With six grandchildren and another on the way, Fr. Dennis Saran jokes that he is likely the only priest with two car seats in his car — soon to be three.
Ordained at the age of 59, Fr. Saran is one of many men who are hearing God’s call a bit later in life. Before he entered the seminary, he served as a pediatrician in the Waukesha/Brookfield area for 25 years.
“God started his call on me about two years before my wife became sick and died,” he said. “I told her a year before she became sick that if anything would happen to her, I think I would like to be a priest.”
Ordained by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in 2015, Fr. Saran said that following his ordination, the diocese set the maximum age for ordination at 60.
“Being a doctor and a priest are very similar roles,” he explained. “The only serious difference I noticed is that as a priest you are exposed to people’s sufferings on a daily basis, which, as a pediatrician, I was not. I consider both to be vocations.”
When Fr. Saran entered the seminary, his children mistakenly thought he was entering a cloistered monastery and wouldn’t be able to get in touch with him again. The first two weeks of seminary were quite busy and a major adjustment for him, so he didn’t return their calls.
“They were panicking and trying other means to reach me until finally, I called back, and they gave me quite a tongue lashing for not getting in touch with them,” he said, laughing. “They were just about ready to make plans for a hostage rescue.”
Fr. Saran, who is the pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield, has three daughters, and two of them became Muslim while he was in the seminary.
“We have quite a dinner table meeting of faiths,” he said.
Since he became a priest, Fr. Saran admitted he has never felt more at peace, because he listened to God’s call for his life.
“I just wish I was better at the job,” he said. “It seems that although I feel apart from the other recently ordained, it is like being in a sport where everyone is a generation younger. It seems many people appreciate the fact that I have had various life experiences and seem to appreciate what many others are experiencing in their lives. I often speak of my family in my homilies because that is where my love for God is fostered.”
When Fr. Robert Kacalo, pastor of St. Stephen Parish in Oak Creek, made plans to enter the seminary, it was the second time around for him.
“I originally applied to the priesthood from the Diocese of Green Bay when I was 18 years old, after having an out-of-body experience that involved the Blessed Virgin Mary in my home parish of St. Augustine in a rural community in northeast Wisconsin,” Fr. Kacalo said. “The Diocese of Green Bay was sending their seminarians to Saint Francis De Sales in Milwaukee in those days. I met with a vocations director in Milwaukee and, approximately one week later, I received a letter of rejection, citing within it, ‘I had not let go of the world yet.’”
Though disappointed, he accepted that the rejection was God’s will and went on with his life and faith journey. Fr. Kacalo worked full-time for Boston Store and owned various businesses that included special event planning, floral and décor, and two restaurants. He continued to remain active in his parish as a lector and Eucharistic minister.
But the calling never left him.
“Then I heard a papal announcement for the upcoming millennium, the year 2000, ‘Open Wide the Doors to Christ,’ by St. John Paul II,” he said. “It resonated with me, and I began to pursue the possibility of priesthood once again. I approached my pastor at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Bishop Willian Callahan, to see what my options would be to begin the process. He gave me the option to become a Black Franciscan of St. Bonaventure, like himself, and that would take seven years to complete, or I could pursue becoming a diocesan priest for Milwaukee, which would take five years. I chose the latter.”
Fr. Kacalo was ordained in 2006, by Timothy Cardinal Dolan for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at 56 years of age. He explained that, from the time he was 18 until he was finally ordained, God was preparing him with maturity and life lessons learned along the way. They have prepared him to be present and understanding of others who struggle and need God’s healing through the sacramental life of the Church.
“I could not be happier in my choice in service to God and his Church as a priest of Jesus Christ,” Fr. Kacalo said. “I feel I have found my true home and purpose in what God wanted for me in my life. Similar to my career choices before priesthood, I continue to be in service to others by being a part of God’s vineyard here on earth to save souls. Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.”