Fathers’ Day: When a dad became a priest, like his son

Fr. Edmond Ilg gives his first blessing to his son, Fr. Philip Ilg, outside the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. (Image courtesy of the Ilg family)

By Christine Rousselle
Catholic News Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA) — Edmond Ilg, 62, has been a father since the birth of his son in 1986. But on June 21, he became a “father” in a whole new sense: Edmond was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark.

It was Father’s Day. And making the day more special, it was Edmond’s son — Fr. Philip — who vested his father at ordination.

“To be with Philip is a tremendous gift, and to have him pray over me and invest me is the greatest gift,” said Edmond. His son was ordained in 2016 for the Archdiocese of Washington and traveled to Newark for the day.

Fr. Edmond never thought he would become a priest. He had a wife, a chemical engineering degree and a successful career. But after his wife died of cancer in 2011, he began to consider a new vocation.

At his wife’s wake, a family friend wondered out loud that “maybe Ed will become a priest,” Fr. Edmond told CNA. That day, it seemed like a crazy suggestion, but Fr. Edmond now calls the encounter “extremely prophetic” and said the remark planted an idea in his mind.

Edmond did not grow up Catholic. He was baptized a Lutheran, and he told CNA that he went to religious services “about half a dozen times” until he was 20. He met his wife at a bar, and they began a long-distance relationship.

While they dated, he became a Catholic and attended Mass with his future wife, Constance — everyone called her Connie. They married in 1982.

After Connie died, Edmond, who along with his family participates in the Neocatechumenal Way, quit his job and embarked on what is called an “itinerancy,” a period of travelling missionary work organized by the Neocatechumenate. Edmond told CNA that, at least in the beginning, “priesthood was never anything in my mind.”

During his time as a missionary, Edmond was assigned to help in a New Jersey parish and also worked in prison ministry. While he lived as a missionary, he began to feel the pull of the priesthood.

After helping lead a trip to the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, where he prayed for and continued to discern his vocation, Edmond called his catechist, telling him, “I think I have the call [to priesthood].”

He was sent to a seminary affiliated with the Neocatechumenal Way in the Archdiocese of Agaña, Guam, and was eventually transferred to the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in the Archdiocese of Newark to complete his studies.

Fr. Philip told CNA that after his mom died, he had sometimes wondered if his newly widowed father would become a priest.

“I don’t know if I ever said this — because I wanted to wait until it actually happened — but the first thought that crossed through my mind in the room there, when Mom died was that ‘my dad would become a priest,’” Fr. Philip said. “I can’t explain where it came from.”

Fr. Philip said that he knew his father “couldn’t kind of just sit around and make money,” and that “I knew he had a mission.” He never told anyone about his thoughts, he said, instead choosing to place his trust in God.

“I never said a single word about that thought. Because if it came from the Lord, it would bear fruit,” Fr. Philip said.

Son Fr. Philip Ilg (left) and double Father Edmond Ilg (right) stand outside the the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark following the elder priest’s ordination. (Image courtesy of the Ilg family)

During his transitional diaconate year, Fr. Edmond was assigned to serve at the same parish where he had spent time as a missionary. His first temporary assignment, which begins on July 1, will also be at the parish.

“I arrived [at the parish] with no plans for the priesthood, and the cardinal and the other people had no idea of where they were going to assign me, but that is where they wound up sending me — to the place where my vocation started,” he told CNA.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Fr. Edmond will not find out his permanent assignment until later in the summer. Normally, priestly assignments in the Archdiocese of Newark begin on July 1, but that will be delayed this year until September 1.

The father and son priests told CNA that they are particularly grateful for the community of the Neocatechumenal Way, which Fr. Philip described as “the instrument that God used to save my family.”

The Ilgs were introduced to the Catholic program of spiritual renewal during a tumultuous time in their marriage, shortly after the loss of an infant son in childbirth.

The father and son vocations “didn’t just happen sort of in an isolated setting,” Fr. Philip explained. “It happened because there was a community which nourished faith and allowed faith to grow.”

“Throughout the years, I really have seen the faithfulness of God through the Neocatechumenal Way,” he added. Without the community’s support, Fr. Philip told CNA that he does not think neither he nor his father would be priests.

“If it weren’t for a community of faith, which nourished us in faith and formed the body in which it was able to handle us,” he said, they would not have had such a remarkable Father’s Day.

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