Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer
January 18, 2024 // Diocese

Father Bob Keeps Praying as He Waits for a Kidney

Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer

Father Robert Van Kempen (known to all as “Father Bob”), Pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Bristol, has been waiting for a kidney for a couple of years now, but he told Today’s Catholic he is doing well and appreciates everyone’s prayers on his behalf.

Father Bob was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2016 and received the news in 2020 that he needed a kidney transplant and had to begin dialysis. Last summer, parishioners organized a 24-hour Rosary and prayer vigil for Father Bob. At that time, he had to increase the number of hours per day he is hooked up to dialysis – from nine to eleven hours, which continues to be the case. He said he is usually hooked up to his in-home dialysis machine from around 8 p.m. until about 7 a.m. the following morning. He said he usually wakes up a couple of times a night and checks the machine to make sure everything is working.

“The machine will tell me if there’s something wrong,” he said. “It’ll beep, and I’ll know I have to check it.”

Denise Fedorow
Father Bob Van Kempen, Pastor at St. Mary of the Annunication Church in Bristol, has been living with kidney disease since 2016. He spends 11 hours a day on home dialysis as he awaits a match for a kidney transplant.

He shared some difficulty he had on vacation this past October. He was cleared to go on a 14-day, trans-Atlantic cruise that left from Rome. He went with a group of about 11 people, and they would have three days in Rome before boarding the cruise ship. When they arrived in Rome, he had the maintenance man at the hotel help him set up the dialysis machine. But when he went back to use it, the machine had blown a fuse.

“They have 220 [electrical supply] over there, and we have 110,” he said. So, the receptionist and the maintenance man tried to find a fuse and couldn’t find one. They called his doctor in the United States and Baxter, the company that makes the dialysis machine, to arrange getting a new machine to him. His doctor told him that because he’d been off the machine for so long, he needed to go to the hospital.

Father Bob took a taxi to the hospital and waited on a doctor and nurse to show up, only to find out the hospital didn’t do dialysis. “So, he helped me remember how to do dialysis manually; I’d learned how to do it, but I relied on the machine. He gave me the different fluids I needed and all the supplies,” Father Bob said.

His friend, Becky Monnin, is also a nurse and she, along with another traveler, walked to the hospital and got all his supplies and brought them back to the hotel. Father Bob said most of the time he stayed around the hotel waiting to hear from doctors and the dialysis machine company, so he didn’t go on any tours.

“But the good thing was we stayed right across from the Vatican, so I could walk over. It was a beautiful prayer experience just being in the area and doing my prayers by the fountain,” he said. “On Sunday, we had a terrace, and the Holy Father showed up on his terrace, and we prayed the Angelus with him, and he spoke and someone translated; it was beautiful!”

Father Bob said their first day in Rome they had lunch with two seminarians from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (Nicholas Monnin and Patrick Joseph “P.J.” Ernst) and two priests of the diocese (Father Sam Anderson and Father  Zane Langenbrunner).

“Then, Saturday afternoon, we had a treat – Bishop Rhoades joined us for dinner,” Father Bob said. “We had a nice visit. All in all, it was a good trip. I had a few hiccups, but I’ve learned to roll with the punches.”

They were in Rome for three days and then boarded the cruise ship on October 30. Father Bob said he had to continue dialysis manually on the ship for a day or so until they docked in Pisa, where they had a new machine waiting for him. He said it helped that his good friend, Becky Monnin, is also a close friend of his doctor. Monnin is a nurse at Memorial Hospital in South Bend and a parishioner at St. Matthew Cathedral. Father Bob met her a long time ago when he and another priest friend went on a cruise with her and some other friends; “and I’ve been cruising with her ever since,” he said.

Father Bob said “everybody working together” is what made it all work out for him to get a new machine and the things he needed while on the trip.

“I always say the Lord does answer prayers, especially when you need them – not that I didn’t have a few minutes (of groaning),” he said.

Since he’s been back, he said he’s been doing well. “I go get bloodwork every month, and I see [his doctor] every month. In December, my bloodwork was very good; everything is in line.”

Father Bob said he just had lab work the week he spoke to Today’s Catholic. He said his doctors and nurses keep their eyes on him, and he has phone numbers he can call at any time giving him direct access to a nurse or to someone at Baxter.

When asked if there’s been any movement on a kidney transplant, Father Bob responded: “Not that I’ve heard. I just got paperwork from IU Health to update my information, but I haven’t heard anything about donors. But the doctor did tell me at first it would be four, five, or six years.”

He said he had a friend interested in donating, but he wasn’t a match for Father Bob, but he may be able to do a swap. That would mean his friend’s kidney would go to someone else and that puts Father Bob on another list, which moves him up for a kidney that would match. That is on hold for now.

Father Bob said a few others have asked about it, “but everything is on online, so they can tell yay or nay right away” [see sidebar below].


If you feel God is calling you to be a living kidney donor for Father Bob, visit Click on “Living Kidney Donor” and read through the donor education booklet. There’s also a short video. Then, fill out the donor evaluation form online.

Through it all, Father Bob said his spirits are good. “The Lord has helped me this far; He’s not going to let me dangle out too long.”

He shared a story of a woman he visited who has cancer and has been given six months to live. “I don’t have it so bad,” he said.

Father Bob shared that he received a lot of Christmas cards from people telling him they’re praying for him, praying he gets a kidney.

“We just have to keep praying,” he said. “I try to be positive every day – not that I don’t have times when I say, ‘Lord if you’re ready, I’m ready!’”

At St. Mary in Bristol, Father Bob has help from Father Nji Tegha Afuhwi, Parochial Vicar, and retired Father Terry Fisher comes to help out when needed, too.

“As long as I can connect early enough, I can make it to confession and do Mass,” Father Bob said. “I can tell when my body’s wearing out, and I try to watch it.”

He said everything went well during Christmas, and he was able to celebrate Midnight Mass, which he said he loves. He praised the staff at St. Mary.

“I have a wonderful staff; they all work together, and they’re all very good to me.”

Father Bob shared this message for Today’s Catholic readers: “Things are going well, but keep praying. I’m praying for you, too. Everything will happen in God’s time. And thank you.”

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