By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
INDEPENDENCE — Credit Msgr. Martin Froeschl for this one, even if it did take 20 years.
Msgr. Froeschl, who died in 2006, saw a priest in 16-year-old Louis Farley two decades ago, and even got him into a seminary with the Legionaries of Christ.
“I got kicked out after one year,” said Deacon Farley, 36, who will be ordained to the diocesan priesthood on May 28 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
“At that point, I said, ‘OK, God. You were wrong,’” he told The Catholic Key. “I was 17 and had the attitude of a 17-year-old. I thought I knew more than God.”
He was a sophomore at Bishop LeBlond High School. One of his classmates was future priest Father Angelo Bartulica. “Our English teacher is still crying,” he joked.
He also met at Bishop LeBlond football camp another future priest, Father Richard Rocha, who was just beginning his first career as a coach.
But that was when Msgr. Froeschl, then pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Savannah where Farley’s family worshipped, encouraged Farley to listen to God’s call.
It didn‘t work out — at that time.
Msgr. Froeschl met him at the airport, and told him they were driving to Conception Seminary College. Farley said he would have none of it, and insisted that the priest take him home.
“I was done with it,” he said.
But neither God nor Msgr. Martin Froeschl were done with him. Throughout the years, Msgr. Froeschl kept in touch, never pressuring, but always letting Deacon Farley know he cared through periodic phone calls until the aging priest was admitted into a nursing home and died in 2006.
“He never pressured me,“ Deacon Farley said. “But he was always there for me as a friend. No matter where I was, he’d find me.”
And Farley wasn’t always easy to find.
After he graduated from Savannah High School, Farley became a bass player with a rock band formed by friends. It wasn’t just a rock band. They played a subgenre called “death metal” which was about as far from a Christian lifestyle as he could get.
“I did all the things you would expect a member of a death metal band to do,” Deacon Farley said without going into detail.
The band was semi-successful, good enough to get gigs throughout the region but never good enough to quit their day jobs.
“We didn’t make any money at it, just enough to keep going,” he said.
That, and the odd jobs he worked to pay the bills, lasted nearly a decade until Deacon Farley’s father, Larry, was diagnosed with cancer. With his sister, Joanna, newly married, it was up to Louis to support his father and his mother, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Deacon Farley was six years old.
“I worked for a friend who was creating his own financial company,” Deacon Farley said. “I was buying financial portfolios from one company and selling them to another. I would buy them for 80 cents on the dollar and sell them to someone else for 85 cents.”
And he was quite good at it, making quite a bit of money. Only it wasn’t where God was calling him.
“I bought a house and real estate, but after five years it really started to get to me,” he said.
Then his father died of cancer, his mother was moved into a nursing home and Farley lost his purpose.
“I did a whole year of, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’” he said, sometimes self-medicating the pain with alcohol.
“I was never poor, never starving, but it never made me happy,” Deacon Farley said.
One day he walked into his boss’s office and told him he was done.
“He said to me, ‘Take two weeks,’” Deacon Farley recalled. “I said, ‘No, I’ve got to quit.’”
His boss gave him a check for accumulated vacation time, and told him his job would be waiting for him whenever he wanted it back.
It was enough money to live on for quite some time, but Deacon Farley was spiraling downward, until he started hearing the words of the old priest who had taken him under his wing, and, without realizing it, the call from God to his true vocation.
“I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started visiting Mir House,” a prayer and retreat house just east of St. Joseph.
Msgr. Froeschl was in poor health by that time, and Deacon Farley said he didn’t know who to turn to.
“The only priest I ever loved was Msgr. Froeschl,” he said. “I asked God who I should be talking to, and God told me to go to St. Rose of Lima. I hadn’t been inside that church for a long, long time.”
On a Monday afternoon just five years ago, Deacon Farley said, he made the short drive to his boyhood parish and asked the parish secretary to see the pastor, without knowing who that would be.
He was told that the pastor was in Kansas City on church business, but he would be back the next day to hear confessions at 4 p.m.
“I went to my truck fully intending to go to a bar and get drunk,” Deacon Farley said. “About halfway on that drive, I heard a voice laughing inside me. Then God said to me, ‘Boy, you sure give up easy.’”
