Double Duty

September 2020 View more

By Christie Willhite

For his ordination into the priesthood, Peter Infanger was to invite a priest to give him his vestments during the ceremony—an honor often reserved for a spiritual mentor

And so, in a ceremony fittingly occurring Father’s Day weekend, Father Peter was welcomed into the priesthood by the Rev. Andrew Infanger, his own son.

“To me, it’s all kind of one thread,” says Father Peter, ordained by the
Diocese of Joliet at 65 and now parochial vicar at St. Walter Catholic
Church in Roselle, to explain how family history and his son’s counsel helped him find his calling.

Father Peter says he was a typical Sunday churchgoer until he had a “spiritual awakening” at age 34. His wife, Michelle, died unexpectedly in 2013, prompting him to “ask all the big questions.”

“When I started to look ahead, I realized I wanted to quit my job and do something meaningful,” he says. “My son said, ‘Why don’t you figure out what vocation God’s calling you to and then figure out your job?’ ”

At the time, son Andrew had just begun his seminary study. Though faith had been important in his family—he attended Catholic middle school, high school, and college—he had first pursued a career outside the church and didn’t anticipate his own father would follow him into the seminary.

Peter says that initially both Andrew, now 33, and his older son, Michael, 35, worried they would lose their father to the church. Peter arranged to attend Mundelein Seminary so he could stay close to Michael’s family in Park Ridge as well as to Father Andrew serving in the Diocese of Milwaukee.
Father Andrew says watching his dad while he was growing up has helped guide him as a priest. He tells a story of his teenage brother explaining he’d been rear-ended. Though the accident wasn’t Michael’s fault, Peter asked how he could’ve prevented it.

“He was teaching us there’s always something you can do to make things a little better regardless of the situation,” says Father Andrew, who in August became associate pastor at St. Robert Catholic Church in Shorewood, Wisconsin, and campus ministries chaplain at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

His father applied that philosophy to his marriage, which was challenging at times, he says. “He spent 25 years or more trying to love,” he says. “Seeing that in his marriage probably helped me to become a priest. The first image of God’s love is the love between parents.”

Father Peter, too, believes his life experience is an asset he brings to his service at St. Walter. “I do try to say I’ve made some big mistakes, I’ve learned a lot, and hopefully it can help you in the same way it has helped me,” he says. “They’re looking for witnesses, someone who has been there. I’ve been there.”

Rare Sacrament
Because Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, it is unusual to have a father and son both in the priesthood. It’s possible when a married member of the clergy—such as an Episcopal priest—converts to Catholicism or in situations like Peter Infanger’s, when fathers become widowers. Yet the same weekend Peter was ordained, Rev. Edmond Ilg was ordained in Newark, New Jersey, with his son, Rev. Philip, vesting his father at the ceremony.

Photos Courtesy Diocese of Joliet