Friendship Foreshadowed Fathers’ Faith and Vocations
A Tale of Two Fathers
By Lynne Conner, Observer Correspondent
June 16, 2022
ROCKFORD–When college buddies Wayne Koch and Phillip Kaim, now a Catholic priest and pastor of Holy Family Parish, Rockford, decided to be roommates at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in the mid-1980s, neither could know how that decision would profoundly impact their lives. Koch was a sophomore accounting major from Rockford, and Kaim was a junior political science major from Lansing, IL. 
“We met on campus through common interests and our love of sports. I liked to run, he liked to swim, and we put together an Ironman competition among us friends,” Father Kaim said.
“We would debate, swimming or jogging? Which is the better sport,” Koch teased. 
“He was for the Cubs; I was for the White Sox, so we had that friendly rivalry. The camaraderie among college friends helps you suffer through finals and then rejoice at a party. Those were formative years, and there’s nothing like the college experience,” Father Kaim said. 
The guys roomed together for two years until Father Kaim graduated. “We lived in the now-demolished Douglas Hall,” Koch said. 
“I remember our room number, it was 133, and our old phone number,” Father Kaim added. 
The roommates would often visit each other’s places of worship. Koch grew up attending the Episcopal Church, and Father Kaim grew up Catholic. “I was always so impressed with Wayne and how he would dress up in a suit for church. Here’s this college kid living in a dorm who gets up for church when most kids were sleeping in.”
“Every Sunday, I’d trek off to the Episcopal church and attend with a handful of NIU students. Sometimes, I would accompany Phil to the Newman Catholic Student Center,” Koch said. “He went to Mass every Sunday.”
“During college, my religious faith wasn’t as strong as Wayne’s,” Father Kaim said. “It was more duty-driven from my strong Polish Catholic family who always went to Mass. It wasn’t until later that I took ownership of my faith.”
Koch and Father Kaim recall having some religious discussions as college roommates. “I started to move toward Catholicism while living in the dorms. NIU drew many of its students from the Chicago area, and at that time, the majority of those students were Catholic,” Koch said. “While some kids were lukewarm about being Catholic, Phil was serious about his faith.”
After graduating from NIU, both men embarked on the next chapter of their lives. Father Kaim moved to Batavia and worked a government job while Koch wed his college sweetheart, June. “We were married in the Episcopal church with Phil as our best man,” he said. 
The young couple experienced a spiritual awakening shortly after their wedding. “Learning about Catholic beliefs during college and seeing the witness of Phil’s faith was very significant in my life,” Koch said. “The Catholic Church teaches with authority and has a constant tradition. Despite their strengths, Protestant churches don’t have that God-given authority and continuity of the Catholic Church.” 
Koch and his wife became Catholic at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rockford on Christmas Eve of 1988, just six months after their wedding.
“I was overjoyed to learn that Wayne and June had become Catholic,” Father Kaim said. “I know that Wayne had studied Church history, the truths of the faith, and his conversion was both intellectual and spiritual.”
A few years later, Father Kaim relied on his Catholic faith to navigate a health crisis. “I was 28 when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer,” Father Kaim said. “It was the kind that affected Lance Armstrong. We both had the same doctor who discovered the cure, but this was a turning point in my life. I did a lot of soul searching and reflecting on the parable of the 10 lepers. Was I going to be like the Samaritan who came back to thank Jesus for healing him, or would I be like the other nine? This whole experience got me more involved in my faith.”
Around the same time, Father Kaim met up with Koch at Pizza Villa, in DeKalb, one of their college hangouts. “Wayne asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about the priesthood?’ I had never considered this; it was way in the back of my mind,” Father Kaim said. “For someone who knew me that well to suggest a vocation was a catalyst to ignite the discernment process. I entered the seminary a couple of years later, but it all began with Wayne’s suggestion.”
Koch’s life was changing too. He and June settled in Rockford and joined Holy Family Church. They started a family and were honored to attend Father Kaim’s ordination to the priesthood in 2003. Father Kaim is godfather to the Kochs’ four children:  Matthew, Regina, Phillip (his namesake), and Peter. All the kids attended Holy Family School and Boylan Central Catholic High School. 
Father Kaim served at parishes in McHenry County and spent eight years as an active duty chaplain in the U.S. Air Force before returning to the Rockford Diocese in 2015. He became pastor at Holy Family in 2016. 
“The first Mass I celebrated at Holy Family was in June of 2016, which marked 28 years since I had been best man at Wayne’s wedding,” he said. “It was very meaningful to have my college buddy greet me after Mass. I said to Wayne and June, ‘Well, today is just like your wedding day. It’s boiling hot!’” In 2021, Father Kaim retired from the military with the rank of Major after serving for 20 years. He currently serves as Holy Family’s pastor.
Though each man answered divergent callings in life, Koch and Father Kaim rely on their life-long friendship to encourage their individual vocations.
“People jokingly say that parenting is a life sentence,” Koch said. “I think good parenting combines teaching, love, and discipline. The discipline of attending Mass every weekend and learning about God’s plan for your life reinforces what June and I try to instill in our kids at home.”
“Most priests are somewhat sad at being transferred to another parish because we see ourselves as spiritual fathers to our parishioners. We’re with them in the joys and sorrows of life,” Father Kaim noted. 
“Priests differ from married fathers as we are called to minister as Jesus did in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus worked miracles in Capernaum and then told Peter that it was time to leave. Father is not just a title; it’s a relationship. It is difficult for us pastors to move from a parish, but we are called to use our abilities and gifts to build the Body of Christ.”
Koch observed, “The vocation never goes away. We all serve God whether it’s a calling to the priesthood, religious life, or parenthood, your life’s work is accomplished by employing your God-given talents to encourage and strengthen the next generation.”
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