Kate Kelleher Junk’s father, Kevin Kelleher, instilled the Catholic faith in her from a young age. (Submitted photo)
In honor of Father’s Day, I would like to highlight the wisdom of a Catholic father — my own, who planted the seeds of faith into me from the day I was born. Pope Francis reminds us, “Every family needs a father — a father who shares in his family’s joy and pain, hands down wisdom to his children and offers them firm guidance and love.”
Get yourself to Mass — and sit up front
Without fail, my father, Kevin Kelleher, got us to Mass. Mass is where we get to witness the miracle of the Eucharist, and this miracle is easier to comprehend as a child if you can see the altar rather than the back of the person in front of you. Usually, my family attended the 4:30 p.m. Mass, where we sat in the second row on the Marian side. When we traveled, my father would call the hotel’s front desk to ask about Mass times before we had even unpacked. When I get credit from fellow parishioners for dragging my four kids into a pew near the front, I explain that my kids are usually better behaved when they can see what is happening.
Even small traditions are worth holding onto
My father weaved his faith in a million small ways over each day, and very few of them involved words. This is how he evangelized me. He wrapped a distinct Catholic culture around us by holding on to these practices. Whether it was always crossing oneself upon passing a Catholic Church in deference to the Blessed Sacrament or holding onto abstinence from meat on Fridays after the USCCB allowed for alternate forms of penance, his constant and consistent minor observances impressed upon me that we are in the world, but we are called to holiness.
There is comfort in the Mass and the wisdom of the saints
Throughout my life, I have suffered from an anxiety disorder. When I was particularly low, he gave me two gifts I treasure to this day. One of them is a medal from St. Julian, whose quote “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” has become a phrase that I lean on when anxious. I have already passed this on to one of my children, who has their own struggles with anxiety.
However, more than the comfort of the saints was his patient explanation of how he was able to lean on his faith when life got tough or when he doubted himself. He told me about his time in graduate school at Loyola University Chicago. He stopped at a church he frequented to pray while running between campus and the Metra, when a part of the Mass struck him. He pointed out what remains to me the most comforting part of any Mass (aside from the Consecration): “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.”
He took a page of an old missalette with these words, torn and folded to fit nicely into his wallet, which he carried for nearly 20 years, and handed it to me, reminding me that God does not want the brokenness of anxiety for me. This page now sits in a frame in my bedroom. Each time I hear these words before the exchange of peace, I think of both my fathers — the heavenly one and the earthly one — and their immense love for me.
Be patient and look for openings with your children
When I was in high school, I had a bit of a petulant streak, and there was a time when I butted heads with both of my parents, convinced that I knew best. I didn’t. My father watched as I waded through my relationship with God — trying to determine where I fit, why I was Catholic, or if I even would’ve believed had I not been raised as a cradle Catholic — and waited. I think he knew that timing mattered. Forcing me to follow his timeline might have turned me off entirely. Instead, when I was receptive, he welcomed me back and, to his credit, has not brought it up again. His prodigal returned home.
Faith is a verb; keep showing up
While faith is a gift we are given, we are called to put it into practice. I often describe my father as a man who has “never met a stranger in his life.” His servant’s heart has him constantly showing up both for those he loves and those he barely knows — whether that means driving all night to help someone move or traveling all the way from Brooklyn to Michigan for a wedding (true story, those two men are still the best of friends to this day, 40 years later), or simply helping a fellow human get connected with those who can meet one of their needs, I cannot remember a single time where my father heard of a person in need without springing into action.
As Antoine François Prévost said, “The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.” I am so thankful for the heart of the man who is mine.
Happy Father’s Day, all.