Father Fox was born on Christmas Eve in 1927 in Watertown, South Dakota to Suzie Emma Fox and Aloysius Fox. He was the youngest of eight children and received a lot of love growing up. Tragedy struck early in his life when his father died, leaving his mother widowed. But she relied on her Faith to get her through the rough times and her actions and prayerful devotion to and love for the Blessed Mother left a lasting impression on young Robert. He grew up on the farm through the lean times where crops were sparse and there was no running water. But he persevered, chiefly through the love and guidance of his mother who instilled in him a deep love for Jesus, His Blessed Mother, and the Church.
"I never remembered when I did not want to be a priest," Father Fox asserts, recalling that at five years old he was practicing Mass at home to his mother's delight and hopes. He admired priests, especially his pastor Father William O'Meara, a holy priest at the same parish for over forty years who died in 1945 while Robert was still in high school. Father O'Meara had fretted over the lack of vocations from his parish, but after his death vocations flourished, largely through his example and intercessory prayers. Naturally, young Robert was one of the first. After graduating from Watertown High School in 1947, he entered St. John's minor seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota with the Benedictines for two years junior college before transferring to St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota to complete his major seminary studies. He was ordained on April 24, 1955 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota by the Shepherd of the Sioux Falls Diocese Bishop William O. Brady who would become Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis on October 11, 1956 though his episcopate would be shortly lived, passing away on October 1, 1961.
Father Fox's first assignment in 1955 was at St. Lawrence Parish as an assistant priest in Millbank, South Dakota. Thus began his lifelong work of writing. All through his priesthood he has been an expert catechist and Mariologist, having written books and recorded numerous lessons on catechetical teachings geared toward Catholic youth and family and Our Lady's role as well as editing the quarterly Fatima Family Messenger and the Immaculate Heart Messenger for the past twelve years.
In January 1959 Father Fox was transferred to Hoven, South Dakota and St. Anthony's Parish where he barely had time for a cup of coffee, being moved again that August as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart in Yankton for two years. Bishop Lambert A. Hoch, the succeeding Bishop of Sioux Falls, moved Father Fox to Bristol, South Dakota in 1961, where he became a pastor for the first time at St. Anthony's Parish. In 1965 he was assigned as pastor to St. Joseph's Parish in Mobridge, South Dakota until 1969 when the Bishop returned him as pastor to his first parish - St. Lawrence in Millbank. Here he remained for two years until moving over to St. Bernard's Parish in Redfield, due south of Aberdeen, where he remained pastor for twelve years.
It was at St. Bernard's where he began to reevaluate his life. Like so many priests, laity as well, we reach a point in life where we ask God if we are on the right track. Father Fox was no different. In 1971 he prayed if his work as a priest was pleasing to Our Lady. He prayed for a sign that he was using the right methods to do God's work. Just before Christmas that year he received a letter from Cardinal John Wright, the former Pittsburgh bishop who had become the Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome. Cardinal Wright's words were full of kudos for Father Fox's work and he requested six books which he incorporated into the General Catechetical Directory a year later. Father Fox was so relieved and appreciative he could contribute and it had to give him a special thrill to recognize his work in some of the teachings published in the Vatican Directory. In thanksgiving he built the first of three Marian shrines. His association with Cardinal Wright would continue through the years. This head of the universal clergy is quoted as stating "Many youth today are not losing their Catholic Faith. They were just never taught it." Who did the cardinal turn to? Father Fox, encouraging the South Dakota priest to develop a concrete apostolate for the youth. When Father Fox assured him it would take a couple more years for that, the Cardinal's reply spoke volumes: "Don't delay. Act now."
Prayer has always been first and foremost in his life and often he faithfully fulfilled the 81-day novena which is composed of nine nine-day novenas, in which one prays the Rosary Novena three times (27 days) in request, three times (another 27 days) in adoration, and three more times (final 27 days) in thanksgiving. It was a novena from ancient Catholic traditions he learned while a teenager. Through prayer and inspiration, Father Fox traveled with a pilgrimage group to Fatima in 1974 for the first time and there, before the beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima near the Cova, he repeated what the visionary Lucia asked of Our Lady in 1917, "What do you want of me?" During that same pilgrimage which took him to Rome and Venice, he recalls visiting the great St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice and praying at the Evangelist's tomb where he remembers as clear as day a voice within clearly telling him to conduct pilgrimages. He felt an overwhelming conviction to teach the fullness of Catholic Faith to young people which tied in so intricately with the message of Fatima for Fatima was merely a reaffirmation of the Gospel.
