By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Tarkio will be very proud. One of their own will be ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on May 23, and he gives credit to his Tarkio upbringing.
St. Paul Parish in the farthest northern reaches of the diocese is not only the place where Deacon Bryan Amthor said his vocation was heard and nurtured, but Tarkio Elementary School was the place where he fully realized what it meant to be Catholic.
“In history class, my teacher, Mrs. (Billie) Schneider, whom I have always viewed as my favorite teacher, was teaching about the Protestant Reformation,” he recalled.
She asked the class to say what faith tradition they belonged to, Deacon Amthor said.
“One after one, they gave their religion — Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian. All Protestant,” he said.
The shy priest-to-be raised his hand.
“I asked if I were a Protestant, for I was a Catholic,” he said. “Her response: ‘You are the one exception.’”
Deacon Amthor said he began to pepper his mother, Joni Amthor, who served as parish secretary, and his pastor, Benedictine Father Reginald Sander, with questions.
“Over the course of my junior high years, this new pastor (Father Reginald) intrigued me,” he said. “His stories about his life as a priest seemed incredibly adventurous and exciting. He often preached about the need for priests, and I wondered who was going to fall for that. Little did I know.”
At that age, Deacon Amthor had an idea of what he wasn’t called to be.
“Even though I belonged to a family of farmers, farming was never something that particularly interested me,” he said. “I am very grateful for my days growing up on a farm.”
He thought of helping others as a physician.
“It turned out I was terrible at math and science,” Deacon Amthor said.
By the end of his eighth grade year, it became plain to him that God was calling him to the priesthood.
“I spoke with Father Reginald who encouraged me from the very beginning,” Deacon Amthor said.
Deacon Amthor said that Father Reginald told him to go to Missouri’s only remaining high school seminary, St. Thomas in Hannibal. His parents, however, suggested he wait a year, and he entered as a sophomore.
“Looking back, that was an incredibly brave and supportive move on the part of my parents,” he said.
He spent one year at St. Thomas before that seminary closed, and he returned to Tarkio High School for what was supposed to be his final two years.
“I desired to return to the seminary so badly that I worked very hard and graduated one year early,” Deacon Amthor said.
Deacon Amthor entered Conception Seminary College. Smooth sailing from there? Not quite.
“The Holy Spirit intervened,” Deacon Amthor said. “It became clear I was not ready for the priesthood despite my enthusiasm. I was young and
I had some growing up to do.”
Deacon Amthor transferred to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and completed a degree in philosophy in two years.
“I loved my life at Benedictine College,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, made good friendships, and became quite involved.”
After college, Deacon Amthor wanted to return to the seminary, but still wasn’t quite ready.
“The Holy Spirit continued to have other plans,” he said.
He took a job with Budget Rent-A-Car in Wichita which was, he said, a turning point.
“My job at Budget actually made me learn to get up and get to places on time, teaching me true responsibility,” Deacon Amthor said.
But still, the call was strong, even if the Holy Spirit had work to do.
“I was left with one option, to surrender everything to God and to totally trust in him,” Deacon Amthor said.
“A true lesson had been learned,” he said. “Before, I said ‘Yes,’ to the call, but according to my terms. Now I was responding to God’s call in the way Mary responded to the message of the Incarnation — ‘Let it be done to me according to thy word.’
“God took over, and he took over quickly. My prayer life radically improved. I entrusted myself to the Blessed Virgin Mary and prayed the rosary every day for Lent. By the end of two years in Wichita, I returned to the seminary.”
Deacon Amthor spent one year at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb.
“It gave me the fresh new start that I needed,” he said.
Then it was off to Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, for his final four years.
“My life has been incredibly providential,” Deacon Amthor said.
“I have been to Rome twice meeting Pope Francis. I have traveled to the Holy Land. Because of my incredibly odd road to the priesthood, I have made many friends, have experienced God’s grace in many ways, and I have been shaped into the priest God desires me to be,” Deacon Amthor said.
“I never would have done it any other way.”