Parishioners of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Bristol gathered on Wednesday, August 23, to pray for the intentions of the pastor, Father Robert Van Kempen (known as Father Bob) – especially that a kidney be donated for him.
Father Van Kempen’s health has been deteriorating the last few years. He told Today’s Catholic in 2021 that complications from diabetes and medications taken after knee surgery caused his kidneys to shut down, requiring dialysis. A kidney transplant is the best outcome, he said, but as of yet, that hasn’t happened.
St. Mary of the Annunciation parishioner Cathy Simon said she felt she needed to do something. She knew people were praying for Father Bob, but she felt maybe something more was needed. She shared that one night she tossed and turned and then “the Holy Spirit took over,” giving her the idea for a 24-hour adoration and Rosary vigil. She thought bringing people together to pray would be more powerful. She approached Father Terry Fisher, who was assisting at the parish, and he encouraged her to go for it.
The vigil began at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, August 23, and went through 9 a.m. on Thursday, August 24. It all came together in a couple of weeks, Simon said. She spoke at the Masses and had a sign-up sheet, and she said it was amazing to see that the middle-of-the-night adoration hours were some of the first that were taken.
The Bristol Police Department agreed to patrol the area throughout the night. Simon, who insisted she didn’t want any credit, said people from nearby St. Thomas, St. Vincent’s, and St. John the Evangelist were participating, as well.
Father Bob shared he was in the hospital at the beginning of July for three to four days. “My kidneys had shut down. The dialysis needed a boost,” he said.
The physician recommended hemodialysis, which is supposed to clean the blood better, but he had to be in the hospital to get those treatments. He said he’s able to do the dialysis at home again, but now it’s for 11 hours instead of nine.
Father Bob said he’s having difficulty sleeping, has no energy, and he hasn’t been able to celebrate Masses, so Bishop Rhoades sent him help, which he said was “a godsend.”
“In the beginning of August, I had to do the Masses, and I did OK – I just got tired easy,” he said.
Father Bob shared that everyone’s prayers mean so much to him. “Bishop offered Mass for me at World Youth Day,” he said.
Other priests and friends check on him, and people have been so kind sending cards, prayers, and providing meals, he said. “I really do feel the prayers of the people,” he added.
Father Bob said when Simon suggested the Rosary and prayer vigil, “I was for it, because I know the power of prayer, and it didn’t cost anything (financially).”
Simon said that while the sign-up sheet only showed a small handful of people signed up for a specific time slot, the church had many times that number of people who participated.
The intentions for Father Bob that people were – and are – encouraged to pray for include: that a kidney will be donated to Father Bob; that Father Bob is healthy enough to receive a kidney; that each night, Father Bob will have a restful and restorative night’s sleep; that his doctors will be guided by the Holy Spirit.
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