Fr Hartman: Divorcée, father of two and priest

Father Tom Hartman’s first call was as a father. His second was as a Catholic priest.

Hartman’s path to the cloth is one he loosely calls his resurrection story.

It’s not a resurrection of mortal death, but the ending of one path and beginning of another he’d always felt called to.

He married young.

After five years, he and his wife had two children and a change of heart.

Hartman speaks about that difficult time with love and respect for himself and his former spouse and with a clarity of hindsight only time can yield.

Their relationship began in the early 1990s, and he started working full-time at the family grocery store in Milbank. At that time it was called Bill’s Super Value. It now goes by Hartman’s Family Foods.

“I was just out of high school thinking I knew everything. I got married to the girlfriend, Becky Johnson. Five years later it ended in divorce,” Hartman told the Aberdeen News by phone.

“In that time I realized I didn’t know everything. I really just came back to my faith.”

Now 48, Hartman is the priest for both St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Groton and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Turton.

He will also be sacramental minister at the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center at Northern State University.

The student center has moved away from having a full-time priest to having someone in a part-time ministerial role provide sacraments to the Catholic students.

Hartman, in his decision to divorce, never lost his faith.

He’d tell you the opposite happened – it was strengthened.

“There was just a moment in my life before the divorce that I felt it was better to suffer with God than to suffer without him. When the time came I knew I was going to cling to my faith,” he said.

Hartman continued to contemplate romantic love as he worked at his family’s grocery store.

“Basically through those years, as I was dating a little bit, I realized my heart wasn’t called to be with one person, it was called to serve more,” Hartman said. “My heart was a priestly heart.”

So Hartman put his focus on raising his children, and he and his former wife had their marriage annulled in the Catholic faith.

It’s a necessary process for a person to have the freedom to enter into another vocation in the eyes of the Catholic Church. For him, it meant the beginning of his path to the priesthood.

The annulment process looks at the beginning of a relationship and how two people came to be married.

In Hartman’s case, he and his wife were “really pretty young and stupid,” he said. Continue reading

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