calls a person to their purpose? What calls
them to their pathway when they are young
- to the road that leads them to their chosen
destiny? Although a complex series of experiences
and one's role within their family and community
environment sets the stage for opportunities,
there is something more at work. There is
the living spirit - the heart and soul of
the person - that makes all the difference.
Each child in a family is unique and each
interprets things from their own spiritual
perspective, internalizing the world around
them with a new sense of purpose, a new
and unique series of questions and answers
that is theirs alone. Their place in the
family, the place on the map that they were
born, the tone of the home and their relationship
to their community and the natural world
all work as the pallette and the paints.
But each soul paints an individual masterpiece.
the artist's life itself IS the art.
The artist reflects it back
from a sense of vision so that others can
see what they see. But that concept of 'seeing
what the artist sees' is not to be
misinterpreted with what the artist sees
with his eyes. Rather, we are given privelege
to see what the artist sees with his heart,
and that is a place of feeling. In connecting
to the vision of the heart of the artist,
we are able to connect with feelings ourselves
which have perhaps remained dormant since
childhood or maybe even never felt before
at all. We are called to reflection of our
own place in the universe, with our own
inner spirit and are ignited to questions
and answers which might have eluded our
focus. We are asked to see with our own
hearts when the artist shares his and it
falls within our gaze.
spirit of the artist is evident in even
the smallest child that is driven by these
internal splendors. The artist's heart begins
as one that is open to wonders and reaches
for meaning in even the smallest things
- whether they are things in nature or experiences.
For the artist FEELS and when that depth
of feeling is given the opportunity to blossom,
the flower that blooms is the soul of an
a cold South Dakota winters' day in January
of 1929, Donald William Huntimer came into
the world, a delightful package of promise
and hope for his parents Mae and Walter.
His place in the family was number seven
out of the eventual nine that would be born
to the couple. The loss of brother Vernon,
two years before Don was born, left a tremendous
mark on the heart of the family. Although
Don never had a chance to meet Vernon personally,
this older brother remained present in the
deepest ways that count and his influence
was felt just the same as if he had remained
physically present. So Don grew up the 7th
of nine children, with Vernon's influence
just as significant as the other siblings.
might presume that the idea of finding independence
in such a large gathering of children might
be difficult if not impossible. But such
is never the case with the heart of one
driven from within to the passion of purpose.
If anything, such a place in the family
could create a natural innerspace of reflection
and wonder, for the interior spaces of thought
are the only things that are ever one's
own in a household with so many brothers
and sisters. And so it was with young Don.
the 1930s, most mothers in rural America
still made much of their children's clothing.
Toys were often made by the child's imagination
from a box, crate or tool in the barn. And
families grew and canned their own food.
Life in South Dakota for young Don was all
of this and there was never a lack of things
needing to be done. With the children all
taking care of their chores and schoolwork
as well as looking out for one another,
helping mother with the housework and father
with the farming, there was responsibility
and a sense of duty and purpose right from
the start, along with the natural wonders
of the child's heart. But while sharing
so many things - a room with siblings, toys,
hand-me downs from the older children, chores
and responsibilities - this young boy had
the advantage of discovering naturally very
early on where to go within and how to get
there to carve a place for a personal inner
sanctuary that was all his own.
strong connection to God and sense of belonging
to something greater than himself was the
broth for the soup of this strong family.
Countless hours working the fields as a
young farmhand gave young Don time to cultivate
those fields within where seeds were being
planted that would grow into the life of
a priest, a visionary, a philosopher, a
teacher and an artist. This was rich ground.
The soil of the South Dakota landscape was
rich in nutrients for the growing heart
of this boy. Don cultivated a deep longing
for answers to his spiritual questions along
with his deep love for God, which was nurtured.
with the duties of daily life and the responsibilities
in the field when Don was not going to school,
there was something else at work. The landscape
was becoming a part of the boy. The changing
of the seasons filled his senses along with
the vast and wide skies above the fields
and the distant mountains on the horizons.