He returned home that summer of 74 to build a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima and begin his famous youth apostolate in which each summer he would spend six weeks in Portugal conducting spirit-filled and prayer-oriented pilgrimages for youth. Out of those pilgrimages great fruits have blossomed under Father Fox's nurturing care. Today, after twenty-five years of pilgrimages, over 200 young men have either become priests or are presently in the seminary! He has no idea how many young women have become nuns but he proudly points to Sister Mary Agnes of the Immaculate Heart, one of the young ladies on one of his pilgrimages, who went on to become a contemplative Carmelite and be one of the founders of the first contemplative Carmelite monastery in South Dakota.
The grind of being a pastor and conducting pilgrimages took its toll in 1984 when he asked and received permission from Bishop Paul Dudley, who had succeeded Bishop Hoch in 1978, to recuperate at a smaller parish while he regained his strength from this temporary illness. After a year at Immaculate Conception in Waubay, South Dakota where the population was slightly over six hundred and where he built his second shrine to Our Lady, he recovered and was reassigned to St. Mary of Mercy in Alexandria, South Dakota which would become his permanent home for the past fourteen years as pastor and Director of the Fatima Family Apostolate.
Three years after his arrival at St. Mary's, Alexandria was on the map. He had received a donation of land to build a shrine which covered a block in square footage. Enlisting the local townspeople who were hearty and giving souls, together they built the Fatima Family Shrine which features areas dedicated to, besides Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts plus angels adoring the Holy Eucharist as well as Saint Joseph, and the Christ Child blessing the world plus a Divine Mercy Shrine.
In 1987 Father Fox hosted the first National Marian Congress which is, in essence, the mother of spiritual Marian and Eucharistic conferences that blossomed in the late eighties and throughout the nineties with the interest in Our Lady's apparitions and devotion to Divine Mercy. He has attracted nationally and internationally known-speakers to the plains of South Dakota where the nearest accommodations to Alexandria is sixteen miles to the west in Mitchell. Yet they have traditionally drawn thousands every June, averaging 8,000 to this remote outpost off I-90 between Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Tents are constructed and the townsfolk go into action, providing the manpower and hospitality that leaves all with a sense of accomplishment in fulfilling God's Holy Will. Having just completed the 13th Annual one this past June on the Feast of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, he is busy preparing for the 14th Annual one which will be a special Jubilee 2000 celebration next June with Bishop Robert J. Carlson, Karl Keating from Catholic Answers, Father Harold Cohen and Jeff Cavins from EWTN, Mother Assumpta, the Dominican nun who assisted Cardinal John O'Connor in founding the Sisters of Life, and Father Louis Kondor, S.V.D. the Vatican's International Postulator for the cause of beatification for deceased Fatima visionaries Francisco and Jacinta. Quite a line-up.
While we are "name-dropping," he has met with the Pope and the Princes of the Church. In fact, the Administrating Bishop of Fatima Bishop Alberto Amaral, now retired, traveled to Alexandria in 1987 on September 27 in the Marian Year of 1987 to dedicate the Fatima Family Shrine. Since then his successor Bishop Serafim S. Ferreira e Silva has also visited as have many bishops and cardinals. Conversely Father Fox has visited them many, many times as well, including the Archbishop of Moscow, the Byzantine Patriarch Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz where Father Fox presented the Archbishop and all of Russia a statue of Our Lady of Fatima with Our Lady's assurance that Russia will be converted and "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph."
