Fr. Mark’s Open Letter to Fr. Don

June 17, 2020


Do you remember the first words out of your mouth when I met you? I’ll remind you. You said, “I forgot to tell you on the phone that I have a dog; I hope you like dogs!” Thankfully, our conversation went much better after that first bump in the road. As we sat and talked in the rectory at St. Thomas, I got my first glimpse at the type of man you are: kind, fun, compassionate, and loving.

I wasn’t even ordained a priest yet, but you patiently sat there on the couch nodding your head as I railed off—I’m sure in a rapid-fire, incoherent way—all these ideas that I hoped to implement alongside you once we arrived at OLM. I marvel at the way you looked past my naivety and lack of experience that day by allowing me to express my hopes and desires for the parish. You were always patient with me and my ideas.

I’ve thought about that a lot recently: “Why was Don so patient with me over the years; why did he give me so much freedom; how in the world was he able to put-up with so much of my scheming?” I think it was because you wanted to see me succeed; you wanted me to have a great first experience in my priesthood; you wanted me to see that the priesthood can be fun and exciting; you cared about me; you wanted me to flourish.

We flourished together. To be sure, we had passionate disagreements at times; we got under each other’s skin from time-to-time; your dogs even bit me a couple of times (two times to be exact, thanks Heide…may she rest in peace); but overall, we worked so well together. It was such a blessing for me to walk into OLM as a new priest and you as its new pastor. I enjoyed meeting with you and discussing the best path forward in making disciples. We shared and discussed ideas in your office, in my office, and at the kitchen table; I learned so much from you.

Thank you for being patient with me in all my weaknesses and faults. I am a better man and a better priest as a result of spending three years with you. I will be forever grateful that the Lord placed me with you for my first assignment as a priest. I pray I don’t squander all the knowledge, experience, and charity you shared with me.

I know that you will allow Fr. James to flourish the same way you allowed me to flourish; you will guide him and mentor him the same way you did for me. I told him numerous times already how blessed he is to have you as his first pastor; he hit the jackpot.

You may not have remembered the first words out of your mouth when we met three years ago, but I pray you always remember these last words out of my mouth to you as I leave OLM: thank you and I love you.

Your brother in Christ,

Mark Bernhard