by Libby Hyde
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Nearly 100 couples lined the pews of St. Peter’s Cathedral here on June 1 for the golden wedding anniversary Mass, a community celebration of those couples in the archdiocese who are marking their 50th anniversaries this year.
As is tradition, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann presided, and other archdiocesan priests blessed the couples and thanked them for their many years of Catholic witness.
But three of the priests had just a little bit more to be grateful for than most: their parents were among the honored guests.
Leo and Mary Jane Hammes
parents of Father Greg Hammes
Celebrating their 50th anniversary, Leo and Mary Jane Hammes could not have been more elated that their son was there to celebrate with them in a unique way.
“The fact that our son could go celebrate was a special honor,” Mary Jane said. “We felt like we were blessed to have the archbishop and our son to give us the blessing.”
Leo and Mary Jane recall their son having a strong affinity for religious life, even when he was very young.
“We attended Mass as much as possible and always prayed together. We always knew that God was with us and we stayed close to him as best we could — in the good times and tough times,” said Mary Jane.
“That was one of the things that drew him to the priesthood,” she added. “He really believes . . . that if you do the will of God, everything will fall into place.”
Even Father Greg’s siblings, said Leo, recognize of the way their brother has embraced God’s will for him.
“We all see God working through him to bring people together,” he said. According to Mary Jane, Father Greg didn’t decide to go into the seminary until after he had graduated from Kansas University, at which point he told his parents that the Lord kept calling him to the priesthood.
“[People] never know for sure if [they] are making the right decisions, but our son said, ‘Lord, guide me. I want to do your will,’” Mary Jane said. “And I think God has really stuck with him.”
Lawrence and Marla Bowers
parents of Father Larry Bowers
Though Lawrence and Marla Bowers celebrated their 50th anniversary last year, they were unable to attend the golden anniversary Mass at the time due to health reasons. According to Marla, they were ecstatic to be able to attend this year.
“My son is the one that heard about it,” said Marla. “The Mass was wonderful, just beautiful.”
Lawrence and Marla Bower’s son, Father Larry Bowers, currently serves as associate pastor of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood.
“[The anniversary Mass] was very special and emotional, because we always wanted [our son] to do what he wanted to do and we never really pushed him either way,” said Marla. “It was a long journey to get there, and it took a long time. But he made it.”
Marla said she always had a feeling that her son may pursue a religious calling.
“When he was in college, for some reason my mother asked him if he had ever thought about it, and I think that was when I knew [the priesthood] was what he was going to do,” said Marla. “He talked to a few priests and had been to a couple different orders and decided to pursue the priesthood.”
But it isn’t only the faith of her son the priest that she is proud of.
“After my 50 years of marriage, I am most proud that all my children and grandchildren are still active in their faith,” said Marla. “I keep praying for them all the time that they will continue when so many others do not.”
Frieda and Raymond May
parents of Father Ray May
Raymond and Freida May, members of St. Matthew Church in Topeka, attended the event to celebrate their anniversary and to support their son, Father Ray May, who is just finishing up his assignment as director and chaplain of the Didde Catholic Campus Center in Emporia. Freida was pleasantly surprised to see the large number of couples in attendance at the celebratory Mass.
“[The golden wedding anniversary Mass] was just awesome and I loved it,” said Freida. “I am proud when I have been married 50 years because it just doesn’t happen very often.”
One of the most important parts of the celebration for Raymond and Frei- da was seeing their son, an archdiocesan priest, on the altar with Archbishop Naumann.
Throughout their marriage, Frieda and Raymond prayed that their son would enter the priesthood.
Freida said the first time she considered her son becoming a priest was when Father Ray Burger, pastor of St. Matthew at the time, asked parishioners to write down the names of those whom they thought might be good priest material.
Freida immediately wrote down her son’s name and said she was later surprised to learn that many other people did, too.
“I always wanted him to become a priest,” said Freida. “We both did. Now that I’ve got some grandkids, I’m glad that at least one of my sons went into the priesthood.”
Freida said Father Ray used to pretend he was a priest when he was a child, using bread and juice as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. From then on, she had high hopes that he would embrace the calling.
“I really began to hope he would enter the priesthood when he was in college. And when he did, I was glad. He’s a very good priest,” Frieda said.
For his part, Father Ray was elated to be able to celebrate his parents’ 50th anniversary with them, but he does not see much of a difference between his parents’ vocation and his own.
“They are both vocations of love,” said Father Ray. “I think about the fidelity and being faithful to your vows. Fidelity is more than just the narrow idea of it that we have.”
“Fidelity is about being more faithful to my vows all the time and living my vocation more fully.”
“I never think I chose a different path [from my parents],” he concluded. “I think my vocation is founded in theirs.”