His Sundays begin long before the sun rises. Morning prayers, breakfast, and then the Rev. Kyle Walterscheid, pastor of St. John Paul II University Catholic Parish, drives to the small parish building on Eagle Drive. Preferring not to listen to music, he uses that time to contemplate his homily on the prodigal son.
Outside the small, house-like building, he is met by his cousin Deborah. She arrives to help him pack his car full with robes, two kneelers, a transportable altar and three boxes of missals, the liturgical book that helps worshippers follow along during Mass. Father Kyle, or “Padre,” as she calls him, instead helps her, providing a listening ear to the happenings of her week.
After packing his car, he heads back up the small stairwell into the office he shares with the parish secretary. A small pathway winds from the doorway to his desk; on either side sit boxes of paperwork, stacks of books and more. Father Kyle is quick to apologize for the mess.
At his computer, he finishes typing out his homily. “Dear Lord, grant me a contrite heart. You know my misery,” Father Kyle says, reading the prayer he plans to add to his homily.
He repeats the prayer in its entirety to himself again, trying it out for size. Cut-and-pasted prayers and verses join typed-out notes, printed without matching font or size. Breaking the speed limit, Father Kyle drives to Goolsby Chapel on the University of North Texas campus for the first two Masses of the day.
The parish rents out Goolsby Chapel while a larger, more permanent church is being constructed. A tireless journey to make the new church a reality has recently been rewarded with the pouring of a concrete slab and the raising of a frame. The new building is an answer to countless prayers by Father Kyle, who hopes the parish base will only grow after it is built.
“It’s been very strainful, because simply as Catholics, we typically have a place called a church where you come together as a community,” he says. “So it’s been very hard to form a community throughout these years.”
By next semester, Father Kyle won’t have to set up and take down as an almost-traveling priest does. For now, however, it serves as a reminder of the five years he spent traveling, covering weekend Masses for many small towns in West Texas as the vocations director for the Diocese of Fort Worth.
Two men meet him at the curb, where he parks in a no-parking zone. It’s a little after 8 a.m. as the men begin unpacking his car to set up the chapel. Father quickly assembles the altar, as one man places missals on each chair and another unpacks the communion wafers and wine.
“He’s the backbone of this parish,” Father Kyle says, pointing to a man putting finishing touches on the altar just five minutes before Mass.
When he hears this, John Webber is quick to disagree, lamenting that he hasn’t been able to undertake all that he had before. While his wife has been ill for 18 years, the past three have been the hardest. Each turn of the calendar and new trial have visibly taken their toll.
Webber becomes solemn as he recounts the bedside baptism Father Kyle performed three years ago, sure it was his wife’s time. The experience still resonates with him.
“It was a relief,” Webber says, pausing to find the priest in the small chapel. “It was truly a relief to know that she was baptized.”
Father Kyle’s presence has that calming effect on his parishioners. For Cheryl Christopherson, it has been paramount over the past year. She has become a caregiver for her husband, who has developed Parkinson’s and dementia.
“That’s been a journey. A very long and sometimes just a very depleting — physically, emotionally and spiritually depleting — journey,” Christopherson says. “And Father has helped in so many positive ways to lift me.”
Father Kyle suggested that she attend reconciliation once a month. During that time, he is able to give her counsel, while also hearing her confession. To Christopherson, it has made a world of difference in her life.
“I have found it to be my strength, my encouragement, my vitamin B-12 shot for the soul. It is a healing that I very much need,” Christopherson says. “And through that experience of reconciliation with Father, and the guidance that he’s given, it draws me closer in my relationship [with Jesus].”
Father Kyle leads the 8:30 a.m. Mass, followed by a rosary. He then runs back to his parish office to grab the tickets for an upcoming event he had forgotten. Upon arriving back to the chapel before the 11 a.m. Mass, he is stopped by a student undergoing a crisis of faith.
“Things go on in students’ lives, that for them, literally it’s the end of the world,” Father Kyle says. “So when you’re hitting a crisis like that, there is no difference between going into that situation and going into the ER. To me it’s the same thing, and people don’t realize how dire that is.”
According to its website, the St. John Paul II University Parish and Campus Ministry is a “faith-based center that serves the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University Students, Alumni, Faculty and the Greater Denton community.” It’s a rather large undertaking for such a small building and staff — a rather large undertaking for just one priest.