The entire Fatima Family Apostolate is geared on Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio - "on the role of the Christian Family in the modern world" - released on November 22, 1981 in conjunction with the World Synod of Bishops. Father Fox calls it, the "apostolate's bible" with prayer groups, contact couples (older couples helping younger ones), youth groups, married Marian couples and Mary's White League (set up for children) established in many communities and parishes around the country. The Apostolate's charter has been approved by Rome and Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, P.S.S. President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family visited the site and blessed a new addition - Our Lady of Guadalupe - as a pro-life shrine. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, current Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy has also given his hearty endorsement and stays in constant contact with Father Fox.
With all this going on, one would think Father's plate is full, but not Father Fox. At 72 he is still going strong, having published over 50 books and tapes on Catholic Doctrine, morality, family, Our Lady, and saints and heroes. A hero is what he has become to many through his heroic virtue and dedication to Our Lady who he will honor with yet another book due out in December 1999 entitled Mary through the Ages which will treat Our Lady's influence in the Church over the centuries. In addition, he has been tabbed by Mother Angelica to preach the retreat at Casa Maria in Birmingham, Alabama in early November with the theme "Millennium Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary." The following week he will join Mother in Detroit for the Annual Call to Holiness Conference.
Father Fox has been around the world, but his heart will always be in South Dakota for you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy. He takes great delight in asserting that he has always been a farm boy at heart and this has endeared him to the people of this agricultural region. But more importantly, his fiat to the Blessed Mother has truly endeared him to her Immaculate Heart and closer to fulfillment of her promise at Fatima.
On one occasion, he was going to give instruction to a theatrical artist. Earlier, Humphrey Bogart had come to visit. He was told that Bishop Sheen was coming and that he would be welcome to sit in on the instruction, or could wait in another room if he wished. Bogart responded; "Why should I listen to any priest; I know more about the Catholic Church than any priest." When Sheen arrived, the discussion turned to novels. Bishop Sheen admitted that he hadn't read any of the novels that they were discussing and that this trait may have come from his father, who could never read novels. Intrigued, Bogart asked; "Was your father a priest too?"
Well obviously Mr. Bogart knew nothing about the Catholic Church. In fact, it shows Bishop Sheens statement to be true. That there is not one in a thousand who hate the Catholic Church, but thousands who hate what they 'think' is the Catholic Church. This applies, today, just as much to Catholics as it does non-Catholics.
I would guess that many of us are familiar with the old charges and distortions against the Church made by non (or ex) Catholics. Who hasn't come across the little comic books sent out by Jack Chick? Or heard the arguments that we created the Eucharist, worship Mary as a goddess, etc.
But what is sadder is how few Catholics really know their faith. The Catechism teaches us; "From this knowledge of Christ springs the desire to proclaim Him, to 'evangelize', and lead others to the 'yes' of faith in Jesus Christ. But tat the same time the need to know this faith better makes itself felt." (CCC #429)
First, we cannot teach what we don't know. Well, we can, but it wouldn't be true. How can one teach what they don't know? "…there is no branch of teaching, however humble and easy to learn, which does not require a master." (St. Augustine)
We also find that learning our faith is an on-going process. It never ends. In fact, if we wished to find and learn every jewel, every bit of our rich Catholic heritage and teaching, it would need more than one lifetime. But it seems that learning that faith is now passe' in many places.
With the Baltimore Catechism, we used a tried and true learning method. When one is beginning to learn math, one begins with rote memorization of math tables. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. One cannot do even the simplest algebra or geometry problem without knowing these. Likewise, the third grader began their religious education with simple, rote memorization. "Who is God?", etc. But today, if that answer is relative to whoever asks it, then we can't give an answer. From this simple beginning, we move to greater truths. "I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready," (1 Corinthians 3:2).
"About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God's word. You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:11-14).
"Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord" (1 Peter 2:2-3).
The analogy is clear. One doesn't give a newborn a steak dinner, nor does one give someone recovering from an illness solid food right away. One cannot accept, swallow if you will, authentic Church teachings if you haven't been 'weaned' on them, if you are not able to accept them.
Christ didn't choose His Apostles and immediately send them off to preach. He taught them, brought them along until they knew the truth and were ready.
