His mother made the appointment for him.
She was more scared than he was. She thought she’d never see him again after it. After all, she was only in college and she couldn’t afford to take care of him.
So she decided to have an abortion.
Deacon Ryan Allan Kaup should not be here right now.
Yet something inside of that frightened girl just wouldn’t let her go through with the abortion. So she made another appointment – this time with her doctor. She resolved to deliver her child and offer him up for adoption, hoping that he’d be given every chance she feared she couldn’t give him.
Meanwhile on an acreage in Lincoln, Nebraska, Randy and Sherry Kaup were beginning to pursue other options after struggling with infertility. Married, established, in their forties, and unable to have children, they stood in stark contrast to the unwed twenty-something unable to raise a child. They did, however, share one little thing in common.
They used the same doctor.
The rest, as they say, is history. The doctor linked the Kaups with Ryan’s birth-mother and three days after he was born, he went home to that acreage he has called home ever since. His childhood was a typical one for those growing up in Middle America. Not having many neighbors his age, Ryan grew close to his cousins, spending every morning before school at their house. He attended the local Catholic school in his town.
“I peaked in the eighth grade,” quipped the Deacon. “I played a lot of sports, had a good group of friends, and was pretty involved with the school.”
When high school arrived, it brought with it its own set of challenges. He drifted apart from his grade school friends and started working in a restaurant. “I became more of a wallflower for the first couple years of high school,” said Kaup. “I spent more time by myself and with my coworkers who didn’t always have the best influence on me.” Yet after a rough start, he found a group of friends in high school who continue to be an important part of his life. “They are the people who remind me of my roots and continue to inspire me,” Kaup reminisced. “They have helped shape me into the man I am today.”
Towards the end of his high school years, Kaup began to consider colleges. He originally planned on attending Marquette University in Milwaukee, but changed his mind when he was awarded a full scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska. There, he majored in Advertising and Spanish, studying abroad for a semester in Chile.
Early on during his time at the University of Nebraska, Kaup got involved with the Newman Center on campus. “I don’t really remember why I went there the first time,” explained Kaup. “And I really don’t know why I went back because I didn’t like it the first time. I thought the people were weird.”
But something kept pulling Kaup back to the Newman Center. He eventually met other students, who would become some of his dearest friends. “They began to show me the joy that comes from a life lived for God. The example of the priests on campus was instrumental in my vocation to the priesthood. They too helped me to deepen my own faith.”
That faith was tested in the truest sense the summer after his freshman year when Kaup’s nineteen-year-old cousin died tragically in an auto accident. “I became really angry with God after that,” said Kaup in a tone that let you know the memory of it still stings. “We were the same age; it just didn’t seem fair to me.”
He credits his attendance at daily mass with giving him the grace to persevere in tragedy. Kaup eventually overcame his anger with God and fell even more in love with Him. The more time he spent praying, the more he felt that God was calling him to be a priest.
“I met with my Vocation Director and filled out the application,” said Kaup. “And then I went away to Chile for a few months,” he added with a laugh.
When he returned from Chile, he was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Lincoln. Kaup said his family was extremely supportive of his decision to enter seminary. “My parents were so great,” he said with a smile – he always smiles when he talks about them. “They always supported me in anything I wanted to do.”
Despite his own desire and the support of his parents, Kaup got cold feet shortly before he was supposed to begin. “I called the Vocation Director and told him I had changed my mind, that I wasn’t coming,” explained Kaup. He found a job waiting tables and found an apartment to live in for the school year. Then he came back to his senses. “After about a week, I quit the job and backed out of the apartment,” recalled Kaup. “When I called my Vocation Director to see if I could still enter, it was almost as if he was expecting my call.”
Kaup finished his college studies at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, NE before arriving at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 2011 for graduate studies. Currently in his final year of seminary formation, Kaup is the president of the student body and spends his weekends preaching at St. Thomas Aquinas in South Philadelphia where he gets to use some of that Spanish he learned in Chile.
With ordination to the priesthood in sight, Kaup reflected on how he has changed since entering the seminary. “I’ve chilled out a lot,” said Kaup with sincerity. “I used to be an angry person. I wanted to control everything. My time here at the seminary has taught me to take things slower and to realize that God is in control. I can’t control everything and that is okay.”
With a nod to how far he’s come, Kaup also looked ahead to his future. “To be able to make God present for people in the Eucharist and to bring them His forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is what I’m most looking forward to.”
In a matter of months, Rev. Mr. Ryan Allan Kaup will kneel down in the sanctuary of that Cathedral in Lincoln and offer his “yes” to God. I can’t help but think of his birth-mother whom he has never met. Does she know just how important her own “yes” of twenty-six years ago is?
If given the chance, I’d tell her that her little boy has grown up to be a man any parent would be proud to call their own. I’d tell her that he was raised in a Catholic home by two parents who defined love for him and taught him by their very way of life just what it means to be selfless. I’d tell her that those rough, rugged hands that drove his truck through the back roads of Nebraska are the same soft, forgiving hands that poured the waters of life over Juliana when he baptized her this summer. I’d tell her that he is one of the most gentle souls I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
And then I would thank her.
I’d thank her for giving us a gift that we’ll never be able to repay, a gift the value of which only God knows.