He's known for his animated air and quick wit, but Father John Klockeman turns pensive and serious when he recounts the moment he knew God was calling him to the priesthood. He was in Avila, Spain, kneeling in prayer before a painting of St. Teresa of Avila impaled with the love of God by an angel.
True to his calling, today he continues to seek deeper conversion to Christ — not only for himself but also for the people God has placed within the sphere of his ministry.
Born and raised in west St. Paul, Minn., to devout Catholic parents, John Klockeman always loved Mass and always felt a keen awareness of God's presence in his life. But then, just after college, something happened that startled him while at Mass. During the elevation of the Eucharist, he heard a voice that he describes as being outside of himself but also within. It said: That's what I want to do for the rest of my life.
“And I thought, No, I don't! I literally turned around and was like, you're kidding me,” he recalls. “I thought I'd live overseas, have a wife from another country, maybe have some kids. So, when this thought occurred to me at Mass, it just didn't jibe with where I thought my life was going.”
Still, over the next year, he prayed hard — and the thought of the priest-hood never left him. He fought thoughts of being unworthy, but couldn't see himself doing anything else.
“I remember being on a business trip in Peachtree, Georgia, and driving in a taxi to my hotel room and seeing these beautiful homes,” he says. “I thought, I'll never own one of those. It sounds superficial, but it represented a wife and children. But the desire for priest-hood kept growing and growing and overshadowed everything else.”
He left for a pilgrimage in Portugal and Spain with Miles Jesu, an international lay institute, and it was there that he confirmed his calling while praying before the painting of St. Teresa. Upon returning to the United States, he enrolled at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a master's degree in theology. Next, he entered the seminary in St. Paul and was ordained on May 27, 2000.
The first assignment Father Klockeman received after ordination was as the associate pastor to St. Olaf Church in downtown Minneapolis, where 150,000 souls occupy the streets daily — millionaires and mendicants, the brilliant and the mentally ill. It was with this swath of humanity in mind that Father Klockeman embraced the sacramental life of St. Olaf. He saw it as an opportunity to help many experience the joys of Christian conversion.
“There would be like 16 people in line for confession over the noon hour, and that's not counting the people who went up to Ole's Café for lunch, and then would come down later for confession,” he says. “We would easily hear confessions for an hour or two. Every day.” Father Klockeman would remain in the confessional until the last person in line had received the sacrament.
It was at St. Olaf's that he first met Nate and Cathy Clyde. It was immediately apparent to them that Father Klockeman put the needs of his parishioners ahead of his own.
“I remember one morning, we were at daily Mass, and the priest who was supposed to celebrate didn't come for whatever reason,” Cathy says. “Someone was sent to get Father John from the rec-tory. Ten minutes later, out comes Father John in his vestments, ready to celebrate Mass with his hair all matted up to one side.”
Nate interrupts to add, “Even though he had just woken up and had no time to prepare, he gave a great homily.”
When Nate and Cathy's daughter, Theresa Rose, was born, Father Klockeman came to pray over her. Nine months later, when Theresa Rose was hospitalized with a rare form of leukemia, the young priest ran to the hospital to be with the family. He was present when Theresa Rose was confirmed in the pediatric intensive-care unit. Only a few days later, Theresa Rose passed away. But during Father Klockeman's visit that evening, other hurting and spiritually hungry families approached him. And before he left, two more children had been confirmed.
Father Klockeman's zeal for souls and his passionate love for the priesthood have made him a natural fit for his current role: spiritual and formation director at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul — where 72 young men are now discerning or studying for the priesthood.
Earlier this summer, Father Klockeman spent four weeks in Leggiuno, Italy, participating in an international seminar on the integral formation of the Catholic priest. Together with 80 other priests from throughout the world, he was shown how to fully implement Pastores Dabo Vobis, Pope John Paul II's 1992 apostolic exhortation on the formation of priests, now in it's 14th year, the program run by the Legionaries of Christ promotes the authentic renewal of seminaries.
The seminar, he explains, stressed the need to form holy, academic, spiritual young men who are able to “own” their vocation and resist the currents of the surrounding secular culture. And, he adds, it legitimated the work he's been doing with the young men at St. John Vianney.
“They are a real inspiration to me,” says Father Klockeman. “They are in Eucharistic adoration (from) six to seven every morning, Mass every day and adoration again from 9:30 to 10:30 every evening. They have a devotion to Our Lady, the Eucharist, the Mass. They read the lives of the saints, pray the Liturgy of the Hours and live in fraternal Christian life.”
The feeling must be mutual. Father Klockeman spearheads Team Vianney, a group of young men of high-school age who come the first Thursday of every month for pizza and fellowship with Father Klockeman and the young men of the college seminary. It began with two or three seekers and has grown to 75 under Father Klockeman's leadership.
“Father John is in tune with the spiritual life,” says Father Thomas Wilson, vocation director for the seminary. “He is a prayerful, zealous priest, and the kids can sense it.”
And why not? Recalling the days he discerned his priesthood, Father Klockeman remembers: “I said to myself, I will only be a priest if I can be holy.”
It would seem that he is well on his way.
Joy Wambeke writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.