The pastels with which God painted the South
Dakota landscape in which he had placed
Don, filled the young boy and nourished
his spirit. The rich smells of the dirt
and the winds worked a magic in his soul.
The aroma of Sping with its fields of greens,
trees awakening from winter and the smell
of blossoms in the wind became a part of
the pallette. These were the scents of new
life, new beginnings and the colors of hope
in the young painter's tools.
night skies above his place in the landscape
were a wonder to this young boy as well.
The Milky Way was almost solid white, reaching
all the way to the horizon on a moonless
night. A summers' night with the warm winds
blowing the curtains gently, called young
Don to look out, look up and reach for the
heavens. He connected to the universe in
a way that affected him spiritually and
this would later become visible to us in
his paintings of the galaxies and nebulas.
The night skies were another set of colors
in his growing palette that would paint
fragrance of Fall was in sharp contrast
to that of the spring. The harvest time
smelled dry but the sweet, musty scents
went deep into Don's inner library from
which he would draw for inspiration in the
years to come. Even when the family had
moved to the city, the shades of autumn
remained evident and added to the richness
of this growing boy's palette. The autumn
hues would become the colors of change,
of letting go, of a peace, of a season well
lived and of the reflection of the days
just past. All of these things filled Don
with a wonder and an awe in between the
serious work at hand, whether it be the
labors in the field or his studies in school.
Always there was a noticing of colors, of
fragrances and a search for the meaning
behind the form.
were yet another spiritual change and as
the outer landscape filled with white and
the blanket of silence comforted the earth
sleeping below, young Don would find himself
again taking in all the world around him.
While communities drew in their harvest
during the Fall, few knew then that what
Don had been collecting and storing away
for the days ahead were the colors that
would remind us all of all the seasons of
the heart and the beauty of the creation
now at rest underneath the snow. What he
was collecting was the rich harvest of the
spirit, and storing it away until it was
needed for the life of rich experiences
which was coming.
impressions made lasting impact on the heart
of this young man more than most, perhaps
in part because of a significant hearing
loss that became evident early in his childhood.
It is said that when one of our senses is
impaired, another will become more heightened,
and perhaps this was part of the reason
that color, form, shape, contrast and images
spoke so loudly to young Don's heart. With
many of the sounds of the outside world
silenced, the beauty of the world around
him spoke to the boy clearly. With the visual
impression more profound than the audible
one, it is perhaps a significant loss of
sound that played one of the most significant
parts in creating the painter.
so a young artist began to form within the
quiet place in which he lived. Where some
might call such hearing loss a disability
or even a handicap, the natural blanket
of silence which fell on much of Don's world
allowed him to perceive the sounds of the
soul, which called him to deeper reflection.
The yearning for the spiritual life bubbled
up from this reflective place and creative
energy came with it. The artist and the
priest to come were not separate but one
in the same spirit, the message differing
only in the venue of expression.
spiritual and artist energies were encouraged
by Don's mother's wonderful influence. She
was herself an artist and a musician as
well as a spiritually driven woman of tremendous
compassion. Mae had known great personal
loss growing up and had endured the ultimate
tragedy of losing a child, but from this
grief grew a great and loving heart. Don
was encouraged by his mother to follow his
heart in whatever direction it would take
him. She appreciated his sensitive nature
and his natural calling to things reflective
- things of a spiritual nature which she
school years were influenced by some wonderful
nuns who surely played a very important
role in his growing resolve to eventually
join the priesthood. But the idea first
struck his heart one day in July of 1939.
The ten year old boy attended the first
mass led by his cousin, Father Harold Kehrwald,
CSsR and sometime during the service there
came a moment when the dye was cast. This
calling he kept in the secret vault of his
soul for a long time. He did not mention
it to anyone until he was in the eighth
grade in 1943, when he sent a letter of
his dreams of becoming a priest to Fr. Harold.
his junior year, with the pressing upon
his heart the gentle but persistat calling
from within to serve God with his life,
Don gathered the courage to tell the pastor,
Fr. Henry Kolbeck. Expecting words of encouragement
and welcome, the young man received words
reflecting the harsh reality of the times:
he would never be able to become a priest
because of his hearing loss. The news was
devistating but Don would not go down without
a full effort to follow his passion and
calling and thus follow his heart.
cousin Fr. Harold encouraged Don to go to
the Seminary of the Redemptorists, which
he did for the next 3 years. He found he
fit in well with the 250 other semarinarians
at St. Joseph's College and this first experience
away from home was filled with great promise.
