By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — The mother of newly ordained Father Andrew Rauenbuehler wept tears of joy. His father took joy in seeing his newly ordained son so happy. “It’s been a long journey with lots of turns, but it felt right today,” Mark Rauenbuehler said as he watched his son bless family, friends, clergy and others after the Liturgy of Ordination on June 5 at Sacred Heart Cathedral. “How can I be crying when he’s so happy?” Sharon Rauenbuehler asked, looking over at her son. “It has been a family vocation. His siblings and grandparents have been so supportive.”
Bishop Thomas Zinkula ordained Father Rauenbuehler to the priesthood in a liturgy that contrasted with the liturgy celebrated last year when he was ordained a deacon in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus limited in-person participation to parents and grandparents and a handful of clergy. The pandemic is subsiding as more people get vaccinated, so the in-person Liturgy of Ordination was celebrated at the cathedral.
“I felt a lot of peace going into the Mass,” Father Rauenbuehler said after the liturgy. “All three readings were so meaningful for me (Jeremiah 1:4-9; Hebrews 5:1-10; and John 15:9-17), not only extremely encouraging but reminding me of the fact that God called me … it’s his will and desire for my life.”
He felt the call to the priesthood since childhood, but doubts emerged after he entered the seminary for the first time. During a four-year gap away from the seminary, he worked at Medic EMS in Davenport as an EMT. He thought to himself, “I gave it a go. Maybe this is not the Lord’s will for me. But the Lord kept on speaking.” He is “thankful for the twists and turns because it made me a better man who can be a better priest.”
The journey to his vocation culminated inside the cathedral where Father Jake Greiner, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport and director of seminarians, requested ordination to the priesthood for Deacon Rauenbuehler. “Do you know him to be worthy?” Bishop Zinkula asked. “After inquiry among the Christian people and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify that he has been found worthy,” Father Greiner said. The bishop declared, “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose Andrew our brother for the order of priesthood.”
‘The kind of priest we need’
The congregation rose to give the soon-to-be-priest a long, standing ovation. “Enough, already,” the bishop quipped as he moved to the ambo to deliver his homily. He shared the inspiring story of a diocesan priest from Kansas, Father Emil Kapaun, who shipped out to Korea as an Army chaplain after the outbreak of war in 1950. Throughout months of fighting, he performed baptisms, heard confessions and celebrated Mass on the hood of a Jeep. He shared every danger with the troops, often rescuing wounded soldiers under fire.
He and his fellow soldiers were held for months in a prison camp in subzero temperatures. “Father Kapaun refused to give in to the despair and spent himself entirely for his men. He dug latrines, mediated disputes, washed clothes, gave away his food and raised morale among the prisoners,” the bishop said. The priest stole food and distributed it among the prisoners to keep them from starving. He “prayed with the men and helped many of them to grow in their faith. Much of his time was spent ministering to those who were sick and dying.”
Father Kapaun saved the lives of hundreds of men before succumbing to malnutrition, dysentery and pneumonia in the prison camp on May 23, 1951, at age 35. In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Father Kapaun a Servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization. Twenty years later, the priest received the Medal of Honor, posthumously. He exemplified “the kind of priest we need today – courageous men of deep faith and unbounded hope, who aren’t afraid to take risks; loving, compassionate shepherds who are willing to lay down their life for their friends. As we heard in the reading of the Gospel today, there is no greater love than that,” the bishop said.
“Diocesan priests don’t have to go off to foreign lands to minister to people on the margins and the peripheries. There are plenty of wars and people to care for pastorally right here in our midst in the Diocese of Davenport.” The bishop identified battles on the home front: secularism, relativism, utilitarianism, atheism. The prisoners include people struggling with addictions and vices. The sick need help with physical, mental, psychological, emotional and spiritual illness. The despairing need friendship and meaningful relationships.
“We need to follow the example of Father Kapaun, who adapted his ministry to the situation in which he found himself. He lived, taught and shared the Gospel in a very challenging setting. Priests in this time and place need to do the same.”
Looking forward to his first assignment
Father Rauenbuehler loved the bishop’s homily. “I’ve known about (Father Kapaun) for a long time. His story reminds me of my past, working as a medic taking care of the sick and dying. It’s very relatable to me along with the expectation of what the priesthood can and should be when lived for the good of others.”
The promise of the elect for the priesthood followed the homily. Afterwards, the priest-elect lay prostrate for the litany of supplication. Then the bishop and some of the priests present laid hands on him. After the prayer of ordination to the priesthood, Father Chris Weber, pastor of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish (Father Rauenbuehler’s home parish), vested the new priest. The two exchanged a bear hug.
They have known each other for years. Father Weber previously served as a youth minster at the parish before his own journey to the priesthood. “We all knew it was coming. We just had to be patient,” Father Weber said of Father Rauenbuehler’s vocation to the priesthood. “He is going to be an excellent priest for our diocese.”
Gini Poeltler, who was Father Rauenbuehler’s second-grade teacher at Bishop Hayes Catholic School in Muscatine, traveled from Florida for his ordination. “I’ve been waiting for this day,” she said. “He used to tell us he played Mass at home and he would be the priest. He’s always been such a kindhearted person. I know he will be an absolutely wonderful priest.”
At the end of Mass, Father Greiner reminded everyone present “that all of us need to work to promote vocations in the church. If each of us in the church prays, invites and then encourages people to listen to God’s call in their lives, the vocation crisis would come to an end. The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few. Thank you for what you have done for Father Rauenbuehler as he listened to God’s call. I hope all of us will continue to do the same for others as well.”
Father Rauenbuehler takes that message to heart in his first assignment as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory and chaplain and theology teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport. He looks forward to living and working with Father Greiner, a mentor and role model. He sees his assignment with high school students as an opportunity to “be a witness to Christ and to the church for them.”