Knights’ Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner passes $2 million cumulative total with $138K raised this year

By Jenara Kocks Burgess


Photos by Bertha Salazar


The Knights of Columbus Council 1473 raised $138,000 for seminarians at this year's Father Aidan Donon Vocations Dinner. Grand Knight of Council 1473 presents Bishop Michael Olson the check during the dinner. 

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WICHITA FALLS — By raising more than $2 million dollars in 23 years with the Father Aidan Donlon Vocations Dinner, Knights of Columbus Council 1473 based out of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls, has played an important role in the lives of many priests in the Diocese of Fort Worth, including those of Bishop Michael Olson, and Father Michael Moloney, associate pastor in Wichita Falls.

Mike Brown, chairman of the Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner since its inception, said there’s been a lot of history surrounding the dinner in its 23 years. Brown is a trustee of the council.

In 1991, Irish priest Father Aidan Donlon, SAC, and his good friend Father Severius Blank, former pastor of St. Jude Thaddeus Church in Burkburnett, told the members of Council 1473 at a meeting that they should think about doing more for vocations. Fr. Donlon served 31 years as chaplain of Bethania Hospital in Wichita Falls, now known as United Regional Health Care Center. He also served as the council’s chaplain from 1980 until his death in January 2009. Fr. Blank died in January 2011.

In his homily at Sacred Heart Church Feb. 15, the day of the 23rd annual dinner, Bishop Olson talked about attending the first Fr. Donlon dinner as a seminarian in Wichita Falls. “This evening, we’ll celebrate, again, the Father Donlon Vocations Dinner and with gratitude in my own heart — and even more, a deeper gratitude in my own heart because now I have to sign the checks for seminarian education,” Bishop Olson said, to the congregation’s laughter. “But also with the most sincere gratitude in my heart because I never could have imagined, as a seminarian, some 23 years ago, here in Wichita Falls, here at the first vocations dinner, that God would ask,” me to take on the role of bishop. “Never,” said Bishop Olson.

Fr. Michael Moloney, associate pastor of Sacred Heart, welcomed Bishop Olson as he celebrated his first Mass at that church since becoming bishop. In an interview later, Fr. Moloney said that the Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner played a major role in his journey to the priesthood.

“I started getting the call to the priesthood back in 1990, which was 15 years before the dinner, but I basically hadn’t made any efforts to move,” Fr. Moloney said. “In other words, people would say, ‘you need to think about the priesthood,’ and I would just shrug my shoulders or whatever. What happened at the dinner in 2005 was basically, [then-Bishop Kevin Vann] came, and he said, ‘I am setting up a discernment center down at the diocese,’ and that’s when the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘you’re going.’”

Fr. Moloney, who was raised Catholic in Waterford, Ireland, and had been a doctor since 1975, came to Wichita Falls in 2002 and became medical director at the Community Healthcare Center in 2003. He had attended the dinner twice before that night in 2005.

Fr. Moloney said the first thing anyone in Wichita Falls who met him asked was, “have you met Fr. Donlon because he’s Irish too and has lived in Wichita Falls for many years.” While attending noon Mass at Sacred Heart one day, Fr. Moloney met the priest. After that, Fr. Moloney began a friendship with Fr. Donlon and also with Mike Brown.

During this year’s dinner, Brown noted that at the time the first dinner was held in 1992, a priest’s education was not as expensive as it is now, and there were only seven seminarians in the Diocese of Fort Worth, including the current bishop.

Bishop Olson thanked the Knights at the dinner because he had joined the fraternal organization and attained all four degrees while in Wichita Falls.

Bishop Olson said that particular council holds a, “special place in my own heart, personally, and I thank you.” He continued, saying it’s “always a personal pleasure for me to come back here and celebrate anything with all of you, but especially, the Father Donlon Vocations Dinner.”

Brown also announced at the dinner Feb. 15 that they had been able to raise a total of $138,000 this year. That amount helped them surpass the $136,000 raised last year and brought the total raised over the 23 years to $2,088,000.

The Knights of Columbus Texas State Council’s state deputy, Jim Collins, addresses those gathered at the dinner. On either side of him are Father Michael Moloney (left) associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls, and Bishop Olson (right).