If a person doesn't know why Catholics hold to the authority of the Church, then obviously, they have no reason to submit to her authority. If God is just some fuzzy, unknown entity, then one god is as good as another. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, if one believes that one horse is as good as another, then we may see them put a plow horse in the Kentucky Derby, and have a race horse pulling a plow. There are even differences in race horses since not even all race horses are 'created equal' (every year there is a winner and loser's in the Derby) No building stands without a 'skeletal' structure beneath it's outward appearance. The World Trade Center, Empire State Building, even our own homes wouldn't stand unless they were built supported by girders and beams to hold the walls, set in a solid foundation. Even we would be nothing but a formless sack of flesh without a skeleton to hold it in place.
Yes, milk does a body good. Without it, we may grow with weak and brittle bones, liable to break with the smallest pressure. So we must first be fed this milk, so we can accept the solid food when ready.
Education, learning, is supposed to be the search for truth, not just knowledge. One can find learned people to justify anything. Recently, Princeton hired a Professor for their Bio-ethics department who feels that human life is not guaranteed dignity. That there are justifiable homocides, abortions, euthanasia, etc. If life means nothing, then of course any action against it is allowable. Even the Nazi's had learned men justify the eradication of the Jews, just as America, in the 1800's, had learned men give logical reasons as to why American Indians and Blacks were not fully human.
I must admit that if a fundamentalist street preacher hadn't challenged me (and my mother raised me to seek the truth) I would never have learned my faith. (Though I am by no means done, nor even remotely an expert) and if I had not been put in a position to actually read Vatican II documents, I would probably think that the arguments of Call to Action, et alii, were valid according to the 'spirit' of Vatican II. It wouldn't be what the Church taught, but what I 'thought' the Church taught. It wouldn't be the Catholic Church, but what I thought the Catholic Church was.
No doubt, I could find theologians, philosophers, and teachers to 'justify' my thinking. But I would not be able to find one authentic Catholic teaching to do so. I could not say I was following Vatican II when faced with the fact that Vatican II never taught what I thought it did, nor could I say I was a Catholic when faced with the fact I believed something the Church didn't teach.
The consequences of this type of thinking, knowledge over truth, is readily apparent. If we are free to create our own theologies, our own spirituality there is no need to attend Mass, no need for priests, or nuns. There is no need for religious educators, and no need for any faith but the one I created. And if I create my own faith, how can I be expected to 'teach', to 'evangelize' others?
What St. Jerome wrote can be applied today to what some Catholics 'think' is Catholic teaching. "You cannot make your way into holy Scripture (or Church teaching) without someone to go before you and show you the road….The science of the Scriptures is the only one which all persons indiscriminately claim as their own! This science the babbling old woman, the doting old man, the wordy sophist, take upon themselves; they tear it to tatters and teach before they themselves have learned….Coming by chance to the study of the Scriptures….they fancy what they utter is the law of God, not deigning to learn what the prophets and the Apostles taught. Rather, they accommodate to their interpretation the most incongruous passages, as if were something great instead of a most faulty method of teaching, distorting sentences and forcing the reluctant Scripture (and Church teaching) to their own whims."
The attitude of the Catholic cannot be what "I" think, but what Christ, through His Church thinks. As Christ said: "I have not spoken on My Own authority; the Father Who sent Me has himself given Me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden Me" (John 12:49-50).
Christ taught what His Father commanded Him to teach, not what 'He' thought. Peter, Paul and the other Apostles taught what Christ had commanded them, not what they 'thought' He wanted taught. All the way to the Church today.
Yet we hear those who speak of their own personal authority. Not what the Church teaches but rather what they 'think' the Church should teach. More often than not this is not due to an authentic spirituality, but rather as a justfication.
But again, how can one teach what they don't know, or reject? And how can we know if we aren't taught it? We may think we know the Church, but unless we know where to look, we may find ourselves listening to those telling us what we 'want' to hear rather than what we 'need' to hear. Without a grounding in the basics, we cannot accept or understand the greater things of the faith. We then don't have faith, but rather a self-made appearance of faith. Not faith in God, or His Church, but in ourselves. A self-made faith with a self- made god, for a self-made church.
Pax Christi, Pat