The long road to the priesthood
By Father Rich Daise
I was born on December 24, 1951 in Goodland. Mom always said it was the longest Christmas of her life. Mom was lying in the hospital on Christmas Day. She counted all the ceiling tiles, then all the holes in the ceiling tiles. And dad and my siblings were all playing grandma’s playing card and drinking coffee. Finally, dad and my brother, Gene, came to the hospital. Gene was my godfather. He was coming back from the Navy. I was baptized on December 31, and Gene was sent to Korea soon after.
I am the product of natural and very careful family planning. My parents had four children, then they waited 20 years before having me to see what their mistakes were so as not to make them again! Mom told me that if I had been the first, I would have been an only child.
My father was a farmer. He had grown up on his grandfather’s farm in 1886. My parents celebrated the first Catholic wedding in Saint-FranÃ§ois in 1925. My parents lived in a basement about half a mile from my grandparents’ house. Their plan was to build a house in the basement. It never happened.
Dad had health problems. He ended up working in Steamboat Springs, CO. Mom raised four children in the 1930s. Finally, in 1947, they were able to move into the original family home where my grandparents had lived. I was the closest age to my sister, and she was 20 years older than me! I don’t think she ever thought I grew up. But I remember the transition when my older brothers started talking to me about things.
My brother Ted died in a boating accident when I was six years old. It was 1958. He was in the Navy stationed in Florida. They just called my mom on the phone and asked her if she was Ted Daise’s mom. She said âyesâ and they said, âWell, he’s dead. A very bad way to inform the family of the death of a soldier.
It was the first time I saw my mother cry. We went out to tell my dad. It was amazing watching them. Dad stood there with his head down and clutched at the tractor. They were very factual. The funeral was in Florida and I couldn’t go. After 40 long years, I was finally able to visit my brother’s grave.
I was very close to my older brother, Bob. In 1954 he was back from the merchant navy. He dug a pipe and put water in our house. I crawled under the sink while he worked and talked to him. My mom said it was pathetic when Bob left to return to the Merchant Navy, and I kept crawling under the sink to talk to him.
When I decided to go to seminary, I wrote a letter to Gene and Bob. He said, âI think I’ll go to seminary. Gene and I were talking about things, but Bob and I never did. I didn’t know if he would approve. But I was at home, and I stopped in his office to see him, and all the ladies started to congratulate me. And I looked at Bob, and he was beaming. And I knew he was okay with it.
I went to a one-class school for elementary school. There were six of us who started the first year together. We were the greatest class! I went to high school in Goodland. I played football, wrestling and athletics. My junior year, I was in the school room. I had 3 roles! Two of them were corpses. I have also been very involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H. I really liked 4-H and participated in several projects.
The year I had my First Reconciliation and First Communion, Mom took me on a trip to New Mexico to see my cousins. So I received my sacraments on Wednesday before the rest of the class received the following weekend. Everyone was in jeans that day, but I was in a coat and tie. I remember everything from my first communion.
Until grade 8, I was serious about the priesthood. But I didn’t think about the high school priesthood. I thought about going to the Annapolis Naval Academy. I didn’t think I could go because I thought you had to be a perfect physical specimen with a straight Ace. I had glasses and I was a solid B student. But after meeting a few guys from Annapolis, I quickly realized that was not the case!
After abandoning Annapolis, 4-H launched a veterinary science project. I immersed myself in it. I even had a business card and wrote DVM after my name. The deputy director told me that I was a little optimistic. I never had the opportunity to tell him that it had come true.
I went to Kansas State University for veterinary school. It was during the Vietnam conflict, and I was number 2 in the lottery. But I was in ROTC, so I was on the reserves and I was able to finish my studies and get my vet diploma. I owed two years in the army. The plan was to do two years and then get out. But the army continued to offer me good deals. I tell people that I was drafted and that I forgot to go out. I was in the military for 28 years.
Most of what I did in the military was preventative medicine. Not only for animals (dogs and horses) but also for human health for zoonotic diseases. I also did food inspection. I really enjoyed it. I actually got my masters degree in food science and technology. We also performed food factory inspections for sanitation, methodology and management practices.
I retired from the military on April 1, 2004. Guess it was effective because no one said April Fool’s Day! After my release, I got a job with an army contractor on a team of active and retired military personnel. We did training exercises and seminars. I learned a lot of things that I probably should have known while on active duty. But in the end, the military divided our team. And that’s when it happened.
I had never left the Church. A lot of people in my generation have done it, but I never have. Many people have asked me if I had ever thought about the priesthood. I spoke with Bishop Fitzsimmons and told him I was interested, but it took a few years to put things back in order. At that time, Bishop Coakley was in Salina. He picked me up and sent me to Blessed John XXIII National Seminary outside of Boston.
My favorite classes were Church History. I am passionate about history. We had to make a report, and I did mine on Father Emil Kapaun. I used to visit Pilsen, Father Kapuan’s home, twice a year. I think he was the one who kicked me in the pants to become a priest. I wonder if I am part of his miracles because he has influenced my faith. I have been asked to send my story to Rome as part of its cause of holiness. I admired him because we had a lot of parallels – Kansas farm boys, army, Catholic, and Korean service.
My least favorite course was philosophy. There were only three in the class who understood it. I took pity on the professor. He was trying to explain it, and we just didn’t get it. One day he shouted, âIt’s not rocket science, guys! And one of my classmates, who was a retired NASA engineer, said, âI wish I did! Because maybe I would understand!
I was ordained a priest on May 22, 2010. People from all over the world came. It was a good day. Thanksgiving Mass was at Goodland. Mass and the sacraments are the best part of the job. I like funerals. You get to know people at the funeral. And at funerals, people don’t come up with ideas about the funeral they’ve been planning for years (like weddings sometimes are). At a funeral, they just want you to help them.
For those considering the priesthood. I would say give it a try. The first answer is, âI am not worthy. You’re right. None of us are. But the good Lord needs someone to do it. He doesn’t call the qualifiers. He qualifies the called party. I am in awe of the men who are willing to give it a try.
From the September 24, 2021 issue of The Register