Rich family prayer life credited with fostering vocations

Categories: Around the Diocese

Nov. 22, 2013, edition
By Jennifer Janikula
For The Visitor

Patricia Wolfbauer, from St. Andrew Parish in Elk River, is the mother of a priest. When asked how she helped foster her son Michael’s religious vocation, she quickly answered, “I didn’t!”

She “made” her three boys go to Mass every week, but she won’t take credit for Michael’s call to the priesthood.

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A Lieser family photo: More than 15 descendants of Joseph and Theresa (Hemmesch) Lieser have entered religious life, including Fathers Greg Lieser and Tim Baltes. Photo courtesy of the Lieser family

“He taught me more than I ever taught him. He chose it. It’s what he wanted,” Patricia said.

Obviously her son, Father Michael Wolfbauer, gives her more credit.

“Even though they don’t think so, my parents fostered my vocation,” said Father Wolfbauer, pastor of the parishes of Sacred Heart in Glenwood and St. Bartholomew in Villard. “They prayed for me, and we went to church together as a family every week — even when we were on vacation or at the cabin.”

Like Father Wolfbauer, many priests, sisters and brothers describe the vocational call as an intimate understanding between each individual and God. The call is personal, but families play a role in supporting all vocations, especially religious.

In some cases, families foster multiple religious vocations. These families share many common traits and practices, but prayer-filled family life is their primary connection.

Give yourself away

Greg and Mary Kuhn, parishioners at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, placed God’s will at the center of their family life. They encouraged their three children — Aaron, Matthew and DeAnna — to consistently consider God’s plan.

“Our philosophy was to start and end each day with the Lord,” Greg said. “We offered each day as an act of love for the Lord and asked, ‘Lord what do you have in mind today?’ ”

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In 2006, then-Deacon Matt and Father Aaron Kuhn: Both are now ordained priests. Photo courtesy of the Kuhn family

All three of the Kuhn children considered religious life — DeAnna chose marriage as her vocation and Aaron and Matthew became priests.

Father Aaron Kuhn, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Wadena, said his parents fostered his prayer life and his relationship with the Lord by sending him to Catholic school, attending daily Mass during the summer, praying the rosary and participating, as a family, in the church community.

His parents instilled a concept of “giving yourself away” — that life is a gift to be offered in God’s service. “We were taught to save ourselves for the Lord,” Father Aaron Kuhn recalled, “and to be prepared to do whatever the Lord asks.”

For Father Matthew Kuhn, pastor of St. Henry Parish in Perham, marriage and music fostered his vocation.

“My parents fostered my vocation with theirs,” Father Matthew Kuhn said. “Mom and Dad have such a strong marriage and they model marriage so well. They did argue occasionally, but in a way that seemed selfless.”

Father Mathew Kuhn fondly remembered an argument between his parents that ended with his mom declaring to his dad, “No! We’re gonna do it your way and you’re gonna like it.”

The Kuhns moved around quite a bit because of Greg’s National Guard career, but in every community the Kuhn family would gladly and harmoniously lead music for at least one Mass each week.

“Music was my way into God,” Father Matthew Kuhn explained. “Music is a great first taste of the beauty and grace of God. Music is God’s natural way to open people to emotion and vulnerability.”

Which order to join?

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Three sisters in the Florian and Ida Lenz family celebrated milestone anniversaries of their vocations this summer. Standing (from left) are Franciscan Sister Mary Therese (70 years) and Benedictine Sister Dorothea (65 years) with Benedictine Sister Luann (60 years) seated. Photo courtesy of the Lenz family

Florian and Ida Lenz had six children and three chose religious vocations — Franciscan Sister Therese and Benedictine Sisters Dorothea and Luanne.

The sisters, who have served their respective communities for more than 60 years, described their family as “not overly pious,” just a typical Catholic family. They attended Mass regularly, prayed the rosary during Lent and went to monthly confession.

Their mother, Ida, wanted to be a religious sister when she was young and later regularly prayed that one of her daughters would enter the convent. Yet, growing up, the daughters understood that their vocation was their choice.

Surprisingly, the sisters never discussed their interest in religious life with each other.

Sister Dorothea recalled: “We were close, but we didn’t talk about becoming religious sisters. I didn’t even know my younger sister was interested.”

Sister Therese, the oldest of the six children, entered St. Francis Convent in Little Falls during World War II. At the time, the Lenz family lived in Waconia, Minn., nearly 100 miles from Little Falls. War rations on gasoline delayed Sister Therese’s trip.

“My parents had to save up their gas stamps,” Sister Therese said. “Once they had enough, they drove me to the convent. As my dad was leaving, he said, ‘You will always have a home to come back to.’ ”

Five years later, Sister Dorothea went to St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. She was called to religious life at a very young age, but had a difficult time deciding which order to join. She learned about the Franciscans from Sister Therese, she went to school in St. Michael with School Sisters of Notre Dame and had a good friend who had become a Benedictine sister.

Sister Dorothea wrote a letter to the Benedictines and received such a wonderful response that her calling became obvious. She was confident about her choice, but was still nervous about sharing the news with Sister Therese.

Sister Dorothea called Sister Therese the night before she went to the convent: “I felt really bad when I told her I was going to the Benedictines. I thought she would feel so bad. We both got tears in our eyes, but she was just glad that I was going to a convent.”

Inspired by the faith of her parents, but especially by her sisters, Sister Luanne joined the Benedictine monastery five years after Sister Dorothea.

“I loved the letters they wrote to me,” Sister Luanne said. “They were my models of how to serve others with love.”

Surrounded by vocations

More than 15 descendants of the Joseph and Theresa (Hemmesch) Lieser family have entered religious life.

Joseph and Theresa’s grandson, retired Father Greg Lieser, experienced encouragement and support from his aunts and uncles who chose religious vocations. He remembers family gatherings where religious aunts would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the expected answer was priest, brother or sister.

Along with the encouragement of his family, Father Lieser said St. Martin Parish also fostered his vocation.

“St. Martin’s was a big factor,” said Father Lieser. “I saw young men go off to seminary and come back as priests, living a meaningful life serving people.”

Father Tim Baltes, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Sartell and great grandson of Joseph and Therese Lieser, said that he was surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends who chose a religious vocation.

“In my family, a religious vocation had equal footing with marriage,” Father Baltes explained. “Religious life was always a valid option.” He felt blessed to witness his family members successfully live out their faith in both vocations.

Family support 

Father Scott Pogatchnik, diocesan director of vocations, explained that families can foster religious vocations by creating an atmosphere of prayer in the home and sharing their personal encounters with Christ.

“It’s more than the rote meal prayer,” Father Pogatchnik said. “Recognize and give thanks for the presence of God.” He also suggested inviting priests to your family meal, visiting a seminary or convent and modeling your authentic faith life.

To learn more about how a family can foster vocations, contact the diocesan Vocations Office at 320-251-5001 or visit stcdio.org/vocations.