Growing up in Ripon, Bob Klemm knew from a young age that he wanted mission work to be the largest part of his life. He grew up in a faithful Catholic home, watching his parents and grandparents live out their faith before him, making their devotion to Christ the center of their lives. Along with his younger brother, he grew up going to Mass and serving on the altar, his family lovingly pointing both of them toward devotion to the Church.
During his junior year in high school, he was introduced to the SPIRITUS organization through a retreat they offered to confirmation students at his home church, St. Catherine of Siena. He eagerly participated and learned all about the team of young adults in their 20s, who spend nine months serving the Church. He completed his first retreat with them and wanted more.
After high school, with missions still on his mind, he went to college in the Twin Cities, where he majored in physics and minored in math, and felt the constant call to do something more with his faith. During college, he participated in retreats and mission work and, with every experience, felt a fire burning inside him to continue. When he returned home after graduation, he took a year off to pursue God’s call, not knowing what that might be.
“I didn’t know exactly what he wanted from me,” Klemm said. “But I knew I needed to wait and listen.”
SPIRITUS hosted a Cor Isu event in Appleton that he attended several times and, as the months wore on, he kept seeing the organization pop up in different places around town. He felt a draw to them that he could only explain as divine and so, after prayer and consideration, he decided to donate a year of his life to the mission of cultivating faith in the youth.
Klemm loved that the goal of the Menasha-based organization is to inspire Catholic youth all across the state, to support youth ministry in churches, host retreats, and form lifelong missionary disciples and ultimately leaders for the Church. He saw how needed that work was and wanted to be a part of it. As one of 12 missionaries who joined SPIRITUS this year, the 12th year the ministry has been operating, Klemm has committed 534 hours in prayer, 152 hours in leadership formation, 132 hours in ministry training and 421 hours in direct ministry to Catholic youth all across the state of Wisconsin. And now, even during COVID, the missionaries have found a way to host 150 retreats for more than 5,000 Catholic students.
“With the current pandemic,” Klemm said, “we’ve had to adapt and overcome a number of challenges, but it’s all part of answering God’s call — seeing what he needs and doing it without complaining.”
The missionaries work at the Mount Tabor Center in Menasha during the week and on weekends go out to parishes or host virtual retreats.
Klemm said the goal is to spread the love of God to Catholic youth and unite them to Christ, that he sees the deep need to build up the faith in our church’s youth, that he’d begun to see it years ago when he was a confirmation student. “We need a faith formation where the kids are encountering Christ,” Klemm said. “We need to be that inspiration for them.”
He’s already had first-hand experience with what that encounter can do in a person’s life as his faith has grown over the years, and this year in particular. With spiritual direction every week, and a holy hour where he immerses himself in prayer every day, Klemm said he’s not sure what God’s plans are for him when the year is over. But, as he’s felt his faith grow, he knows the year he’s spent serving is exactly where God wanted him to be. “I know with complete certainty that whatever I do after this year, it’ll be Christ-centered, and that every day it’ll be me doing my best to bring others to him, like I’m trying to do now.”