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Families experience joys of sons’ vocations

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January 11, 2011

By David Eck

In 2005 Deacon Dan Hess’ parents figured their only son’s future was set. The young man had a steady girlfriend, had earned a undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy from Franciscan University in Steubenville and was finishing up law school at the University of Notre Dame.

About a year later, though, Deacon Hess had ended the relationship with his girlfriend and decided to enter priestly formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary after completing law school. Deacon Hess, along with Deacons Scott Wright and Adam Puntel, who are transitional deacons, will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in May.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” said Kevin Hess, Deacon Hess’ father. “He had the good fortune of having a lot of good, influential priests throughout his college years at Franciscan University in Steubenville and at Notre Dame, so I think that was a big part of his decision making.”

The oldest of six siblings and the only boy, Deacon Hess had an active church life growing up in Coldwater. He often went to daily Mass Holy Trinity Parish. The decision to enter the priesthood reflects that upbringing, his parents said.

Puntel family photo
Deacon Adam Puntel, left and his father, Dennis, fly fishing in North Carolina last August. (Courtesy photo)

“My initial thought was surprise because of this relationship and because of the timing of just having gotten out of law school and looking at that as his career,” said Deacon Hess’ mother, Carol Hess. “On the other hand, it was something that we were definitely open to and actually [prayed] for throughout his growing up years. I guess every parent thinks their child is special, but there just always seemed to be a special quality to Daniel. In that sense the fact that he had a calling did not surprise us and it’s very humbling to be the parent of a future priest.”

While his family is excited for him and eagerly awaiting his ordination, Deacon Hess remains the quintessential big brother. He shoots basketball with his sisters during visits home and razzes them. He remains the same part of the family he has always been, his parents said.

Still, the family has experienced unexpected moments during Deacon Hess’ journey through formation. It is inspiring to see him find some quiet time to go off alone and pray, his father said. There was a time when the family was vacationing in Rome and had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

Deacon Hess was wearing his clerical garb, and his father was awed when he saw the pope looking at his son  — the future priest. There’s a sense of pride when he sees his son wearing a priest’s collar, Kevin Hess said.

Carol Hess said she always wanted her children to find holy spouses, and she sees her son answering the highest calling.

“He’s just obviously happy,” she said. “A mom wants [her] child to be happy beyond other things. He’s had a lot of life experiences at a young age, but this fits. He’s happy in his vocation, and you can see it. You can already see God using him in people’s lives.”

Deacon Hess brings an enthusiasm for vocations that will help draw other men to priesthood, his father said. The family sees the gift they are giving to the church.

With his voice breaking, Kevin Hess talks of his son’s birth and the difficult delivery his wife had when the child was born. He also recalled bringing his son home.

“When we left the hospital we didn’t go home,” Kevin Hess said. “We went to our parish church, brought him to the altar and said, ‘Thank you, Lord, for this gift. We give him back to you.’ ”

Dennis and Adele Puntel were pleased but not totally surprised when their middle child and first son entered the seminary.

Deacon Puntel was raised in Incarnation Parish in Centerville and active in youth ministry while in college. He did much spiritual reading and research before entering the seminary, his father said. The family supported his decision.

Through his years in formation, Deacon Puntel’s family has seen his faith deepen, which has led them to grow in their own faith. He also brings a sense of peace to those touched by tragedy, Adele Puntel said.

“He brings a presence with him. It’s a good thing. It’s a holy thing,” she said. “He brings Christ to places I don’t think Christ would be. He’s got a very calming effect on people and that’s wonderful to see. I see Christ working through Adam.”

Dennis Puntel admits that his son’s career choice is a calling that comes with unique challenges. “I think priests have a challenge to balance their lives leading a community and having some personal time to regenerate as well,” he said. “One thing that you think about from my perspective, with the needs of more priests in this country, the idea of having a normal retirement may never exist for young men becoming priests today.”

 “I also think he will be an asset to the formation and support for other priests,” he added. “I believe he’s a leader and also a very good friend.”
Deacon Wright’s family was also surprised when he mentioned an interest in the priesthood. But once he mentioned a it his parents, Charles and Connie Wright, nurtured that seed. Deacon Wright was still in high school when his father took him to visit the Pontifical College Josephinum, the college seminary in Columbus.

When Deacon Wright, who grew up in St. Peter Parish in Huber Heights, had a bout of homesickness during that first year his parents encouraged him to stick it out.

His father, who is a permanent deacon for the Cincinnati archdiocese, said they have enjoyed their son’s formation, watching him assist with Masses and develop a rapport with parishioners.

The elder Deacon Wright, who was ordained in 2001 and is assigned to St. Christopher Church in Vandalia, said, “I pick his brain more because he’s got the latest, greatest [lessons].

While the young Deacon Wright’s family has seen his spirituality deepen, “He’s still Scott at home,” Connie Wright said. “We still get the pranks.”
Still, they see the priesthood as a good fit for their son.

“Any young man who decides to give his life to the church as a priest is a huge gift. The same can be said for young women who decide to go into religious life,” Deacon Charles Wright said. “We’re trying to keep the perspective that he’s going to be a priest for the archdiocese, a leader in the parishes. But first and foremost, he’s still our son.” n

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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