State Deputy Jim Collins and his wife, Duchess, were present, representing the order’s state council. Representing the Supreme Council was Membership Program Consultant David Tebo from Florida. The presence of these representatives from the state and national levels of governance of the Knights of Columbus came in recognition of Council 1473’s milestone of raising more than $2 million for the education of future priests.

“From the Supreme Council level, it’s so refreshing to know that an individual council … can do such great charitable work,” Tebo said, accentuating that they were there to honor that great accomplishment.

Collins told the Knights and others attending the dinner that the way Council 1473 was supporting seminarians was “outstanding.”

Both Collins and Tebo said that supporting seminarians is very important to the Knights of Columbus councils worldwide and that they know that every seminarian in their states, Texas and Florida respectively, receive some financial support from Knights of Columbus.

Joe Cullen, Knights of Columbus Supreme Council spokesman, said from his office in New Haven, Connecticut, that on top of the Father Donlon Vocations Dinner, Council 1473 has also participated in the RSVP national program that all councils take part in. RSVP, started in 1981, stands for “Refund Support Vocations Program,” and councils adopt one or more seminarians financially as well as in non-financial ways such as writing letters to them and praying for vocations.

“This is clearly an exemplary effort in vocations both in the money they have raised and the students (seminarians) they have helped,” Cullen said. “They are a national leader in the support of vocations.”

Cullen called what the council has done with both the RSVP program and Father Donlon dinner “a leading example of generosity in this area.”

Bishop Olson thanked the council for taking leadership nationally and perhaps worldwide in raising money to support and promote vocations, and that he was extremely appreciative of the leadership role Brown has taken over the past 23 years as chairman of the event.

“I thank you personally, and I thank you on behalf of the whole diocese officially as the bishop of Fort Worth for your leadership and your dedication to this very important cause and essential need in the life of the Church,” Bishop Olson said. “Roughly, it costs about $50,000 a year to educate and form each seminarian toward priesthood,” he said.

Brown said in an interview before the dinner, that he had known Bishop Olson since he was a seminarian at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church. He said Bishop Olson’s attendance over the years contributed to the dinner’s success. Brown added that because Bishop Olson had been rector of Holy Trinity Seminary for several years, he often brought seminarians with him.

“It was always good to see where the money is going,” Brown said.

Several seminarians attended this year’s dinner including Tyler Dubek of Flower Mound who entered seminary in August 2013 while Bishop Olson was rector.

“I’m always overwhelmed with gratitude with the overwhelming support that everyone here shows for us. It’s really encouraging to see how many people are really behind us to support us. And it reinvigorates our own drive forward,” said Dubek.

Bishop Olson also talked about the seminarians knowing that he had high standards for them while he was rector at Holy Trinity and that he was proud of the men who were in attendance that night.

“And I am very confident that they are being formed and educated in the best possible way and that they are responding to that call,” Bishop Olson said. “I remember, many years ago as a seminarian, Cardinal [Joseph] Bernadin, giving us a talk and he said to us, ‘we’ve spent a lot of money on your formation and education,’ and he said, ‘the Church does that because it is very much worth it. If you don’t remember anything else, please, please remember this: Be kind to the people. Remember the people.’ Now, for $50,000, I want you to remember some other things too,” Bishop Olson said as many of the people laughed. “But be kind to the people. Priesthood is fundamentally relational. It’s the God business, but it’s also the people business,” he said.

Bishop Olson also thought it was appropriate that the dinner was named after Fr. Donlon who was known as a “people’s priest.”

“So many people have great memories of Fr. Donlon,” Bishop Olson said. “His warmth, his kindness, his sense of humor, and his willingness to always be available be it for dinner or be it for something more serious like a confession or a kind word to listen to the people. And so I ask you to continue now to encourage vocations to your sons and daughters that they can give themselves willingly with confidence to the Lord in discerning where it is the Lord wants them to serve,” he said.

Fr.-Donlon-Dinner-Check-Button.jpgBy raising more than $2 million dollars in 23 years with the Father Aidan Donlon Vocations Dinner, Knights of Columbus Council 1473 based out of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls, has played an important role in the lives of many priests in the Diocese of Fort Worth, including those of Bishop Michael Olson, and Father Michael Moloney, associate pastor in Wichita Falls.