Blogs » J.Q. Tomanek of Victoria » Q and A with the Father


For pre-game of Father’s Day, I have been blogging each day about something related to fatherhood. To end the series, I took the opportunity to interview Father Bob Knippenberg. I give my sincere appreciation for his time and thoughts. The Q/A follows. Be not afraid, Friday short stacks will continue next Friday.

JT: “Father Bob, thank you for taking the time for this interview.”

JT: “Father, you are a priest of the Diocese of Victoria. Soon, you will be the pastor of Holy Family Parish in Victoria. Can you tell us a little history about yourself? Where are you from? Were you in a professional career before the priesthood? If so, what was it? What brought you to the diocese?”

Fr. Bob: “I was born in St. Paul, MN on January 29, 1955 to Bob & Betty Knippenberg. I am the oldest of five surviving children. I have two brothers and two sisters. I was baptized at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in St. Paul. I was received into full communion of the Catholic Church in Arlington, Texas when I was 19 years old. I then entered religious life and was a Salesian of Don Bosco for 8 years. While with the Salesians I did my formation in Newton, New Jersey and taught at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA and St. Mary’s Salesian School in Edmonton, AB, Canada. After leaving the Salesians, I taught two years of theology at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, TX. I then entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, TX for the Diocese of Dallas for a year and three months. I left the seminary and worked in the sales & marketing department of Willett International, manufacturers of industrial ink jet and labeling equipment in Fort Worth, TX. I then went into business with my brother-in-law in Arlington, TX forming a company called FoxJet. We manufactured industrial ink jet printing systems. I was Vice President Sales & Marketing and flew all over the world setting up distributorships. In 1996, Father Dan Morales invited me to Port Lavaca to help him open Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic School. I was the administrator of the school for its first year and then entered the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH to complete my theological studies and priestly formation. Bishop David E. Fellhauer ordained me a priest on June 10, 2000. I was first assigned as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Church in Hallettsville and then two years later was assigned as pastor at SS. Cyril & Methodius in Shiner. Now, it’s off to Holy Family in Victoria!”

JT: “The vast majority of priests do not have children. Yet, we refer to these men as “Father.” Can you explain why this is the case?”

Fr. Bob: “Fatherhood is not mere biology. If it were just about procreation, then every male animal on the face of the earth would be a “father”! No, fatherhood is a reality in a man’s life when he realizes his call to image the Father in creation. A man who is a true “father” recognizes that his vocation is to not only give material life but to protect that life from evil and to nurture that material life into everlasting life with God. This is as true of biological fathers as it is of spiritual fathers…priests. One of my formators in the seminary once said that only men who would make good fathers should be ordained as priests…for every priest must see his “job” as giving divine life through the sacraments, protecting that life from the effects of evil through preaching the word of God and forgiveness of sins, and to nurture the lives of souls for which he is responsible through loving shepherding. Sounds like a good “father” to me!”

JT: “You were called to Sacrament of Holy Orders by serving God as a priest. The word “priest” has ancient meaning associated with performing sacred rites, especially in the rite of sacrifice. How has priestcraft changed over the centuries? I mean, we are not talking about daggers through the heart are we?”

Fr. Bob: “In some ways, yes, we are talking about daggers through the heart! It is a rather long quote but let my share one of my favorites from Thomas Merton: “If you are afraid of love, never become a priest, never say Mass. The Mass will draw down upon your soul a torrent of interior suffering which has only one function, to break you wide open and let everybody in the world into your heart, for when you begin to say Mass, the Spirit of God awakens like a giant inside you and bursts the locks of your private sanctuary. If you say Mass, you condemn your soul to the torrent of love that is so vast and so insatiable that you will never to able to bear it alone. That love is the love of the Heart of Jesus, burning within your own heart and bringing down upon you the huge weight of His compassion for all the sinners of the world.” In this way, priestcraft has not changed one iota since Jesus Himself, the one, true High Priest, offered the first Mass on Calvary!”

JT: “With Father’s Day soon approaching, what is your first memory of your father?”

Fr. Bob: “The first and fondest memories of my father revolve around all the time he spent with us as children fishing and hunting. I realize now that these are things he did not need to do but he did them and they are some of my fondest memories.”

JT: “Do you see any relation between being a spiritual father, like yourself, and a biological father, like a lay person?”

Fr. Bob: “Oh absolutely! Every time I baptize a child and restore in him/her God’s own divine life, I see myself in a very life-giving, fatherly role. Every time I release a child from the burden of sin in the confessional, I feel like a father helping bear his children’s burdens. Every time I give Holy Communion to a youngster, I feel like the father who is the “breadwinner” for his family. Frankly, biological fathers give their children physical life, but it is only a priest who can nourish their souls unto eternal life. Only a priest can give a child the Bread of Heaven. Maybe the older formula for the distribution of Holy Communion says it best: “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul into everlasting life.”

JT: “I am blessed that my father is healthy and living. So many people have lost their father due to health reasons, age, or an accident of some sort. How can these people remember Father’s Day?”

Fr. Bob: “The Church’s beautiful funeral liturgy helps point the way, I believe. In one of the Prefaces of the funeral Mass, we pray: “The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality. Lord, for Your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.” Death does not end the relationship with our fathers, it changes it; not unlike the change in our relationship with our fathers from when we are children to when we are adults…same people, different way of relating to one another, a different way of “being” father and son or father and daughter. We need to realize that what we loved about our father’s all along was not their physical being but, in fact, their spiritual being…their love, their care, their sacrifices, their time, and so forth. These are not tangible things but they are what we loved about our fathers. Because those things are spiritual, they are immutable and eternal…through the mercy of the Father, may our deceased fathers rest in peace eternally.”

JT: “It is typical to look back and remember fatherly advice. I remember going through some tough times and my father would come over and sit outside on the back porch and share his thoughts. What is some fatherly advice you remember? What is your fatherly advice for us today?”

Fr. Bob: “I can’t say I remember any one nugget of fatherly advice from my father; but I do remember how important family history was and is to him. It was always very important to him that we knew who we were and where we came from…relating tales and stories about all the relatives; especially earlier generations. I think it provided a great source of “groundedness” for us as children. We knew we belonged and had a place with people who loved and cared for us. My advice for all of us today is to know and cherish our faith “roots,” the story of the family of God. Only in this way will we ever truly know and appreciate who we are as the children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. Only in this way will we ever know the infinite depth of God’s love for us. Only in this way will we ever feel comfortable in the home of Our Father.”

I wish all fathers a wonderful weekend! Family and friends, enjoy them.