A different kind of father, a different kind of family

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 16, 2012



LAPLACE – A vow of celibacy keeps them from having a true family and being dads, but it is difficult to deny the fact that most Catholic priests possess many of the qualities that make normal men fathers.

“You don’t have your own family, but you have parishioners who you see every Sunday that you call family. They actually call us ‘father,’” said the Rev. Fr. John-Nhan Tran, head pastor at St. Joan of Arc Church. “We have the great privilege of leading our parishioners through great spiritual moments in their life. From Baptism, to weddings and even into death at a funeral. We are the guides, the shepherds of our flock.”

Tran said a good priest, like a good father, is always available to offer assistance and bestow advice. He said many priests have gotten into the habit of giving out their personal cellphone numbers to offer constant and immediate access.

“I look at it this way. What kind of father would tell his children that he is there for them always but then refuses to hand over an immediate link?” Tran said. “As a priest, I’m supposed to be there for my parish. It doesn’t mean I can always address needs right away, but I’m always available.”

The Rev. Walter Austin, head pastor at Ascension of Our Lord Church, said most priests will work to relate the characteristics of a father figure – nurturing, guiding protector – with the teachings of the church, particularly on Father’s Day.

“It is what we are called to do,” Austin said. “We are the spiritual guides. We have an obligation to offer advice to those who ask for it. It is important for priests to know who they are and what they are called to do.”

Austin said when someone comes to him with an issue or a concern he looks at the reasons why they came to the church for answers. He said in some cases they may be looking for spiritual advice, but other times they need something more.

“I relate the problem to the scripture, but sometimes it can be more than that,” Austin said.

“It is our job as priests to refer them to a professional counselor if issues are more serious,” he added

When it comes to dishing out that spiritual advice, the Rev. Martin Smullen of St. Peter Church in Reserve said it is important to apply the scripture in a practical way in an effort to get those seeking advice to look at their situation and get a sense of what they need to do.

“I think we try to avoid absolutes,” Smullen said.

“I don’t think any good father tells his children exactly what they should do. You want to help them on the right path, but you want them to make their own choices,” he added.

Smullen said most priests do as most good fathers do.

“We offer delight in achievements, we comfort in times of pain, and we do our best to offer support and guidance people need in those times,” he said. “We are their spiritual fathers. You sometimes lose contact with some people, but they always seem to come back, and we always welcome them back.”

Although it isn’t technically considered a church holiday, Father’s Day is often celebrated in the church as it always falls on a Sunday and each church has its own way of celebrating.

“We offer a blessing to the fathers in attendance, and we try to relate the readings of the Mass to what it means to be a father,” Austin said. “Father’s Day Mass is popular, but it isn’t nearly as big as Mother’s Day.”

In addition to a blessing, Tran said St. Joan of Arc encourages parishioners to enroll fathers in the Mass dedication book. He said the church dedicates Masses throughout the month to fathers both living and dead. He also said the church institutes a donation drive for a mission in Mexico run by Fr. Benny Piovan, a former pastor at Ascension of Our Lord.

“The priests there work on donations,” Tran said. “It lets them know that we think of them as part of our church. The small donation goes a long way.”

Smullen said the blessings he bestows at the end of Mass on Father’s Day often call to mind the forefathers of the Old Testament and the fatherhood of God.

“That is the ultimate model we follow,” Smullen said. “We as priests are acting in God’s image, and we try to relay that as best we can to our parishioners.”