NO GREATER LOVE: Facing Kidney Failure, Priest Receives the Gift of Life From His Friend

May he be faithful to the ministry that he receives from you, Lord God, and be to others a model of right conduct.

–From the Prayer of Consecration, Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood

On the day of his ordination, a young priest expects to offer a lifetime of loving service to Christ and His Church.  Through his prayer and his ministry, he will lead his flock to a deeper understanding of their faith; he will walk with them in joy and sorrow, sharing their joy at the baptism of a child and the joining of two young lovers in holy matrimony, and comforting them at the passing of a parent.

But when a priest fails in his ministry because of addiction, he experiences shame, loneliness and remorse.  Perhaps he once drank only socially; but gradually his past experiences or his inner turmoil cause him to turn more and more frequently to the bottle.  His tolerance for alcohol increases, and he finds himself spiraling deeper into denial and deeper into alcoholism.  He arrives at Guest House with a broken spirit, powerless to help himself.  Coming together with priests from across the country who are facing the same struggle, he takes the first steps toward recovery—and in this shared experience of healing, deep friendships are forged.

So it was in 1996 when Father Jim Callahan (Minnesota), Fr. Dan McCloskey (Delaware), and Fr. Cathal Gallagher (South Dakota) entered the alcoholism treatment program at Guest House.  Together with other priests and their counselors, each man began the process of unraveling years of excuses and painful secrets, and uncovering the reasons behind his addiction.  Their shared experience of priestly ministry and renewed spirituality—and eventually, their grateful sobriety—forged a life-long friendship; and the three have remained close.

*     *     *     *     *    

Fast forward to Spring of 2010.  Father Dan had been facing critical kidney failure.  He was weakened after months of dialysis when Fr. Jim stepped up to offer one of his kidneys to help his friend.  It was a good match—and on April 22, 2010, with a lot of prayer support from their Guest House friends, the priests underwent transplant surgery with a top kidney specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.  In his weakened state, Father Dan lost a lot of blood and required not one, but two surgeries—but in the end, his life was saved. 

In the weeks following the surgery, both priests required careful monitoring and assistance.  Their close friend Father Cathal became their post-surgery caretaker.  Explaining how the event affected the three priests, Father Cathal wrote:

“Guest House may be a haven for the vulnerable.  The secret of one’s brokenness is no longer a secret.  But being vulnerable, one’s heart is more open, your ways are more gentle, and good solid friendships are created and nurtured.”

  • http://rbauguess@nih.gov Rita Bauguess

    a gentle man the first time I met him. So sorry to hear of his passing on October 13, 2011.

  • Tom Mc Closkey

    Thank you Kathy for telling this story of struggle and love.
    My brother Fr Dan touched so many people and his friend Jim Callahan touch us all with his gift of a kidney. Learning more about my brother’s life after his passing made me realize how difficult it can be to be a priest. Thank you Fr Dan, Fr Jim and Fr. Cathal for all your love and support.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Tom, I’m so sorry for your loss! We at Guest House regarded your brother with great affection.

      Please know of our continued prayers for the repose of his soul, and for comfort for you and your family.


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