I’ve known a lot of priests in my lifetime. It happens when you’ve been Catholic for a lifetime.
I think of Father Coughlin, in the stuffy darkness of the confessional on Saturday afternoon, always giving three Hail Mary’s — never more, never less — as penance.
I think of Msgr. Meade with his rich Irish brogue who found me crying more over the rip in my brand-new stretch pants than the scrape on my knee and told me that it was OK to go home and change, even if I did miss the start of Sunday Mass.
And then I think of Father David Jaspers, who was ordained last June.
All the other priests I’ve known, I’ve met when they were adults. I met David when he was 3 years old. It would make a nice story to say that I saw something that day in the blond-haired boy riding in a little red wagon his mom was pulling that gave me a premonition of his vocation, but that would be historical revisionism.
As I watched him grow up (we were next-door neighbors), I saw something different in him, but it was vague, amorphous. Perhaps he was a bit more compassionate than other boys; maybe he was a little more attentive at Mass. Or perhaps I am just remembering through the clarity of hindsight.
What did make David stand out, however, was his deep interest in and concern for people of all ages and races. From the time he was a toddler, he genuinely cared. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when, during college, he said he was considering the seminary.
His family, while supportive, was cautious. His mom and dad, his three sisters and brother wanted to be sure that he was sure. So David did what many young men his age do: He got a job, he dated, he traveled … and he discerned. When he finally entered Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Ore., I had no doubt that he had thought through his decision.
That’s not to say he boarded the Priesthood Express and never looked back. When he would come home to visit, he would often stop by my house and we would chat about his concerns — giving up the chance to be a husband and father were often on the docket. But with each passing year, I could see that the call to serve was growing stronger.
Second ‘first’ Communion
On the day of his ordination to the diaconate, I pulled out my press card and stood with the other reporters and photographers to take pictures his family couldn’t have gotten from their pew. A year later, on the day of his ordination to the priesthood, St. Mary’s Cathedral was standing-room only. I’m sure the fire marshal would have had a coronary if he had seen the people crowding the steps to the choir loft, crouched in the aisles and packed in the vestibule. This time, I left the press card at home. I wanted to be a participant, not an observer, so I took my place in an overcrowded pew.
During Communion, I sidled from one line to another so that I could receive from David. He smiled as he held out the host. “The Body of Christ.” It was my second first Communion.
A priest forever
The next weekend, David was back at his parents, gathering up some of his things to take to his first assignment. I asked him to drop by. I wanted to be anointed for an incurable, life-long disease that probably isn’t going to kill me but makes life very difficult at times.
I was in the kitchen when he walked up, and seeing him for the first time in his clerical blacks, I was struck by the reality that David was really, truly now a priest. We sat in the living room and talked, and then he brought out the holy oil and his prayer book.
“Is this your first anointing?” I asked.
“Surely the first anointing of a newly ordained priest must have special merit,” I teased.
“Maybe,” he said with a chuckle. I lowered my head and he began the time-honored ritual. When he was finished, he invited me to his sister’s for dinner, then hugged me. He said he was excited about his new life, but, naturally, a little apprehensive as well. “Pray for me,” he said as he departed.
I’ve known many priests during my lifetime. But I’ve only watched one grow up. It’s either very fitting or highly ironic that that one should have been ordained during the Year for Priests.
Be blessed, Father David.
And pray for me.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker writes from Oregon.