Fr. Donald Hawes is 2015 Fraternalist of the Year

Catholic Order of Foresters honors Waukon priest

By Katlyn Gerken

Special to The Witness

WAUKON — He’s in the sports hall of fame at Cascade High School. He’s a Duhawk, having graduated from Loras College in Dubuque. “It’s a fine college,” Father Hawes says of his now co-ed alma mater which was an all-male school when he attended. He also studied at St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore. He’s been a priest since 1953, when he was ordained at Christ the King Chapel at Loras.

What led him to choose this vocation? “I always felt pretty close to the Lord,” says Father Hawes. He loves to travel and has been to Europe more times than he can count on one hand, but he remains grounded in Catholicism. “I’ve been to Rome a few times. It’s a great experience,” he says. In September 2015, Father Hawes took a 20+ day cruise from Vancouver down the west coast, through the Panama Canal and up to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A few months before this trip, he received a letter stating he was the Fraternalist of the Year. He recalls, “I read the thing again and thought ‘how can this be?’ At state court meetings we talk about those things. They said there was nobody this year. I think I used the word ‘flabbergasted.’ After I’d recovered somewhat, I called Sharon Huber (the 2014 Fraternalist of the Year). There were so many other people they could have chosen.” How did he earn this award? He served at St. Aloysius in Calmar and St. Wenceslaus in Spillville from 1997-2015. He began a sacristan program at one parish, and he started a kindergarten program at a local school. He plans weekly Masses for students and encourages them to get involved. He attends the senior citizen meal program, gardens, visits the sick and nursing home residents and takes communion to the homebound. When high school students are preparing to attend a youth rally, he is present, sending them off with prayer and encouragement, no matter the time of day. He taught at Wahlert Catholic High School in Dubuque for seven years. Working with a group of parishioner mothers, Father Hawes started a children’s liturgy program.

The kids sit close to the altar during Mass and know him better because of it. Students respect him and are amazed at what he continues to do at his age. “To witness the incredible way [he] relates to the youth and choir leaders is an awesome experience,” Iowa State Secretary Julie Bries says. “I’ve been in school work for all of my life,” Father Hawes explains. Years ago, he coached. “One of the great moments in my life: I was coaching against my brother. We played in the diocesan basketball tournament. We still have the picture of us at our house, each holding a trophy with mother in between.” You could say Father Hawes gets an A+ for being present, mentally and physically. “I’ve often said, you got a job here, and if you’re going to succeed in the job, you have to be on the job,” says Father Hawes. For almost 20 years, he didn’t miss a day. In July 2015, Father Hawes retired to Waukon to serve as a sacramental priest for St. Patrick Church and two other parishes.

He’s relieved of administrative duties, allowing him to focus on performing the sacraments. “When the bishop reached out to me about retirement, he said, ‘I accept your request for early retirement,’ which is a joke because we are the oldest priests in the diocese,” Father Hawes explains of himself and his brother, Msgr. Cletus Hawes, two of six children. “Mother had quite a struggle raising six kids. Like all of us with the challenges of life, by the grace of God, we respond well and grow.” Father Hawes received a myriad of cards at his retirement celebration. “Sometimes you don’t realize you’re making much impact…it gives you a lift in spirits,” he says. So what does Father Hawes do in his retirement? He says weekly Mass at Luster Heights, a prison camp, near Harper’s Ferry. Following Mass, he hosts a question and answer session. People there are not locked up, and there is no fence surrounding them. “They could walk away if they wanted to…but they’d be silly to,” he says of the fairly young men who also undergo extensive counseling. After six months, they have the opportunity to be released.

He serves as the Iowa State Spiritual Director (for the Catholic Order of Foresters), a role he’s fulfilled for 26 years, and the spiritual director of St. Aloysius 2156, Calmar, a position he’s held for 19 years. High Chief Ranger David Huber emphasizes how instrumental Father Hawes is: “All members, and especially the state of Iowa, should be justly proud of [his] dedication and loyalty to our organization, to our church and his community.” You could say Father Hawes has a perfect attendance record. He’s never missed a national convention, and he says each has its own flavor: “We went to Green Bay, and they were all wearing Brett Favre’s jersey, and that’s just after he left [the Packers].” As a person of constant spiritual growth, he’s offered spiritual direction in good times and bad. During his homily at a 2015 State Court Meeting, he shared that his brother’s house was destroyed in a fire earlier that day. “As so much was lost, Father Hawes is a living example of how mysterious God works and what is truly important in life,” Bries recalls of that moment. Love produces an attitude of service, and Father Hawes is an example of that. “God calls us to be faithful. We’re not always successful, but we’re faithful,” he says.

Gerken is the editor of “Catholic Forester” magazine. This article comes from “Catholic Forester,” Winter 2016, Volume 122 Number 1. Copyright 2016 by Catholic Order of Foresters. Reprinted by permission of Catholic Order of Foresters, a fraternal benefit society since 1883. For information, visit catholicforester.org. The photo accompanying this post is also by Gerken/Catholic Forester Magazine. 

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