This month, our parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of the priesthood for Father Robert Gehring, who happens to be my cousin. More than a hundred family members and friends attended his anniversary Mass, followed by a dinner reception.
Father Bob has led an interesting life. In addition to his time as a parish priest, he served as a missionary in Cambodia during the Viet Nam war. His photo once appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine as he fled gunfire running to board an awaiting plane. He joined Maryknoll as an associate priest where he traveled by boat to serve the poor. He walked the streets the toughest neighborhoods of Gary Indiana where he was the only white person in an area infested with gangs and violence.
He said he felt no fear in any of these places. The danger did not concern him. I mentioned that fearlessness was definitely not a family trait. His mother and my mother were sisters who worried about most everything. Father Bob agreed, saying his mother did not want to go to these places. I said his fearlessness must have come from God, enabling him to do all these things with a strong faith that everything would be okay.
Also attending Father Bob’s anniversary celebration was Sister Elise Kriss, who also grew up in our little parish, and who coincidentally is also celebrating her 50th anniversary as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis. Sister Elise is President of the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was fortunate to have a nice conversation with her at the dinner. Our parish should be so proud to be home of these two great servants of God.
The bad news is that Father Bob and Sister Elise are the last vocations we have produced. No one from our parish that I am aware of in the last 50 years has gone on to the seminary or a convent. I don’t know what to say about that. Losing our Catholic School certainly played a factor, and I am sure changes in our society have led to fewer vocations, not only here, but everywhere. Will circumstances ever change? I don’t know. Prayers and better catechesis may be the answer.