However, by the end of the third year, the
questions about serving as a hearing impaired
priest had moved to the top of concerns,
and thoughts about his future and loss of
a vocational life were a constant worry.
There were no seminarians in those days
that wore hearing aids. There was concern
that Don would not be able to hear confessions
and thus his abilities to perform the duties
as a priest would be marginalized. After
having his hearing tested and being told
he needed to be fitted for hearing aids,
the school suggested that he simply finish
out the year as he could not go on to the
children, we come to form who we are by
defining those things in the world that
resonate with our souls. We reach for those
things while envisioning our place in the
world, and literally mold the sculpture
of our future from the clay of our living
spirit that knows it has a place and a purpose
and a need for expression. The ten year
old boy, while watching his cousin perform
mass, recognized this as his own calling
and held it quietly inside for a long time
before sharing it with anyone. There in
the silence of the heart, the desire grew
from year to year from a dream to a vision.
And the vision grew to a knowing that never
let go. When he finally took the first huge
steps to manifesting this vision into reality
by going away to school at St. Josephs,
it seemed so close within reach. One can
only imagine the heartbreaking blow by being
told that there was no place for a young
priest with a hearing loss.
dreams die hard and visions cannot be silenced
by the outside world. The calling to the
priesthood is not one that is ultimately
in the control of those in charge of the
church. Such callings are divine in nature
and one way or another, they must be answered
by those feeling the pressing of God upon
the heart. There is no other way for the
person driven by inner direction. To be
told, for example, that a sailor must never
sail in a boat is no different than to tell
a bird he mustn't fly. There simply had
to be a way.
Intervention Steps In
The young man so filled with a broken
heart's longing returned to South Dakota.
Shortly after, he received a fine letter
of recommendation from Fr. Martin Berry,
CSsR who was the Rector of St. Joseph's
Seminary. Encouraged, Don wasted no time
in showing it to his parish priest, Fr.
Henry Kolbeck. Father Kolbeck was the one
who first told Don that he could not become
a priest because of his hearing loss. But
upon reading such a glowing recommendation
from Fr.Berry, the priest was called to
reflect his own initial reactions to God's
call upon the heart of the
young man standing before him. Examining
himself as well as the very impressive letter
from Fr. Berry, He volunteered to personally
drive Don to Sioux Falls to show the letter
to Bishop Hoch of the Sioux Falls, S.D.
With renewed vigor, enthusiasm and hope,
Don affirmed that he would indeed take the
letter to Bishop Hoch. A heart renewed with
hope fills the spirit with purpose, direction,
energy and great joy in anticipation of
things to come. Although it appeared that
Don's future rested on good hearts of the
men in charge, he knew that ultimately it
is God that calls. If the young man's calling
was true, God would open the doors.
Bishop Hoch was so impressed with the letter
that right away. to Don's great surprise
and joy, immediately after the interview
he was accepted and was told he would begin
his training at St. Thomas Seminary in St.
Paul, Minnesota in September. One cannot
measure the strength of heart that hope
refills. All the doors seemed wide open
now when only
days before the gloom of defeat clouded
every aspiration. In those days, most physical
handicaps were considered true "dis-abilities"
- that is, if one
did not have the ability to use one or another
limb or senses, the entire person was considered
disabled and shut out from opportunity.
In the days before wheelchair access was
required in public buildings, before parking
spaces were reserved for the handicapped,
before crossing signals made noise for the
blind and sign language was provided in
lecture halls for the
hearing impaired, most people with physical
limitations, however minor, were left out.