Yet Father Kyle has made himself readily available for his parishioners. UNT junior Grace Holder appreciates the time he has invested in her and her peers.
“He’s constantly responding back to people that have texted him, asking him for prayers. Or asking, ‘Father, are you available for confession at this time?’ He’s the most available priest I’ve ever interacted with,” Holder says.
Father Kyle has guided Holder and her boyfriend, Tim, through their relationship. Holder says they rely on his advice, instruction and ever-listening ear.
Father Kyle came to Denton nearly seven years ago, after the Catholic Campus Center was expanded to become St. John Paul II University Parish. Since then, it has taken a lot of work to build the presence of the ministry — work that Father Kyle invests as much spiritually as he does physically.
Whether working on a water leak for a parishioner or building a new deck for the church, Father Kyle often trades his typical black slacks for a pair of jeans. It’s his version of rolling up his sleeves, an act of service he readily employs.
Parishioners are quick to point out that he won’t admit the toll it has taken on him physically. But they recognize it.
“He is a man who works his butt off. He doesn’t complain, ever,” Holder says, accounting for the many times she’s seen him working with his hands at the parish.
Father Kyle has a background in engineering, receiving a master’s degree in structural engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. Before he became a priest, he spent five years designing bridges for the Texas Department of Transportation just outside Fort Worth. Then he felt called to build spiritual bridges.
It’s a calling he believes has been a lifetime in the making.
“My happiest moments [growing up] were being at church,” he says “I wasn’t particularly good at singing or being an altar server, but I liked it and felt at peace there.”
Father Kyle received a Catholic education but never considered pursuing any form of religious life until well after college. At age 25, he took stock of his life and started digging more into his faith. While quite happy with his career, he says the absolute, profound peace he felt in Mass made him question if he was where God needed him to be.
Once he began discerning the priesthood, Father Kyle had to face every insecurity he had ever felt. “The priesthood, I don’t know; I feel like that’s a pretty awful thing to have to do. I can’t be in front of people; I chose engineering not to be in front of people,” Father Kyle says. “When I looked at the priesthood, I was the ‘I can’t do’ person, and so I had to get through that.”
He did in fact get through those mental blocks and entered the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio in 1995. Seven years later, Father Kyle was ordained a priest on May 25, 2002.
In a closet-size room, right off his shared office, sits a large printer, the wardrobe containing robes for Mass, a small refrigerator, file cabinets, odds and ends, as well as two chairs sitting opposite each other. After the morning’s round of Mass, he sits with one leg crossed over the other, tired but alert.
It’s his favorite room in the building, second only to the small chapel just below. From this perch, he receives confessions and is able to counsel others. Today, he’s late to meet a parishioner for lunch. Sometimes he’s not able to take a lunch break in between the two sets of Masses.
Last week, after the morning circuit of Masses, he rushed to a local hospital. While in Mass, he missed an emergency call for a dying man. The man had already passed when he arrived, but Father Kyle stayed with the family to pray and help them which funeral home to entrust their loved one to.
Both Medical City Denton and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton have Walterscheid’s cellphone number to call as needed. He performs last rites and anointing of the sick, and provides counsel. Father Kyle stresses the importance of bringing a family together in traumatic experiences.
“Officially, a priest puts his hands over the sick, or the ones that’s being anointed,” he says. “But I usually, more times than not, I would say, ‘Y’all can put y’all’s hands on.’ So they [the family] can pray over the person as well, and I think that gives a lot of hope to them.”
Father Kyle relies on prayer when entering into situations of crisis and trauma, because he never quite knows what to expect. He says it brings him calm so that he can be the calm in the middle of the storm.
“If I didn’t have prayer, not only would I not have calm, but I really wouldn’t know what’s the first step,” he says. “Prayer has always settled me into the mindset to be listening, to be very attentive to what they’re saying and go from there.”
After a quick blessing, he rushes out the door, phone to his ear. “Hey! Are y’all still there?”
Father Kyle’s day is far from over. After lunch, he begins his evening circuit of Masses, first at TWU’s Little Chapel-in-the-Woods at 5:30 p.m., and then back again at Goolsby Chapel at 7:30 p.m.
By the time he unpacks his car, placing everything back in its place at the parish, it is almost 10 p.m. The sun set nearly two hours before. Exhaustion is evident in his movements — but never his smile.