Rev. Don Loftin began his new assignment as Pastor of St. Mary, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church on July 1, 2011. He was installed by Very Rev. Daniel Garcia on Sunday, July 31.
Father Don Loftin first heard the call to the priesthood as a teenager attending Sacred Heart Parish in Austin. Inspired by Monsignor John Driscoll, he felt a small notion that perhaps this could be his vocation. However, those feelings were suddenly suppressed when the Loftin family moved to Waco during his junior year of high school, separating him from the man he longed to emulate.
Father Loftin went on to study at the University of Texas at Austin, serve in the U.S. Air Force, and establish an 18-year career at the Brazos Electric Company. Around that time, the parishioners of St. Mary, Church of the Assumption Parish in Waco would be receiving a new pastor. Little did Father Loftin suspect that this meant a reunion with his childhood mentor. Upon his arrival at St. Mary, Monsignor Driscoll immediately resumed where he had left off 23 years before, except this time he faced the challenge of convincing a middle-aged man that his calling had not passed.
After a summer of discernment, Father Loftin gave notice at his job, sold most of his possessions and packed the few that remained as he embarked on his journey to the priesthood, which began at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconson. However, before the first semester came to a close, he encountered the first trial of his decision with the news of Monsignor Driscoll’s declining health. He was confronted with an array of feelings when he returned to Texas that winter, losing the man who had inspired him to change the course of his entire life.
Two days before his death, Monsignor Driscoll told Father Loftin reassuringly, “Don’t let this change your vocation because I’ll always be with you.” Fortunately, Father Loftin took the advice of Monsignor Driscoll one last time and continued on the path that eventually led him back to the Austin Diocese upon ordination. Father Loftin said becoming a priest later in life has enabled him to directly relate to the experiences of his parishioners, whether in their careers or their lay ministry. This common ground, combined with his inherent sensitivity, provided for a natural transition to the role of pastoral counselor. Aware that his intense empathy could potentially interfere with his ability to offer impartial advice, Father Loftin always attempts to balance his emotions with humor. “If I wasn’t laughing, I would be crying a lot of the time,” Father Loftin said. “Humor does a lot. It helps me get through so many things.”
One thing Father Loftin did not learn in his years as a bachelor was how to cook. He is the first to admit that beyond boiling an egg, there is not much he can do in the kitchen besides eat. But since he is quite fond of eating, Father Loftin is not shy about telling parishioners, “The only way I’m going to get to know you is if you invite me over for a meal.”
He is employing this same approach as he meets the parishioners at St. Mary, Our Lady of the Lake, in Lago Vista, where he recently moved from St. Luke Parish in Temple. Father Loftin may not have learned the art of cooking from his mother, but he absorbed her teaching of the Catholic faith. His early knowledge of the Catholic tradition came from his mom, whom he describes as a “staunch Irish Catholic.” However, Father Loftin attributes his religious education and upbringing to his parents collectively. Since converting to Catholicism while his sons were in grade school, the elder Don Loftin has been a model of the faith and a constant source of knowledge on church teachings.
Don and Sissie Loftin provided a nurturing environment of love, faith, and support for their three sons, as they relocated from Louisiana back to their home in southeast Texas, and eventually to Austin and Waco. As a child, their example, in combination with his love of attending Mass and listening to the priest, laid a firm foundation for Father Loftin’s Catholic faith. But the real highlight of elementary school was crowning Mary at his first Holy Communion, an honor granted to him as the only boy surrounded by 15 girls.
Father Loftin was born in Lafayette, Lousianna, while his father attended school under the G.I. Bill after World War II. Two decades later, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the military, an experience that sent him to Japan for two years. Besides absorbing the culture and language, his service provided the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of attending the 1972 Sapporo Olympics.
Although his proficiency in the Japanese language is long gone, Father Loftin joked, “I guess I still speak English, but I even have problems with that sometimes.” The frequent moves throughout his childhood prepared Father Loftin for life in the military, as well as life in the priesthood. Although saying goodbye to the families of each parish is difficult, Father Loftin looks forward to the new faces that lie ahead. In anticipation of his recent move to Lago Vista, Father Loftin laughingly commented that perhaps he was being sent to an early retirement. Besides enjoying life on the lake, he is eager to meet the new parishioners and immerse himself in their community.
Before his decision to enter the seminary at age 42, Father Loftin admits that friends and family were worried about him. “They wanted me to get on with it and have a family, children and grandchildren,” said Father Loftin. Instead he has found himself joining many families on their journey through life, celebrating baptisms, weddings, funerals and everything in between.
“At the end of my life, I’ve got a big, big family who always remembered and loved me. Sometimes I underestimate that so much, that people love us priests. But that is the nicest thing anyone has ever done, just welcomed me and loved me,” he said.