced by one another and some influenced by other events or people in their lives.
One of the siblings I interviewed was Father Tom Stratman, whose older brother, Father Bill, died six years ago. In writing their story, I read through some yellowed Catholic Messenger newspaper clippings to see what more I could glean about their vocations.
Fr. Bill, it turns out, wrote a column in the March 2, 1972, issue on the challenges of vocational recruiting. It’s a fascinating article that addresses issues the church — and the society that influences it — still struggle with today.
He tackled topics such as celibacy, the materialism and permissiveness of our contemporary society, seminarians’ need for authentic relationships with others and the church’s task to provide the channels whereby “the person can grow through authentic and wholesome community.”
He pointed out that young men in the seminary want “to be involved in a Church that gives them the opportunities and the leadership to effect the Gospel in the world in which they live.”
That’s still the case today. Father Marty Goetz, the Diocese of Davenport’s vocations director, says it’s our responsibility as the church to encourage vocations and to pray for the gift of vocations.
Not so many years ago, a young friend of my parents was trying to discern whether he had a vocation to the priesthood. He was a college graduate, employed in a lucrative career in the Twin Cities. During that time, priests at the church my parents attend were encouraging parishioners to let them know about men who might be interested in a vocation to the priesthood. My mom, the encourager, placed a phone call to a priest and suggested her friend’s name.
Someone contacted him, and as a result, he began the journey to discerning a vocation to the priesthood. Today Father Michael Kaluza is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis and my parents were elated to attend his ordination Mass.