We take for granted these things today that
limitations of our own prejudices and ignorance
about the physical challenges facing so
many of us. But in the time of young Don
Huntimer (and not so long ago!), this news
was ground-breaking. A priest with severe
hearing loss seemed nothing short of divine
So Don prepared for the coming Fall by
filling his mind with the dreams of days
to come. He replayed the memory over and
over again of the interview with Bishop
Hoch and the moment of elation when he was
accepted into the seminary program. He replayed
as well the moment when he was told he could
never be a priest, feeling again the sting
of reality when he was seemingly being denied
his own future, only to become
elated as the new reality set in. He would
be a priest! He would be going to Minnesota
That was his intention anyway. But the
Divine Play is a drama unfolding and shortly
the road would lead in a new direction.
Looking back now, it seems already that
God had his own plans for Don all lined
began to change and fall into place in a
way that no one could have foreseen. A family
picnic was held one Sunday afternoon when
Don's two sisters could attend. They had
become Presentation nuns and were stationed
in Mitchell, South Dakota that summer. One
of his sisters mentioned that a nun (also
a cousin), Sr. Mildred Sullivan, PBVM, was
working at St. Joseph's Hospital there in
Mitchell and she wanted
to see Don.
He soon found himself on his way to St.
Joseph's and she took the young man post
haste to be introduced to Fr. Donald Glynn,
CSV, the Chaplain for the hospital. Sister
Mildred found Fr. Glynn having his dinner
at the hospital and introduced Don to the
chaplain. Fr. Glynn welcomed the young man
and generously insisted that Don take his
ice cream desert. The Father began talking
about the "Viatorians," of whom
Don had never heard. He told Don that they
sent their seminarians to the Catholic University
of America in Washington, D.C., going on
and on about this group in an animated and
enthusiastic manner. Don's interest was
and finally he told Fr. Glynn that if he
didn't stop talking about them, that he
would want to join them!
Fr. Glynn beamed with delight. He said
he was leaving for his vacation in Chicago
shortly and that he would talk to the Provincial,
Fr. John Brown, CSV and to Fr. Harold Thompson,
CSV who was the Vocation Director.
Gone were the days of discouragement, replaced
not only by hope, but now by the support
of the religious community. Doors were opening
where no doors had been before. Fr. Glynn
took the news to Chicago and
impressed upon his colleagues of the fine
character and recommendations for this landmark
candidate. Because he was already accepted
for the Sioux Falls Diocese, they did not
hesitate in responding in the affirmative
and recommended that Don come as soon as
possible to be accepted for the novitiate
class beginning on August 16th. 1950.
Don followed the change of plans that intervened
and boarded a train for Chicago, arriving
on August 5th. He found himself surrounded
by his new religious family, filled with
support and new direction. He was surprised
to discover that Fr. John Tobin, CSV, a
cousin of his mother, was a Viatorian. .
And he remembers the Novice Master, Fr.Francis
DesLauries, CSV, as a wonderful person,
ready to encourage this candidate with open
arms and an open heart. Don's novitiate
training began on August 16, 1950 and after
a year as a novice Don Huntimer was accepted
as a member of the Clerics of St. Viator
Religious Community on August 15, 1951,
of which he is still a member.
The divine hand, which leads each of us
if we but reach up to take it, calls each
of us to our unique and individual role
in life. If we follow the doors
that open before us, using the discernment
of our heart's pull to feel what we are
being led to do, we can only embark on what
is right and good for not only ourselves
but for those around us. The things that
weigh us down are lack of hope, discouragement
and sorrow, which can keep us from our own
destinies. But Don did not give in to discouragement
and those that
came to his aide saw his devotion to his
calling to serve God and responded to that
hopeful heart. By not giving into the negative
input of others, which is so easy to do
in this world and therefore rendering
ourselves impotent to move forward towards
that which is our best path, we not only
change the course of our own lives but we
can therefore help others. There is no finer
example of this than the young priest who
could not hear the outside world, but could
hear God's call upon his heart quite clearly.
He listened to that alone, and therefore
others could hear it as well who were willing
to listen. And that made all the difference.
come back soon...
biography is work in progress!