November 2023 By Father Stephen Durkee, Director of Priestly Vocations Through this holy anointing, may…
‘I’ve been praying for you every day …’
Remembering Father Fekete
When I planned out my articles for FAITH magazine this year, I made a list of priests I admired – priests who had encouraged me on my journey to the priesthood or those I wanted to emulate in some way. Each month, I have been reflecting on one of these priests. When I made that list, Father George Fekete was not on it. That is not to say that I did not admire him; I had to narrow the list down to fit the calendar year. And yet, when he passed away in December, I knew my next article had to be about Father Fekete. After prayer and reflection, I realized that his impact on me has been great and that I wanted to share it here.
During Christmas break from my freshman year at Central Michigan University (CMU), I would altar serve at all the Christmas liturgies because someone needed to do the incense – and I loved it! For one of those Christmas Masses, there would be a guest priest, and that year it was Father George Fekete. I’ll never forget when I walked into the sacristy to prepare the incense for Mass and was immediately greeted by Father Fekete, who said, “Young man! What is your name?” “Stephen,” I replied. “Well, Stephen,” he said, “are you thinking about the priesthood?” The honest answer would have been, “Yes, Father.” But, instead, there was this awkward pause (because I definitely was not ready to commit and definitely not ready to make that public) and said, “Not really.” Almost as if he didn’t hear me, Father Fekete replied, “OK, I am going to pray for you every day. We need good priests and young ones just like you.”
One year later, during Christmas break from CMU, Father Fekete was back to celebrate one of the Christmas liturgies. I entered the sacristy to prepare the incense and was met with an excited shout, “Stephen Durkee, I have been praying for you every day now. Are you going to be a priest?” I looked at him stunned. Stunned because he remembered me. We had met only one time, and that was a year ago. I was even more stunned because I had turned in my application to seminary a week before this encounter. So I looked at him and said, “Yes, Father Fekete, I think so. I just turned in my application to join the seminary last week.” He wore a big smile and said, “Persevere now, we need you. I will continue to pray for you every day.”
A few years later, while I was home from seminary on break, I was staying in the rectory at St. Isidore. I was using this time at the parish to take a retreat. The rectory had a little chapel for the priests who lived there. Every night, before bed, I would go down to the chapel for night prayer. On his knees in prayer would be Father Fekete. I’ll never forget watching him, this elderly man, on his knees deep in prayer for an hour. It was inspiring. And then in an instant I remembered those words, “I’ve been praying for you every day … ”
Friends in Christ, I learned – and we all can learn – a valuable lesson from Father Fekete. He was so in tune with the Holy Spirit that he somehow knew, after meeting me only one time, that he needed to pray for me. That God was calling me to the priesthood, and I was struggling to hear it. His prayers mattered; they were efficacious. I have no doubt that his prayers for more priests, and in particular his prayers for me by name, helped me on the journey toward the priesthood. May we too have that same confidence that as we pray for more priests, and pray for some young men by name, that God will use our prayers to provide more shepherds for his Church.
Father Stephen Durkee is director of priestly vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.