‘My father’s son’: Some priest alumni now have a rare bond with their dads, who are also ordained

deacon nick vance embraces his father deacon chris vance
Fr. Nick Vance, right, and Deacon Chris Vance are the latest in a unique wave of father-son, deacon-priest duos in the Twin Cities. Five such pairs are in different stages of formation at The Saint Paul Seminary.

Fr. Nick Vance is too young to remember.

But like every parent, Deacon Chris Vance and his wife Leila dressed young Nick every day during his first few years of life. It was surreal, then, when Fr. Nick Vance — then Deacon Nick Vance — had the opportunity to vest his father at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ permanent diaconate ordination Mass in December.

It’s a unique part of the ceremony, when a current deacon welcomes a new one into the sacrament of holy orders. The image of a son putting the vestments over his father’s head has been shared dozens of times on social media since then and made its way into the Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper.

What most folks probably didn’t notice, though, is that the younger deacon almost messed it up.

“It’s the very practical part of the ceremony of, you know, putting your clothes on,” said Fr. Vance, who himself was ordained a priest at the same Cathedral of St. Paul this spring, “but it felt appropriate that I started doing it wrong. I was trying to get his arm to go through the head hole.

“The humanity of the relationship just really got to me in that moment. I am my father’s son.”

The Vances are the latest in a unique wave of father-son, deacon-priest duos in the Twin Cities. Five such
pairs are in different stages of formation at The Saint Paul Seminary.

In addition to the Vances, fellow 2024 ordinand Fr. Ryan Sustaceks’ father, Steve, is currently a candidate with the Institute for Diaconate Formation. Formator and assistant professor of dogmatic theology Fr. Evan Koop’s dad, Deacon Steven Koop, has been a clergyman for over 30 years. Recent alumnus Fr. John Utecht’s father, Deacon Joseph Utecht, was ordained shortly before his son. Current seminarian Joshua Gerads’ dad, Michael, is in formation for the permanent diaconate, too. And Fr. John Floeder, the seminary’s director of human formation and the propaedeutic stage program, has an uncle, Tony, who’s also discerning the diaconate.

“To think that someday, during Mass, [my father would] be holding the chalice and I’d be holding the paten … ” Fr. Ryan Sustacek, who’s rarely at a loss for words, pauses. “It’s just a very beautiful thing.”

Fr. Evan Koop had a similar experience at his first Mass in 2012, when Deacon Steve Koop read the Gospel and gave the homily. The latter was ordained a permanent deacon in 1992 and served at the Church of St. Rita in Cottage Grove for over three decades — all while raising a family and working as an
orthopedic surgeon at Gillette Children’s Hospital.

“This is kind of a studious family,” Deacon Steve Koop said. “For us, faith does involve putting some work into study and examining. What is it you believe?”

It’s a humble understatement.

“To think that someday, during Mass, [my father would] be holding the chalice and I’d be holding the paten — it’s just a very beautiful thing.” — Fr. Ryan Sustacek, Archdiocese of St. Paul
and Minneapolis

An M.D. and specialized surgical training for Deacon Steve. Fr. Evan Koop’s mother, Debbie, holds a Master’s in Theology from St. Catherine University and is a certified spiritual director. Fr. Koop’s older brother has a Ph.D in engineering.

“The other two only have their Master’s,” Fr. Koop says with a smile. “Although one of them is from Harvard.”

And Fr. Koop himself recently defended his doctoral dissertation discussing Mary’s participation in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Koop now holds a doctorate in sacred theology.

“When I was very little — maybe 5, 6 or 7 — I remember my mom kind of leading me through the process of inviting Jesus into my heart and giving my life to him,” Fr. Koop said. “That had a great impact on me.”

Said Debbie: “We were very supportive of him being here at the seminary and discerning.”

Fr. John Utecht and his father, Deacon Joseph Utecht, blazed a more parallel path. Fr. John was ordained a priest in 2022, with his dad becoming a permanent deacon in 2019.

Deacon Joseph first felt called to pursue the permanent diaconate during a Steubenville youth conference at which he was leading a group of high schoolers in worship and reflection. Fr. John’s heart, he said, was opened to the idea of priesthood through growing up in a household where faith was first, and later by working with NET Ministries, which serves young Catholics throughout the United States.

So much of it, Fr. John said, “is the importance of having other people, of having community. … That’s what a parish is supposed to be like, this extended family in this particular place to walk with one another.”

Fr. Ryan Sustacek experienced that firsthand growing up in the Catholic hamlet of St. Michael, Minnesota.

His youth group at St. Michael Catholic Church was particularly pivotal for both him and his father, Steve, who helped lead the local youth in prayer and growth in their relationships with Christ.

Fr. Sustacek was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in May. His father is currently a permanent deacon candidate for the same archdiocese.

He and his wife Jennifer are undergoing many of the same experiences in human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation their son did.

“You can’t make this up,” Steve said. “I’m getting specific instructions on what he’s going through. … We’re both hearing this firsthand.

“The timing was just divine and perfect.”

Deacon Chris Vance knows the feeling.

The father of Fr. Nick Vance brought up the sacred oil at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ 2024 Chrism Mass. The same oil was used to anoint his son and 12 other new priests of the archdiocese
during ordination on May 24 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

“The tears were running free that day,” said Deacon Vance, who works in IT and facilities at St. Agnes Catholic Church and school in St. Paul. “I think of all the times and all the tools as a dad that I would bring to the altar and say, ‘Lord, please bless this. Please bless this for Nick, please bless this for all my kids.’ It was a good meditation standing there trying to look like I had my act together.”

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