At 6-foot-5 and dressed in all black with a white collar, Fr. Patrick Hoeft (rhymes with “left”) certainly stands out as being new to the Little Falls community.
He was ordained in June 2020, during the COVID pandemic, so a very small service was held. Pr. Patrick’s first assignment was to serve for two years with the native father of Little Falls. Alan Wielinski, who is pastor of the Fergus Falls, Elizabeth and Pelican Rapids group of parishes.
Since July 1, he now serves the parish communities of Our Lady of Lourdes, Sainte-Marie and Sainte-Famille, in Little Falls – just over 2,500 parishioners according to his count. He is delighted to work with Fr. Ben Kociemba, the parish priest of these parishes, whom he considers to be someone to learn from and who will help him grow in his vocation as a priest.
“He seems to be a very good mentor. It is very intentional to have a vision. I think he has a lot of wisdom to learn,” he said.
Pr. Patrick is the second of six children born to Bill and Nancy Hoeft and grew up on a farm just west of Paynesville.
He said he never thought of being a priest as a child, although he served as an altar server in his home parish, St. Louis Catholic Church. Pr. Richard Leisen has been a pastor for 20 years. He baptized Fr. Patrick as a baby and was there in his high school years.
It was Fr. Leisen who first told the young man that he should consider the priesthood. He was an altar server in fourth grade.
“He said, ‘Patrick, I’m getting pretty old. I need a priest to replace me one day, ‘just kind of give me a boost,’ said the father. said Patrick. was in one ear and out the other.
When Fr. Patrick had just finished ninth grade, the St. Cloud Visitor (a Catholic newspaper) asked him to write about a priest he admired.
“He was really the only priest I had known up to that time, so I wrote about him (Father Leisen),” he said.
Pr. Leisen wrote a thank-you note to young Patrick, thanking him for the beautiful writing and added: “And by the way, I think you would make a good priest.”
“So that was the second time,” the father said. said Patrick. But, he still didn’t think he wanted to be a priest.
“It was a similar thing, a passing thought, I didn’t take it seriously,” he said.
“For me, it wasn’t on my radar until after high school. The summer after high school, I prayed alone. I had done what is called a 30 day walk with Jesus, a retreat. They gave us a bookmark with 30 scriptures on one side, and you turn that bookmark over and there was a process of reading the scriptures,” he said. Participants were encouraged to pay attention to what the Lord might say to them in the scriptures.
“I was inspired by the Apostles, especially reading the Acts of the Apostles, especially after the Ascension, they were really on fire,” the father said. said Patrick. “I felt inspired by that – to live a life of leaving everything behind and giving myself completely to the Lord.”
Headed to college, he was undecided, so he attended Ridgewater in Willmar for a year to take general courses.
During his first year at Willmar he wrote a letter to Fr. Leisen.
“I told him I was thinking about the priesthood, but I didn’t know what to do,” the father said. said Patrick.
Pr. Leisen encouraged him to go to seminary.
“He said, ‘Just because you’re going doesn’t mean you’re giving your 100 per cent yes. Go there to pray and discern”. said Patrick. “It was a peaceful consolation to obtain this encouragement from Fr. Leisen.
He contacted Fr. Scott Pogatchnik, who took him on a visit to St. Cloud’s Seminary to visit St. John’s, then to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Winona.
Pr. Patrick really liked the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as well as the cliffs of Winona.
He applied and, after his first year of college, transferred.
“It was a very good experience there, forming a life of prayer and living a life of virtue,” he said.
When he informed his parents of his decision, he said they had taken a while to adjust to the idea.
“I never talked about it growing up and never thought about it, and I don’t think they expected me to become a priest,” he said. “When I told them I was thinking of becoming a priest, there was a sort of stunned silence.”
His mother told him about her worries about not having a family, mentioning how much he loved being the big brother to four younger siblings.
“She talked about it several times, just to make sure I knew what I was getting into,” he said.
But, after spending time at family picnics at the seminary, where seminarians and their families gathered to play volleyball and hang out, her parents were able to meet other relatives.
“You have really strong friendships in seminary, other guys pursuing holiness. I think that really helped my parents come to terms with that,” he said.
After three years at Winona, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. For his theological studies, he spent four years at Saint Paul Seminary.
“It’s a lot to learn. A big part also is not just the process of learning everything intellectually, but a kind of training process to learn to be present as a priest to the people,” he said. This included a hospital ministry, learning to work with people in hospitals and nursing homes.
“It’s not just about intellectual knowledge about the faith, but about knowing how to think and act as a priest,” he said.
At this point in his upbringing, he was still at the stage of discernment, able to change his path at any time.
He said he basically had six years to think about it.
“One cool thing about the seminar, it’s like you couldn’t get a more diverse group of guys if you tried. Some guys are guys who grew up in very godly families and naturally went to seminary. Some guys left the church a long time ago and had a deep conversion experience. Some guys who were never raised Catholic, but for some reason ended up in the Catholic Church and became priests,” he said.
While most seminarians are the same age, in their 20s and early 30s, some are in their late 30s and early 40s, several in their 50s.
Some seminarians had other careers before entering the seminary.
“One guy was a lawyer for a while. He left that behind,” the father said. said Patrick.
“It’s like their second career,” he said.
The gifts they learned in their previous careers could be applied in their priestly life.
“Sometimes it’s a really good point of contact with people,” he said.
A young man he met in the seminary is now Fr. Marc Botzet. Pr. Mark has just finished serving in the Little Falls area, prior to being assigned to the Sauk Center area.
Having started his journey at 18 and decided to consider being a priest at 19, Fr. Patrick was ordained a transitional deacon at 25, a priest at 26, and sent to his first parishes.
Now, at 28, he says he knows he made the right choice.
Something he didn’t expect, but probably should have had and something that surprised him was how joyful life is in the priesthood.
“The whole daily routine of seeing people at daily mass, being called to the hospital for last rites, a touching moment for the family, having a funeral with them, and the next thing you do a baptism , a preparation for marriage; and confession can be a powerful moment for people,” he said. “It’s really rewarding; there’s a lot of meaning throughout your life.
Priests in general can see the full range of humanity, he said.
“The really high points in people’s lives, the triumphs and the really low points and all that stuff,” he said.
“I think it helps priests to become more kind and compassionate. Everyone has their story, everyone has their cross to bear,” he said. “If you’re talking to a priest, you don’t have to feel like you have to dress up.”
Although he was raised as a Catholic, Fr. Patrick told the seminary he learned how little he knew about his faith.
“Like in sacraments class, I realized I could name all seven sacraments, but I couldn’t do much more than that,” he said. “The knowledge base I had about faith was quite minimal.”
Learning about the saints and how everything is connected, it was a very profound experience for him to find out how rich the Catholic faith is, he said.
A self-proclaimed introvert, Fr. Patrick enjoys reading, hiking, running, twins and good, thought-provoking movies.
He enjoys books on Catholic spirituality, both fiction and non-fiction. One of his favorite authors is Michael O’Brien.
“He is able to tell a story that illustrates particular aspects of faith that can draw you to faith,” the father said. said Patrick.
He also enjoys reading about the lives of saints.
“They are just very inspiring. There’s a saying, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” he said, noting that the books show how some of the saints really turned 180 years into their lives.
Prof. Patrick said he enjoyed his first month in Little Falls and likes the rural setting.
“You don’t feel like you’re living in the middle of town, but not in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Pr. Patrick also had an excellent experience with people. Some, he says, very intentionally welcomed him into the parish.
“It’s been a very positive experience so far,” he said. “I’m very excited to be here.”