“MEET THE FLOCK”
by Denise Rush
Recently, an attempt to provide our parish with a “photographic yearbook” fell through after the company’s pricey and strict regulatory demands stopped its progress in its tracks. The thought then occurred to me that there had to be another alternative way to document and introduce “the flock” to each other. After all, this is our spiritual home and we, the members of St. Joseph Church, are its true support beams, upholding it in fellowship, both in the true physical and financial sense of the word. Therefore, after approaching Fr. Dave for his approval, I have volunteered my services to write a quarterly column entitled: “Meet the Flock-ers.” So, every 3-4 months, I will interview a parishioner who wishes to have a short biography printed about themselves placed either in the bulletin as a column, or as an inserted article within its pages. And, since, Fr. Dave is our pastor, I thought that it would only be proper for him to be featured as the first subject/guinea pig to be interviewed in my endeavor. With that said, let me introduce you to Fr. Dave Kneeland, “The Leader of the Flock”…
“A shoe polisher.” Yes, if chosen as the 13th apostle in the time of Our Lord, that is the task that Fr. Dave says he would do. “And, it wouldn’t be that bad of a job either, because they washed their feet a lot back then.” (Insert Fr. Dave’s hearty laughter here.) I have to say, I agree with his choice of what his profession would be when I posed the question to him during our interview session: “What would you do if you were alive during the time of Our Lord?” Though Fr. Dave was, of course, characteristically kidding around with his answer, I do think a shoe-shiner is probably the job he would be most suited for, and, certainly, one consistent with the well-known quoted sentiment of St. John the Baptist about the Messiah: “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet,.” Likewise, the hypothetical and future official “sandal-shiner” of the day, Fr. Dave, would have to possess the same unquestionable virtue of humility as well. Let’s face it, obviously, there’d be a lot of on-the-job humble kneeling at the feet of the “Big Boss” ascribed to that job description!
Personally, however, I think Fr. Dave’s better job choice would have been to serve his “ultimate employer” as our Lord’s opening act during the Sermon on the Mount. Fr. Dave would warm up the crowd with his sense of humor, get them to seriously pay attention, heap praise upon the “real star of the show,” and then disappear backstage behind a boulder as the unknown comic—the humble, but holy 13th apostle. (Cue here, Fr. Dave’s serious side to shine): “I want to bring souls to Christ,” he somberly states.
That pretty much describes the two sides of our Fr. Dave. Lucky for us, we get two priests rolled into one — a hysterically funny, joy-filled preacher and a seriously prayerful, never-seeking-self-praise pastor. “Maybe,” he jokes, “it’s because I’m a Gemini. My birthday is May 27th.”
Christened David Lee (“Roth,” he jokes here), he was raised in Lawrence, MA by his parents, Lorraine and Michael, along with his three older brothers, Mitch, Glenn, and John. “I was the baby…the baby whale!” (He wails in laughter at this comment.) Anyway, while tending to her boys in between housework, his Mom would watch TV’s Mother Angelica, the public television celebrity — who did have and still has — a following on the EWTN Catholic network. One of those followers was the child, known as the future, Father David. Mother Angelica was, in fact, his childhood idol. He roars with laughter at that, “It even cracks me up!” However, unbeknownst to that nun, and the many other Sisters of St. Anne’s who taught him throughout grammar school, they all profoundly influenced him on his chosen vocational path. Between their holy teachings and his Catholic upbringing, he heard “the one true voice” speak to him.
“It was during religious class in first or second grade. I felt like God asked if I would be one of his priests. We had a religious book open, and I almost had the feeling like He talked to me, like with a little picture of a priest holding up the Eucharist.”
That was how his calling began. “I thought I would rather have been an evangelist like Jimmy Swaggart, you know, some get their own plane and tour the world!,” He lets out a real hearty laugh at that one. “But,” he continues on in a spiritual tone, “it was very specific — would you be one of my priests? (Then, he quickly breaks into laughter before delivering his next punch line.) “I tried to avoid it ever since.”
And, that he did. After attending and graduating from Lawrence High School and Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, MA, he later studied to be a chiropractor, following in two of his brother’s footsteps, attending pre-requisite courses at Scott College and then graduating from Palmer Chiropractic College in Davenport, Iowa. “But,” he states in a heartfelt, serious manner, “God talked to my heart.” That’s when he enrolled years later in St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, MA, going on to his Deacon year in Exeter, NH, until becoming ordained in 2006. He was then assigned to two other parishes in Bedford and Rochester, NH, respectively, serving as Associate Pastor in each. Then God delivered him to our doorstep in the tiny town of Lincoln, NH as our spiritual leader. He enjoys it here. “I love my leather chair,” he jokes again. “No, seriously, I love the people, parish events, the White Mountains, celebrating Mass, and the community.” What he doesn’t love is the paperwork that comes with the job.
When he is not doing all of those paper-filled priestly duties, however, he can be found attending to his other loves. Eating is #1. He loves all food, particularly Arabic, and sweets — but it’s much easier to say what food he doesn’t like, that being string beans and waxed beans. “I eat mostly roasted vegetables lately.” He also loves music, not the rock ‘n’ roll of Van Halen or Ozzy Osborne that he listened to as a teen, but the much-loved hymns: Let All Mortal Flesh be Silent, Pange Lingua (the lyrics are attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas), Ave Maria, and, of course, Christmas carols, his favorite being What Child is This? As for bible verses, the one near and dear to his heart is: I am the Vine, You are the Branches. When it comes to TV, his preferred shows on PBS to watch are: The Brother Cadfael Mystery Series and the Fr. Brown Mystery Series. As for more popular shows, not on PBS, he likes Deadliest Catch, Alaskan Bush People, North Woods Law, or Survivor.
Fr. Dave could not survive, however, without his constant companion, Bear, his eight-year-old Border Collie/Mutt. He takes her for walks or she can be found just sitting by her master’s side at his feet in the parish rectory when Fr. Dave is at work or when praying. His most beloved prayer is one that he recites on a daily basis, and which, I feel exemplifies Fr. Dave’s humble nature. It is called The Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry DelVal. In my opinion, one of those lines best describes Fr. Dave himself. It reads as you pray: “Jesus, grant me the grace that others may be praised, and I unnoticed.”
Although, you can’t help but notice the joy in Fr. Dave’s laughter, or be entertained by his sense of humor during his homilies, he never takes credit for himself. Any job that is accomplished within the parish, he credits to others. That pretty much describes who he is. And, those great gifts of his — jocularity and humility — do, indeed, help draw souls closer to Christ. In fact, some people may not realize the similarities between Fr. Dave and his favorite saint who also brought souls to Our Lord when he was alive — St. Lawrence of Rome. He, too, had a good sense of humor, and like Fr. Dave loved food. In fact, he is the patron saint of chefs and cooks. (How ironic!) St. Lawrence preached during Roman times and, when martyred on a gridiron, he proclaimed, “I am well done on this side, you can turn me over now.” See, even, he had two sides!
As you can now surmise, it is precisely those dual personality traits of the one-and-only, Fr. Dave, the opening act at our parish, who is working hard, trying his very best, using his grade-A material as he subtly, yet seriously and humbly, teaches us all as companions on the journey to salvation to have a little fun and a few laughs along the way. That is his comedic “shtick,” his signature style that he employs, all for the purpose to bring souls to Christ. We are the lucky ones to have him here, and I hope and pray that he is on the job in Lincoln for years to come. If not, there’s the other kind of soles he could work with…after all, he’d make a great shoe polisher!