Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer
June 24, 2018 // Diocese

Father Robert Van Kempen celebrates 25 years as priest

Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer

Father Robert Van Kempen

Sometimes a person knows early in life what their vocation is. That was the case for Father Robert Van Kempen.

Father Bob, as he is known, said it was probably when he was in second grade that he first thought he might be called to be a priest. He attended Christ the King School in South Bend and said the Holy Cross priests and sisters there were always talking about religious vocations.

“I always had it in the back of my mind that it would be a neat thing to do,” Father Van Kempen said.

He was born in South Bend to Henry and Mary Grace Van Kempen. He has two sisters, Linda and Kathy. They were parishioners at Christ the King and he attended the school until eighth grade. He then attended Clay Middle School and graduated from Clay High School. He worked at the local McDonald’s for a couple of years before entering the seminary.

“It wasn’t until 1985 when a priest said, ‘If you think you have a calling, you have to give it a try,’” Father Van Kempen remembered.

He attended St. Meinrad Seminary for college and then St. John Seminary in Boston for theology. Other people who helped influence his priestly vocation include a priest who managed a gift shop at the Fatima Retreat Center where Father Van Kempen volunteered.

“He influenced me quite a bit; he had a great love for the poor,” he said.

Father Van Kempen’s grandmother was also a big influence on him and his vocation. “My grandmother Van Kempen was a very devout Catholic and she instilled that in the family,” he shared.

He was ordained in 1993, along with Msgr. Michael Heintz, by Bishop John D’Arcy at St. Matthew Cathedral. His first assignment was at St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne, and his first assignment as a pastor was at St. Joseph – Hessen Cassel, Fort Wayne. He was then assigned to St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend with Msgr. Heintz for a couple of years before being assigned to his current parish, St. Mary of the Annunciation in Bristol.

He said what he enjoys most about being a priest is “The people, the sacraments, celebrating Mass, hearing confessions.”

He said that as a priest he is there for events like weddings, but also funerals, “You’re there for people’s celebrations, but also for the sad times, too — and when you’ve been at a parish a few years you really get to know the people.”

When asked what he thought was the most challenging part of being a priest, he responded that finances and accounting, upkeep of the parish, building and grounds top the list. “I don’t know that they prepare us very well for those things in the seminary,” he said.

His hope for the future of the Church is that it follows the example of Pope Francis. “The Church needs to be like its shepherd, Pope Francis: more in touch with the poor, those less fortunate and the marginalized, and reach out to them. We’ve done a good job in the past but we need to continue to work on that, and we can always work on vocations for priests and sisters.”

Father Van Kempen said the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has been blessed with vocations, and he is pleased about the newly ordained priests and the seminarians. 

His advice to them? “Love what you do and be joyful!”                                                                                            

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