Deacon Farley said he went home instead, sitting in the dark for the next day thinking before returning to Savannah.
“The parish secretary acted like she was expecting me, and told me the priest was waiting,” Deacon Farley said.
“I said, ‘Father, before you hear my confession, we need to talk,’” he recalled.
“So the priest peeked around the corner and said, ‘Louie?” Deacon Farley said. “I looked at him and said, ‘Rocha?’”
The priest and then pastor of St. Rose of Lima was the young football coach from Deacon Farley’s Bishop LeBlond high school days. For the next two hours in the sanctuary of the small church, they talked. Or rather, Deacon Farley said, he talked and Father Rocha listened.
“The moment I saw his face, I knew I was in the right place,” Deacon Farley said of the priest who also took a long journey through a teaching and coaching career before he finally listened to what God was really calling him to.
“Everything I was going through, he could relate to,” Deacon Farley said. “And everything just switched on for me so much clearer.”
It was then he realized that Msgr. Froeschl was right all along – Louis Farley was being called to the priesthood, and Father Rocha could see it.
“He helped me get in touch with the Vocations Office,” Deacon Farley said. “That was in April of 2006.” That August, he entered Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.
And suddenly, all the pieces of Deacon Farley’s life seemed to come together.
“Once I got there, I was happy,” he said. “There have been a lot of struggles, but I have never doubted that was the place I was supposed to be.
“My happiness changed in all areas of my life,” Deacon Farley said. “My relationship with my sister even grew stronger.”
Still, he struggled not with his present or his future, but with his past, Deacon Farley said. When that happened, he turned to prayer.
“I would cry because I would look at all the time I wasted,” he said. “I’d look at the lifestyle I had been living and say, ‘How could I possibly be worthy?’”
And how could he live up to his role model as a priest, Msgr. Martin Froeschl?
“He could be mean, but it was always the truth with him,” Deacon Farley said. “He couldn’t care less if what he said made you happy as long as he told you the truth.”
Just months into his seminary career in the fall of 2006, Msgr. Froeschl died, and the news hit him hard. So he turned to prayer.
“I got an epiphany that lasted a few hours,” Deacon Farley said. “I realized that everything I had gone through, everything I did, it was OK with God. He was going to use it all.”
On an ambulance gurney with EMTs in attendance, Deacon Farley’s mother, Marjorie, was able to attend his ordination last year to the transitional diaconate, a major step toward priesthood.
“Words can’t say what that meant,” Deacon Farley said. “It meant the world to her, and it meant the world to me.”
Marjorie Farley died on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, two months before her son’s scheduled ordination to the priesthood, and 30 years after her diagnosis.
“All I can say is that there is power in redemptive suffering,” Deacon Farley said.
She won’t be there physically, Deacon Farley said. But she will be there, as will his father, and Msgr. Froeschl.
As he approaches priesthood, Deacon Farley said a recurring dream haunting his sleep for years is finally making sense.
Msgr. Froeschl is driving him to a nondescript country church. When they get there, there are no pews, just a table where the altar should be with a cardinal, a bishop and a priest sitting at it.
In the dream, Deacon Farley said that he approaches the table and each of the clergymen hands him one of a set of dice with strange symbols, gesturing at him to roll.
“I‘d get mad and tell them, ‘I learned a long time ago that if you are going to play games with priests, you better know the rules first.’ Then I‘d wake up,” he said.
The lesson is now clear, he said. “I don’t make the rules,” he said. “God does.”
Deacon Farley said he has no idea what God’s rules are, but he will now roll the dice.
“I want to go to wherever my skills that Christ has given me will be put to use, wherever the people need a Catholic priest,” he said.
Deacon Farley said he has already worked in several parish in addition to St. Mary of Independence as part of the “Totus Tuus” youth ministry seminarian team. They include St. John LaLande of Blues Springs, St. Therese Little Flower of Kansas City, St. James of St. Joseph, St. Gregory of Maryville and St. Gabriel of Kansas City, north, and he has loved them all.
“That experience solidified in me that I can do what a priest does,” Deacon Farley said.
“It’s going to make me happy,” he said. “In fact, it is the only thing that is going to make me happy.”