Roman Catholic parishioners the world over will spill out of their parish churches on Sunday, June 16 with an especially-cheerful mission. En route to family engagements seasoned with handmade cards and gifts for dads old and new, many will stop to wish their parish priests a heartfelt, “Happy Father’s Day, Father.”
It’s a tradition Fr. Tim Boyle of Lethbridge has appreciated since his ordination in 1974. While the secular notion of fatherhood “is a metaphor I never used to understand myself as a priest,” he admits the good wishes are gratefully accepted.
Deacon Troy Nguyen is at a significantly different place in his priestly vocation. Nguyen, 31, will receive Holy Orders on Friday, June 28, 2019. While he will have to wait a year before he hears the “Happy Father’s Day, Father” of the June greeting, he and Boyle already hold one Father’s Day tradition in common; both of these Calgary-born-and-raised priests use the occasion to thank God for their dads—and to contemplate their roles in the Church.
Are you hungry?
Nguyen says his dad is a man of few words. “But when we’re together at home, he’ll ask me, ‘are you hungry?’ I’ve come to recognize that simple question as an act of love and care. He wants to know if I am OK if I need anything. In some ways, I think I will be asking the people I serve the same question, ‘are you hungry?’ meaning, ‘how can I help, what do you need?’”
It’s an analogy Boyle can appreciate. He remembers his dad with great affection and is thankful for the many fathers he’s met in the parishes he’s worked in across southern Alberta. Like Nguyen, Boyle sees his vocation—and that of the secular dad—as rooted in service to others.
Indeed, that notion of service nurtured Boyle’s calling to the priesthood. He had an uncle who served as a missionary priest. As well, Boyle’s family (his dad and the six children), pulled together to care for their wife and mother after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Volunteering at the old children’s hospital gave Boyle additional frontline experience with service. “Those were some pretty formative experiences. And then I discovered that words have power, and I learned I had some ability to take ideas and give them expression in a way that helped people.” That knowledge, combined with a lifetime of faith practice nourished in his family, brought Boyle into the priesthood. He was ordained at the age of 24.
Nguyen’s journey included a break from seminary studies to finish a Bachelor of Education at the University of Alberta. In addition to teaching, he spent some time in the banking industry. The priestly vocation was “something I found really difficult to do at first,” admits Nguyen. “I felt like I was giving up everything. Now I understand that Jesus is worth giving up everything for. When I see an icon of Jesus on the cross, I realize he’s telling me, ‘God is worth it.’”
As a priest, Nguyen will share that faith with the people he serves in the Calgary Diocese. Now based at St. Peter’s, Nguyen also has strong ties to Calgary’s Vietnamese community. He will be the first Canadian-born Vietnamese priest ordained in this city. “When people I’ve met tell me they hope I can be their father, I know they are talking about my spiritual role in their lives. Still, it’s humbling.”
Boyle’s own role in the Church changed in 2018. Stepping back from the role of the parish priest, he now serves as the Bishop’s Delegate to a Diocesan committee that follows up allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy. He’s also the Vicar for Clergy, where he helps the Bishop with priest assignments. These are dramatically different roles for the long-time parish priest, but he accepts the challenges with the heart of a willing servant who believes the grace of Christ means “there will always be this core of love to keep His Church alive.”
In the same way that earthly dads take care of their children, Boyle sees God’s hand in the world. “Life is not in the hands of fate. It’s not in the hands of chance. It’s a divine story that has God as its beginning and God as its ending,” says Boyle.
Nguyen echoes that sentiment. As a priest, he recognizes that his vocation is a gift from God that he can nurture with his faith. “Really, what people are looking for is hope. As a priest, I want to help them find that.”
Written by Joy Gregory
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers