40 years of being ‘a good shepherd’

During the celebration of his 40th year as a priest on May 21 at Church of the Resurrection, Portsmouth, Father Dan Klem makes an effort to talk with guests at each of the 25 tables. Here, Susan George, parishioner at Sacred Heart, Norfolk, chats with him. Delores Oliver, a former parishioner, said “wherever he goes, people are drawn to him.” (Photo/Jennifer Neville)

Father Dan Klem is “a kind, gentle soul” who lovingly tends his flock, parishioners past and present said.

When he was pastor at Sacred Heart, Norfolk, he traveled to Pennsylvania to officiate a funeral for a parishioner’s mother.

While pastor at St. Therese, Chesapeake, he returned from vacation and learned that a parishioner’s son had died while the priest was gone. Even though the funeral had already occurred, he still celebrated a memorial Mass.

He’s officiated at weddings out of town and attended graduations.

Stories of his kindness go on, making it clear that Father Klem, who is celebrating his 40th anniversary as a priest, has touched many lives over a lifetime.

But he is humble about it.

“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do to bring Christ to the world, to help people,” he said.

Father Klem has served six parishes, all in the Diocese of Richmond: parochial vicar at Church of St. Therese, 1983-1987; pastor at the Cluster Parishes, St. Catherine of Siena, Clarksville, and Good Shepherd, South Hill, 1987-1990; St. Mark, Virginia Beach, 1990-2002; and Sacred Heart, 2002-2016.

After taking extended sick leave to recuperate from Stage Four Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and two strokes, he became weekend assistant of the Cluster Parishes of St. Mary, Chesapeake, and Holy Angels, Resurrection, and St. Paul, all three in Portsmouth, about five years ago.

He said each parish has its own “unique character” and “unique needs” which has caused him “to look at things differently and stretch myself some.”

Creating communities

Terry Woods, a parishioner at Sacred Heart, called Father Klem “a good shepherd” who brought “the people together.”

He strengthened unity at many, if not all, parishes he served, according to people at his 40th anniversary celebration May 21 at Church of the Resurrection.

Amy Woods, former religious education director at Sacred Heart, said Father Klem “brought together the parish,” creating a sense of community that continued after he left the parish.

Wherever he goes, he makes friends. The 200 people at the celebration included family, high school and college friends, former and current parishioners and other friends. Rather than eating, he visited the 25 tables to chat. As people left, they talked with him some more and hugged him goodbye.

Because Father Klem is “personable, easy going and confident of who he is,” he can “wade right into a crowd,” said Kevin Kearney, a Sacred Heart parishioner.

Delores Oliver, of St. Paul, added that Father Klem, “sensitive and gentle,” has “a charisma” so that “wherever he goes, people are drawn to him.”

In fact, one of his biggest assets is being able to connect with people, those at the celebration stressed. He strives to know each person by name, Woods said. And he’s always there when one needs him, whether it’s day or night, added Susan George of Sacred Heart. Many said he has made a difference in their lives.

“I spend a lot of time listening to people, listening to the movement of the Spirit,” Father Klem said. “I guess during my ministry I’ve never seen myself as a person set apart; I try to enter into life with people and invite them to enter into my life which is what I think Jesus did.”

Finding his calling

Father Klem, the oldest of five, was born in 1954 in Chicago. Because his father was a salesman, his family moved often as a child, living in the Midwest, Rochester, NY, and Virginia. His favorite memories center around spending time with his family at Cayuga Lake in New York where they spent many summers. Today, he likes to travel and read.

He went to Northern Virginia Community College and Radford University from which he graduated in 1977 with a major in social work. After college he was the assistant director for two years at St. Francis-Manchester, an assisted living facility in Richmond.

He regularly attended Mass with his family as a child and attended Catholic schools periodically where he said he learned the importance of service. He taught religious education when he was in high school. As a college student, he was on the Campus and Young Adult Ministry, started a program similar to Big Brothers/Big Sisters in Radford, and was a director of the short-lived diocesan charity Fluvanna Project in which college students did census work for parishes and provided services such as running summer daycares and winterizing homes.

During college, he became involved with Encounter with Christ, a retreat experience for college students, and he also became involved in the College Contact Program, a program for college students discerning priesthood or other ministry. He credits both as being instrumental in his discernment to the priesthood.

He went to St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore before transferring to Catholic University of America, in Washington D.C., in his fourth year.

Making it meaningful

Father Kelm said he enjoys his calling.

“I’m happy in a sense that I touch people’s lives, that I’m able to celebrate the Eucharist and do it with meaning and conviction,” he said.

He sees his strengths as “the ability to listen to people, to be present to them, minister to and with them at their vulnerable moments.” He strives “to facilitate building community” and “help people to live out their baptismal promises.”

Ed McNamee, from Church of Francis de Sales, Mathews, said Father Klem was “probably the finest liturgist I know” who ensures the liturgy “has meaning for everyone.” McNamee was a parishioner at St. Mark when Father Dan was its pastor.

Phil Young, a former parishioner, gives Father Dan Klem (right) a hug at a celebration for the priest’s 40th anniversary of ordination on May 21, at Church of the Resurrection, Portsmouth. (Photo/Jennifer Neville)

Kevin Kearney, a member of Sacred Heart, said Father Klem “is fully about being a Catholic priest and bringing people into the Church.”

Cindy Pauler, who belongs to St. Paul, said his “biggest asset” is that “he’s so good with babies.” She explained that on the day of a baptism, he holds the baby during his homily.

Pat Walsh, a member of Sacred Heart, also praised Father Klem for his spiritual leadership.

“He is a wonderful liturgist. His deep faith shows through in his words and actions while presiding over the Mass. He prays the words, not just recites them,” she said. “I often felt that his homilies were directed specifically at me which speaks to his ability to find meaning in the day’s Scriptures and apply it to people’s daily lives.

“He’s a caring pastor, ministering lovingly to his flock whether baptizing a baby – which he does beautifully and lovingly and memorably – or presiding at a wedding, or ministering to a sick person, or celebrating life at a funeral. His dedication to his priestly ministry is evident in all that he does.”

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