Susan Klemond is a freelance writer living in St. Paul, Minn., who writes news and feature articles for the Register, OSV Newsweekly and the Catholic Spirit, the diocesan paper for St. Paul-Minneapolis. She also has worked in marketing, editing and magazine production. She thinks about St. Peter’s exhortation to ‘always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.’ While some days it’s probably better that no one asks, she keeps working on it.
Before their wedding in 1975, Paul and Julie VanHoose shopped for rings in Portsmouth, Ohio. They didn’t have much money then so they chose white gold wedding bands that together cost $35. “They were just plain and simple,” Julie recalled. “That’s what we wanted.”
The rings, worth little in the store, became spiritually priceless symbols of a marriage. Now they serve as constant reminders of the link between the couple’s marital vocation and the priestly vocation of their son, Father Chad VanHoose, especially as he celebrates the Eucharist.
Before he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis last month, then-deacon Chad VanHoose had the wedding bands his parents gave him incorporated into the stem of his first chalice before it was gold plated.
“The gift of my parents’ wedding rings, the gift of my own vocation, my death to self, my death in my vocation and giving life in my ministry, it’s all there wrapped up in the symbolism and it’s all very impactful for me,” said Father Chad, 34, who now serves at All Saints parish in Lakeville, Minnesota. “The married vocation and the priestly vocation are different sides of the same coin. They complement one another. They’re ways of giving of yourself totally to Lord.”
Seeing their son elevate the chalice at his first Mass in late May brought the VanHooses joy with the culmination of decades of prayer and support for their only son and youngest child’s spiritual and vocational journey.
“I was crying a lot,” said Julie, 60, who with Paul now lives in Amelia, Ohio. “Just a wonderful blessing. We’ve been on cloud nine ever since the ordination and beyond.… Every time that he says Mass we’re offering him our love along with him offering the Mass intention. We’ll be there on the altar every time.”
Said Paul, 62, “It’s almost like when he holds the chalice up he’s lifting us up.”
The idea to incorporate the rings into Father Chad’s chalice came from a story he heard about a poor couple giving their rings to be melted to line the inside of their priest son’s chalice. Other priests had placed their mother’s engagement diamond or other gemstones in a chalice but not the actual rings.
Under the chalice’s base, Father Chad had inscribed in Latin part of John 12:24 about a wheat grain dying: “But if it dies it bears much fruit,” recalling the paschal mystery, and his parents and his sacrifices.
“The Eucharistic species that this chalice will hold is just a continuation of the sign of the Lord’s outpouring of his love and the paschal mystery,” he said.
While Father Chad was growing up in South Shore, Kentucky, with two older sisters, Julie had a thought that he might be a priest. There was no Catholic church in the small town and the VanHoose family crossed the Ohio river into Portsmouth each week to attend Mass.
Father Chad earned a nursing degree in college but decided to serve as a missionary with NET ministries in Minnesota. Based in West St. Paul, Minnesota, NET sends teams of young adults to lead middle and high school retreats around the country. After his service, he continued working for NET in Minnesota, where he discerned his call to priesthood. “It was during that time [with] daily prayer daily Mass and good brotherhood relationships that the Lord slowly but surely was able to win my heart,” Father Chad said.
Though he now administers sacraments rather than practicing nursing, Father Chad is still involved in healing. “It’s a spiritual healing instead of a physical healing but even with the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, the Lord does still heal.”
Father Chad said his parents’ love for each other was a witness that affected his own discernment. “It didn’t mean that they never had disagreements or anything like that but I was always very loved by them. … I saw them make sacrifices for one another and for our family which was always impressive.”
Married couples and families are big influences on young people discerning a vocation, he said. “Priests, religious and faithful holy single people don’t just fall out of the sky,” he said. “They come from families, so I think an emphasis on holy marriage can only help the Church in our priestly vocational crisis.”
The VanHooses are confident Father Chad will be a good priest because he is “very kind, loving and tenderhearted,” Julie said.
The Old Testament story of Hannah and Samuel has especially resonated with the couple as they’ve watched their son enter his ministry. Like Hannah, they prayed for a son, and as the mother of the prophet gave her son to God, they’ve done the same.
Mothers literally lay down their lives to give birth and fathers give through their work, she said. “We’ve laid our lives down for our son, for our children, and now he’s given his life for the Church. That brings us great joy.”
She added, “He was on loan to us anyway. He never was ours. He’s always been the Lord’s.”