Father’s day . . . with a twist

| June 19, 2012 | 0 Comments


Father Joseph Bergida, left, elevates the Eucharist as he prays the prayer of consecration with his grandfather, Father Bob Hamel, right, at his side during a special Father’s Day Mass at St. Peter’s historic church in Mendota. Father Hamel was ordained 29 years ago at the Cathedral of St. Paul and is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Father Bergida, who was baptized at St. Peter by Father Hamel, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Arlington, Va., on June 9. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Theresa Bergida sits in the front pew at St. Peter’s historic church in Mendota, where she was baptized 56 years ago. Up on the altar, two priests are celebrating Mass.

One is her son, and one is her father. The day? Sunday, June 17 — Father’s Day. Of course.

Perhaps this all felt a bit strange to her. After all, how many women can say they have both a father and a son who are Roman Catholic priests?

But she doesn’t give much thought to the oddity of this fact. Rather, the overwhelming feeling is joy. Amazingly, the Father’s Day Mass marks the third time in eight days she has watched the two celebrate Mass together.

These events were made possible on June 9, when her son, Father Joseph Bergida, 28, was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Arlington, Va. His grandfather, Father Bob Hamel, 85, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, vested him. Twenty eight years ago, Father Hamel baptized Father Bergida at St. Peter. The Bergidas moved to Virginia two years later, where they have lived ever since.

Road to priesthood

For Theresa, the ordination Mass was the most emotional part of this journey, which began more than 30 years ago when her father, Father Hamel, announced to his only child his intention to pursue the priesthood.

In the 1970s, he was raising Theresa by himself after getting a divorce from his then-wife Ann. Eventually, being single rekindled a childhood dream of being ordained a priest.

Now in his mid 50s, the road seemed clear, except for one last obstacle — an annulment. It was granted in 1979, and he entered a seminary in Milwaukee shortly thereafter. He was ordained a transitional deacon at St. Peter, then eventually a priest at the Cathedral of St. Paul in 1983.

Theresa attended the ordination, pregnant with Joe, the first of seven children she has had with her husband, Mike. Joe was born exactly four months later, and it didn’t take long for her to see that he was headed on the same path as his grandfather.

“He always said he was going to be a priest — and he played Mass an awful lot,” she said. “I think it really solidified when he made his first Communion. We all just knew that this was what he was going to do.”

It was a calling that never wavered.

“Deep down inside, I was sensing this calling from God,” Father Bergida said. “It wasn’t just something my grandfather did. . . . There was  a great desire to celebrate the Eucharist.”

And, celebrate he has — three times with his grandfather within eight days of his ordination. With just more than 100 people in attendance for the Father’s Day Mass at St. Peter — including a handful of priests and deacons — Theresa watched her father and son celebrate Mass together in a church that has special significance for all three.

“It’s just kind of unreal because so much of my history is here,” she said. “It’s such a great joy. It’s coming full circle.”

After greeting people in a receiving line after the Mass, the pastor of St. Peter, Father Joseph Gallatin, rang the bells of the historic church in honor of the occasion. He was up at the altar with the two priests celebrating the Mass with them.

“It’s a remarkable thing to be here for such a rare event, the thanksgiving Mass of a newly-ordained priest and his grandfather here concelebrating,” Father Gallatin said.

Actually, the most amazing part of the story may be that Father Hamel is even alive today. In 2001, he was diagnosed with cancer in his brain. He had several surgeries, but the doctors couldn’t get all of the cancer. The last one took place in 2002 in Miami. Father Hamel remembers discussing the idea of another surgery with one of the doctors.

“He said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Father, if you let us operate, we’ll give you another year [to live],’” Father Hamel said. “So, there were seven of them hung over me for 18 hours.”

Father Bergida was attending college at Franciscan University in Steubenville at the time, and joined in with many others who were praying for Father Hamel.

Figuring he would die soon, Father Hamel nevertheless attended many healing Masses and healing services offered by charismatic prayer groups. At various points, people sensed that God was going to heal him and told him so. He didn’t believe it.

But, by 2003, the cancer was gone. Doctors confirmed it, and the cancer has never returned. The only sign of its existence is the head covering Father Hamel wears to cover up the scars from multiple surgeries.

Praying together

Among the many prayers offered, the Bergidas repeatedly recited the Chaplet of Holy Wounds, which Theresa says is similar to the Divine Mercy Chaplet, only it is more targeted toward healing.

“My dad was healed through that prayer,” Theresa said. “It’s a prayer we often pray at our house when someone is sick.”

Father Hamel did not mention his victory over cancer during his remarks at the Mass, instead focusing on his grandson and the significance of the Church of St. Peter in their lives.

Though showing signs of his age and needing to sit throughout the Mass, he had no trouble getting to his feet and standing next to his grandson during the eucharistic prayer.

All eyes were glued on the two as Father Bergida recited the prayer of consecration he had longed to pray since his own first Communion 21 years ago.

At that moment, the bread became the Body of Christ.

And, 100-plus people witnessed perhaps the most fitting Father’s Day celebration the Catholic Church could offer.

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