A Passion for Vocations
Kathleen Kiesling, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Necedah, has a blueprint for establishing a Holy Hour for priests and is happy to share it. She was inspired to create this Holy Hour for several reasons, and the first one may just be the closest to her heart. Kathleen and her husband, Dean, have six children—Chelsea, 27, Tylor, 23, Hannah, 18, Ava, 16, and Emma, 11—and three grandchildren. They lost their son, Connor, at birth. After losing him, Kathleen said she had a greater appreciation for priests and their personhood. Because she had a son, she felt inspired by God’s grace and experienced more empathy for priests and their difficulties and challenges.
Her secondary inspiration comes from her best friend’s son, who recently entered seminary. Kathleen, his confirmation sponsor, felt moved and motivated to explore what she could do to help all aspiring and current priests. “Our culture isn’t very kind to priests today,” shares Kathleen. “In my experiences, I’ve seen how much young men have to endure just by following their vocation, and my heart hurts for them.” Together, these pushes from the Holy Spirit awakened Kathleen’s desire to help pray for priests.
Working for the past 19 years in information security at a local community bank and being a busy mom, Kathleen struggled to incorporate this prayer call into her already packed schedule. Through much prayer and adoration, Kathleen was inspired to start a “Holy Hours for Priests” ministry at her parish. Kathleen realized that she only needed one volunteer per day of the month to ensure an uninterrupted, hour-long daily prayer for our priests. She thought, “What if each person could commit to praying for our priests for just one hour, on one day, once a month?”
She then realized, “If just 30 people volunteered, we could pray for our priests for one hour every day of the month. Who doesn’t have one free hour a month? Ideally, our volunteers would offer these prayers in our parish’s adoration chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but recognizing the uncertainty of Wisconsin weather, people’s health issues or work schedules, the volunteers could also complete the Holy Hour of prayer at home.”
The Birth of a Ministry
Kathleen and her friends also compiled a small book of prayers for priests, giving it to people who wanted a prayer resource or extra guidance and left copies in the chapel. Since then, Kathleen contacted her friends and asked them to reach out to their friends. “And with that, the ministry took off!” she exclaimed. That was two years ago. Now, Kathleen manages a Google calendar and Facebook Messenger group to track the hours of prayer and encourages people, both young and old, to volunteer one holy hour a month. “God always brings us the people we need and the month gets filled,” she explains. “I’ve never had a calendar month with open spaces. My friend in Texas even started a ‘Holy Hour for Priests’ at her parish. If I can help other parishes to do this, it would be so beautiful.”
Another factor encouraged Kathleen to develop a prayer hour for priests—one that traces back to her childhood. Kathleen’s father, a successful business owner in Milwaukee, moved his family to the Necedah area. He sold religious books and joined the Necedah shrine, later deemed to be in schism with the Catholic Church. Kathleen was born shortly thereafter.
“Growing up, Catholicism was rules, regulations and structure,” she says. “God was a damning God, not a loving God. I stayed in my Faith not because God loved me but because I didn’t want to go to hell. During much of my youth, people told me how bad the world was becoming and shared their end-of-time predictions.”
Kathleen attended a private Catholic school during this time and, despite the circumstances and influences of her youth, grew up with a solid foundation of Catholic knowledge. Then, during high school, her father passed away. She continued attending a schismatic Mass. “This is what I was taught. I wasn’t sure where else I would go,” she reflected. It wasn’t until she met her future husband at 29 that she felt a change in herself. “I felt a beautiful human love, and because of this love from another person, I felt that God could love me, too.” Her boyfriend, not Catholic at the time, was coming to Mass at the Necedah shrine with her even though he didn’t understand Latin and what was happening during the Mass. He suggested trying the “other” Catholic Church in town. He didn’t know about the deep history between the families of the Necedah shrine and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. So, together they decided to give it a try. “After a while,” said Kathleen, “I could sense a difference, but I was holding back. I was afraid,” she confesses. “Attending Mass at St. Francis rather than the shrine of Necedah felt like such a betrayal to my dad and my entire upbringing.
“When I opened my heart and soul to Him at Mass, the Holy Spirit started to move and grant me grace. Our Faith is a community faith, a social faith. It was all new to me, and it was beautiful. It was a piece that I was missing. Faith formation, community events, speakers, prayer groups and a structured Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program were all foreign to me for so long,” she said.
In 2006, Kathleen’s boyfriend became her husband. When their first daughter was still young, Dean decided to complete the RCIA program and became Catholic himself. “Having both of us practicing our Faith added such richness to our marriage and life,” she adds.
Then Kathleen shared a memorable time when their parish sponsored a priest and speaker with the gift of laying on hands. After his inspirational talk, he invited the faithful to come forward to receive a blessing. “Everyone was going up and having this spiritual experience,” says Kathleen. “I didn’t want to go, but I also didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t go. When I approached him, he forcefully placed a crucifix on my head. He said, ‘You have to quit fighting.’ He was right. I was fighting and not submitting to the loving God.”
When Kathleen was 8 ½ months pregnant with their third daughter, Emma, the baby was healthy but presenting in the breech position. Once again, Kathleen had the opportunity to participate in this same priest’s laying of hands at their parish. Kathleen says she experienced a wonderful moment. “I sat back down in my pew and felt my baby moving. She’s moving and tumbling around so much, it made me laugh out loud,” says Kathleen excitedly. “At my next appointment, the baby wasn’t breech anymore.” She wasn’t surprised and shared her gratitude, “I thank God every day that He led me to where I am today. I fought Him the whole way, and He kept working on me.”
Now, at their parish, Dean is an usher, attends men’s night and is a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus. The Kiesling kids attend youth groups and volunteer when they can. Aside from managing the “Holy Hour for Priests,” Kathleen is the Parish Council secretary and teaches ninth grade Faith formation on Wednesday evenings. “When I started teaching religious education about 10 years ago,” she says, “I had a really solid Faith foundation. I had Faith knowledge but didn’t have good Faith living.” Because of her position as a religious education teacher, Kathleen was fortunate for the opportunity to chaperone the parish’s youth trip to a Steubenville retreat in Minnesota. Even though she was a woman in her 40s, she was as enlightened as the young adults attending with her.
God’s Unconditional Love
“I probably had as much of an experience the first year I attended as any of the kids!” she declares. “I felt the love of Jesus. I met young priests so on fire for their Faith and vocation. It called to me how much we really need good priests.” Kathleen’s passion and love for priests are also reflected in her dedication to teaching. She teaches her children, and all those in her classrooms, a genuine love for God and helps instill in them a proper Faith formation. “I’m so appreciative that we’re under a magisterium with a God who loves us unconditionally,” she says. “I’m passing this love of God to my kids and students because I never want anyone to feel only judgment the way I did growing up. Yes, I teach about the commandments and the existence of hell because these things are very real, but I also teach that God loves us with the zeal and fervor of the true loving Father. He wants us all to be with Him and will fight for us as He fought for me for so many years!”
For more information on starting a Holy Hours for Priests ministry, including prayer handouts, please email: [email protected]
Story by Marcy Stenstrom
Published in the September/October 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine