Honoring a devotion for vocations: the 33rd Annual Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner is celebrated in Wichita Falls

North Texas Catholic
(Feb 28, 2024) Local

Fr. Jonathan Demma, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls; Fr. Joseph Moreno, pastor of St. Jude Thaddeus in Burkburnett, Christ the King in Iowa Park, and St. Paul of Electra; Fr. Michael Moloney, pastor of St. Mary in Windthorst, St. Boniface in Scotland; and Fr. Brett Metzler, the Director of Vocations visit before the start of the Father Donlon Vocations Dinner in Wichita Falls on Feb. 17, 2024. (NTC/Harry Tonemah) 

WICHITA FALLS — At first entry, the 33rd Annual Father Donlon Vocations Dinner held at the Knights of Columbus Council 1473 Hall in Wichita Falls on Saturday, Feb. 17, seemed to be the same as it has been every year: welcoming faces handed out bidding numbers; a pleasant aroma hinting at delicious food wafted through the air; beautiful flower centerpieces rested atop tables elegantly dressed in linen tablecloths; and elaborate vacation packages, sacred art pieces, and hand-crafted items were put on display for the auction.

The notable difference to the celebration this year, however, sat on a table near the door where one could find the photos of three gentlemen: Mike Brown, Tom Ruddy, and Dan Shine. The three men, considered three of the most generous organizers and benefactors of the annual event, each died in 2023.

“There must be a big fundraiser going on in heaven, and they needed all three of those men at the same time. We miss them dearly,” Deputy Grand Knight Jimmy Otto said to the approximately 250 attendees. “We’d like to dedicate this 33rd Vocations Dinner to those incredible men.”

The dinner, as well as a fall Harvest Moon event, is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council No. 1473, which has raised more than $3.5 million for vocations over the past 33 years since the dinner’s founding in 1991 when Father Aiden Donlon, SAC, ignited a mission in the council to help future priests have the means for formation for their vocation.

After Otto dedicated the evening to the memory of the three Knights, several speakers spoke of the many contributions the three men made in their time in the organization. Fr. Metzler then addressed the hall with gratitude on behalf of the seminarians who have benefitted from the Council’s fundraising, as well as to impart a message of hope and a sincere request for continued support. The night ended with beautiful performances by two high school choirs from the Holy Family Classical Academy for pre-K through 8th grades and Chesterton Academy in Wichita Falls. 


Remembering the donors

Anthony “Tony” Smith, a former Grand Knight of Council 1473, described Mike Brown as the kind of person who did the work but didn’t want the credit. Brown, he said, was the biggest organizer of the event from the beginning.

When Fr. Donlon and his friend Father Severius Blank, then pastor of St. Jude Thaddeus in Burkburnett, recommended the Council do more for vocations, Brown answered the call and spearheaded the organization of the annual Vocations Dinner. In recognition of his stewardship in raising this money for seminarians, Bishop Michael Olson posthumously awarded the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Francis to Brown’s family in February in Fort Worth.

“Luckily, we Knights had a pretty sweet gig with him,” Tony Smith said. “We would show up when he needed us to, but the rest was [Brown’s efforts] … He made us look good for all those years.”
Both Otto and Smith also spoke on the involvement of Tom Ruddy’s family in the preparation and organization of the dinner. Ruddy’s granddaughters, Kathryn Hager and Jessica Bachman, led the Knights in the planning and implementation of the event. Two of Ruddy’s daughters, Becky Morath and Janet Shine (who is also Dan Shine’s daughter-in-law), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren helped set up the Knights of Columbus Hall for the dinner. 

Pictures of Dan Shine, Mike Brown, and Tom Ruddy sit on a table near the entry to the dining hall at the annual Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner in Wichita Falls on Feb. 17, 2024. (NTC/Harry Tonemah)

“We will help with this event in the future to ensure it is successful for vocations,” Hager said. “I feel honored to be able to help put on an event my Gramps was so passionate about. He felt called to the priesthood and attended St. John Seminary in San Antonio through high school. However, he was not able to learn Latin, so he came home and then met my Nana, Nan Whitehill [now Ruddy].

“God had other plans for him; [plans which led him to the Knights],” Hager continued. “So to be able to contribute in any small way feels huge for me, and I know Jessica [Bachmann] feels the same way.” 


A growing diocese

Father Brett Metzler, diocesan director of the vocations, thanked everyone in attendance at the Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner for their support.

“We have a lot of young men saying ‘Yes.’ Please keep praying for them. This support is absolutely essential. Sometimes, because we’re asked to give financially in so many different ways, it just feels like another thing we do. But this [financial support for vocations] is particularly a gift to the Kingdom of God. This is extraordinarily important and, not to sound cliché, it goes directly into your treasures that you’re building up in heaven,” he said.

Fr. Metzler spoke on the need for more vocations in the diocese, especially as the Catholic population is growing quickly. The Diocese of Fort Worth, he mentioned, stands out for the many construction projects that are in the works, with an estimated “$105 million worth of building projects going on right now.” 

(Seated) Monte Kerr and Abby Smith, (Standing) Tony Smith, Aaron Smith, Chris Chapman, and Renee Underwood with the St. John Paul II Shepherd 's Guild visit at the annual Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner in Wichita Falls on Feb. 17, 2024. (NTC/Harry Tonemah)

He also shared his experience accompanying Bishop Michael Olson to three of the seven Rite of Election ceremonies were held in the diocese throughout the month of February. The ceremonies mark the second of three major rites that those who hope to convert to Catholicism must undergo before entering the Church.

Altogether, the diocese’s growth is exciting, Fr. Metzler remarked. Consequently, the need for more priests in the diocese has greatly increased.

“That’s why we’re here today, to support priests. And the good news is we do have a lot of men saying yes. Right now, we have about 30 seminarians. Last year, we had nine come in. This year, we have five in the application process,” he shared.

It is particularly important that the faithful pray for the men in the application process, Fr. Metzler concluded, as it’s during that time that the devil attacks them with many doubts.

The faithful of Wichita Falls continue to support seminarians in prayer, accompanied by practical support: the 2024 Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner netted about $20,000 for the formation of future priests.

33rd Annual Father Donlon Vocations Dinner, Knights of Columbus Council 1473 Hall, Wichita Falls, Mike Brown, Tom Roddy, Dan Shine, Brett Metzler, trending-english