I remember like it was yesterday. I was assigned as the associate pastor at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish, Milwaukee. It was my first contact with members of the high school youth group in a getting- to-know-you session.
Kim, one of the students, asked what the “E” stood for in my name. I humorously told her it was “Elizabeth.” They all laughed, didn’t believe that, and the conversation shifted to another topic.
She was so curious about my middle name that she went (at that time) to “directory assistance,” called one of the “Heppes” from Slinger and located my uncle who told her my middle name. My name was important to her. Our name should be important to each of us as well.
With the assignment of Bishop Donald J. Hying to the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, two other priests and I were delegated by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki to administer the sacrament of confirmation this past year.
It was a joyful, exhilarating experience for all of us, and a real testimony to the faith of the young men and women who wanted to be confirmed, as well as to those who worked with them in the process.
I learned quite a bit about the saints whose names were carefully chosen by these confirmation candidates. They did not choose these names haphazardly. The names were chosen because these saints lived holy lives and reflected qualities the students wanted to emulate in their own lives.
When I read the letters from the students, I often needed a computer nearby to look up the name of the particular saint they designated. They had researched the names and made some wonderful, very appropriate choices.
Many of the names reflected their devotion to well-known saints like Francis, Mother Teresa, John Paul II, Maximilian Kolbe, Francis of Assisi, Anthony, Mary, Joseph, etc. Some were new to me.
I learned about St. Adjutor, patron saint of swimmers, who was captured in the first crusade and who escaped by swimming. The young man who chose this saint was a swimmer. I learned about St. Columbanus, patron saint of motorcyclists. Columbanus was an Irishman who traveled Europe sharing the Gospel message of Jesus. Because of his traveling, he was named the patron saint of motorcyclists. The candidates choosing this saint were motorcyclists.
As a bicyclist, I would have chosen Madonna del Ghisallo, patron of local travelers of this Italian town who became the patron saint of bicyclists.
Our names are indeed very important. All too often we forget their significance. I look to my own name, Patrick, the great saint of Ireland and a great evangelizer. I strive to live the Gospel in the manner Patrick did and to share this Gospel as often as possible.
I did a “Google search” on my last name. “Heppe” is German and means a tool used to trim trees. As a priest, “I am the vine you are the branches,” from Gospel John 15, has great meaning and significance in my vocation. Living up to my name is always a challenge.
Maybe you didn’t choose your confirmation name. Maybe you were given a name. It’s not too late to research what your name means and to model your life after that saint. If your name does not adequately reflect your life or your faith, maybe it’s time to choose a favorite saint.
Looking for a saint as a model for your life is easy when you have a computer with which you can search for and research your favorite saint. The real challenge is living the Christian qualities of the saint you choose.
Curious about the middle initial in my name? The “E” does not stand for Elizabeth; it’s Emmett. My grandfather was very proud of his Irish heritage so I received his name. Celtic spirituality has become one of my special interests.