Monday, May 23, 2011

A New Priest Gives Us Hope

"To the Priestly Heart of Christ I commend all, living and dead, who by their prayers and deeds have helped me to the Altar of God." Fr. Christopher L. Klusman

My family and I have been so blessed to have known Fr. Christopher Klusman for the past six years since he first began his journey at the Seminary of St. Francis de Sales. We met Christopher, a fellow member at our parish, St. Matthias, when Paul and I were teaching Sunday Morning Christian Formation classes. Christopher volunteered as a Catechist as well, teaching prayers and songs in sign language to the students. How I wish I could remember more of what he taught, but I do remember the signs for "alleluia" "Lord, hear our prayer" and "Jesus." The sign for Jesus is especially poignant-it is simply a touching of the palm of each hand where the nails pierced our Lord's skin. Sign language is such a beautiful and dramatic way of speaking and while watching Fr. Christopher sign his first Mass this past Sunday, I was deeply moved by the powerful actions spoken with his hands during the prayers of consecration.

I think that the most important lesson that I learned on this past Ordination weekend where five men were ordained to the diocesan priesthood for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was this: if you really want to know someone, you have to meet their mother. It's true for Jesus, isn't it? We come to know him more closely by first knowing and loving His mother. This weekend I had the great honor of meeting Elaine Klusman, Fr. Christopher's mother, and it was through that blessed meeting that I saw Fr. Christopher for who he really is; a shining reflection of this beautiful, humble and holy woman.

I arrived at the Cathedral very early for the Ordination Mass as I had learned in past years that without reserving your seat early, you would be standing for the entire 2 hour long Mass and the view of the most sacred occasion would be greatly obstructed. As I was waiting for my family to join me, she quietly entered the Cathedral. I was sitting across from the Deaf community and I could see some of the women who had gathered there pointing and mouthing, "That's his mother!" I reached out my hand to introduce myself and together with my two friends who were sitting behind me, we enjoyed a lovely conversation with Elaine Klusman. With tears in her eyes, she told us that she was beside herself with nerves and she was sure that she would still be crying throughout the month of June. Later, after my daughter had arrived at the Cathedral, we spotted Deacon Christopher and had a chance to say hello and to capture one of his precious hugs. He told us that as he was driving to the Cathedral with his mother they were both in tears. And truly, emotions are at an all-time high for everyone who receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders and for all of the friends and family gathered to celebrate the momentous occasion. There were many tears shed throughout the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist during the Mass of Ordination.

The following day after his Ordination, my family and I joyously attended Fr. Christopher's celebratory breakfast where he had invited 350 people to rejoice with him. For someone who is Deaf and uses his hands to communicate, I often wonder how Fr. Christopher can ever get a word in edgewise-his arms are always held out wide to embrace everyone he sees; he is forever offering his embrace as a safe and loving place for others to take refuge from the trials of life and to know his arms as a place of safety and love. As we arrived at the hall where the breakfast was held, we noticed that not one of the 350 people who arrived left the presence of Fr. Christopher without first being held in his warm and gentle embrace.

Fr. Christopher made an announcement about the gifts that he and his parents shared with each other. He said, "During the Ordination Mass, Archbishop Listecki anointed my hands with Chrism and then I wiped them on a towel. I want to give that towel to my mother. Also, last winter, Fr. Don Hying took all of the seminarians to the Holy Land. While I was there, I purchased some blessed oil and some holy water from the River Jordan. I'm going to use them to anoint my father who has been very ill." The significance of a new priest giving the towel, or purificator, with which he wipes the Chrism from his hands and gives it to his mother is deeply touching. This towel is kept by the mother of the priest and when she dies, she is buried with it in her hand as a reminder of the special honor that one of her sons is a priest, and tradition holds that she presents it to the Lord at her judgement, and with this tangible symbol in her hand, the Lord looks favorably upon her.

Fr. Christopher also shared the story of the gift that his parents gave to him. It seems that he had been shopping for an Advent Chasuble and was particularly drawn to one with a mother pelican feeding her child. The pelican is a symbol for Christ, since she feeds her children with her own flesh from close to her heart, just as Jesus feeds his children of faith with His very flesh and blood. When Fr. Christopher went to the store to purchase the chasuble, he was told that it had been sold and they were sorry but the store was now closed. At the time he had no idea that it was his own parents who had purchased that chasuble which he admired as a gift for him!

On the Monday before Ordination, I had paid a visit to the Seminary to spend some time with my friend, Fr. Don. As we returned from a walk, Deacon Christopher was in the seminary lobby visiting with the receptionist. He was talking about the vestments he had just purchased for his first Mass. The receptionist had a sneak peek as he walked past her with the vestments in a clear bag, but he told Fr. Don and I that we would have to wait until Sunday to see them; he wanted it to be a surprise. And on Sunday, for his first Mass, Fr. Christopher was absolutely radiant in his white vestments with a host and the symbol for the name of Christ, IHS, embroidered in gold on the front.

During his homily on behalf of his friend, Fr. Carmello Guiffre, who is also profoundly Deaf, spoke eloquently and brought tears to my eyes many times. He addressed Fr. Christopher's parents and told them: "As you watched your son enter the Cathedral and take his place beside you at the Ordination Mass, you suddenly realized what you had done. You bound your son to the cross." And he prayed: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for Elaine and Elmer and the family, for despite the difficulties in the priesthood, in the church and in the world today, their gift of their son Christopher is a sign of hope. A new priest gives us hope. We believe in hope."

This past weekend at the Ordination Mass, at the receptions of celebration and at the first Masses of the newly ordained, I couldn't help but beam with pride. I was proud for my parish, for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and for all of the priests who serve us, and especially for the five priests who had been ordained. But in a very special way, I was proud of Fr. Christopher and his family and the entire Deaf community. I will continue to beam with pride and love for Fr. Christopher Klusman, Fr. Kevin McManaman, Fr. Javier Guativa, Fr. Hugo Londono and Fr. Kevin Barnekow long into the future because of the wondrous gift of hope that a new priest brings to our world.


  1. He looks so young! I once had to make a very difficult confession to a priest who had been ordained all of 45 days. I could see a panicky look in his eyes and then, suddenly, he *knew* just what to say. That is when I realized that the priest is not alone in the confessional. Knowing that has made confession a special experience for me. How marvelous that there is a priest who can reach out to the deaf community (my mother's cousin was the signer on the Art Linkletter show -- down in the corner -- if you remember that at all). I am sure that people find his Masses beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is such a wonderful story about Fr. Christopher. I loved the part about giving the towel to his mother and the tradition of presenting it to the Lord at her judgment. Beautiful!

    I got the book and sea glass! I'm going to send you an e-mail about them but I just wanted you to know that they came! Thanks so much! I took the sea glass outside to look at it in the light - there are some unique colors you have found! I have particular favorites of course :)

  3. Such a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing!!!