They say anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.
Not only is Bob Golka a father, but a dad to 10 children — with Most Rev. Jim Golka, bishop-designate of Colorado Springs, among them. After all, with 10 kids, the odds were in their favor that one of them would become a priest. “They’re all special,” Bob said. “He’s just one of the special ones.”
Both Bob and his wife, Pat, came from large families themselves, seven and 13 respectively, but Bob’s dad was killed in a truck accident when Bob was only 11. His mother died from cancer in 1960, before Bob and Pat started having kids.
“He didn’t know how to be a father until he started having kids,” Father Golka said.
Still, both Bob and Pat knew they wanted a large family, even though Pat said her husband told her “no more than 10.”
“I don’t remember a lot about my dad,” Bob said. Of all seven kids, he is the only one left of the family. His youngest brother died in 2003. Growing up on a farm near Elyria, Nebraska, he said he remembered doing chores with his younger brother. He said his oldest sister married young and moved to Oregon, leaving his oldest brother, Leon, to take over farming after the death of his father. But tragedy would strike again when Leon fell off a truck and hit his head.
“He did have bleeding in the brain and, after a few days,” Bob said, “he died.”
He said the next brother in line was a “vagabond” who was drafted into the Navy during World War II. But when he left the Navy, his brother stayed in Oregon, where he worked in a shipyard. Bob’s brother Richard worked in Scotia after graduating from high school, but later moved to Burwell.
His sister, Delores, was next in line, but, like the others, after graduating from high school, she left the farm and moved to Portland, Oregon. It was then up to Bob and his younger brother to run the farm. In 1953, Bob graduated from Ord High School and somehow his family managed to save enough money to send him to business school in Omaha. It wasn’t long after graduating, he said, that he received a notice that read “you are drafted into the U.S. Army.” This was during the Korean War era, but, fortunately, Bob’s notice came after fighting had ended.
“I knew I wasn’t going to go over there and fight,” he said. Even so, he had basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas, and, with his business and typing background, was then sent to Fort Carson, where he worked in personnel. After less than two years, he was discharged and returned to the farm.
“But ’55 and ’56 were kinda tough years. It was dry and farming wasn’t the best. We had cattle and hogs and everything, but raising the crops was tough,” he said. “I decided I didn’t know if that was going to be my life.”
Instead of staying on the farm, he used the GI Bill and enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering (UNL), graduating in 1961. He then started a job with the Bureau of Reclamation, based in Grand Island.
It was at UNL where he met his wife, Pat, who was studying to be a teacher.
“We were both going to the Newman Center,” he said. “That’s where we met.”
The couple married in August 1961 and were members of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Grand Island. They never imagined then, that many years later, their son would be the rector there.
With 15 years between the oldest and youngest, Father Golka was number 4 of the 10. Not without their ups and downs, like any other family, Bob said the older children helped take care of the others.
“It never seemed like it was a real problem,” he said.
Pat said when their children were younger, they would “play church” with either Father Jim or his brother, John, playing the part of the priest. Even though John attended seminary for a time, it would ultimately be Jim who would become the “family’s father.”
“It was his decision,” Bob said. “He was already in his junior year at Creighton and decided that was what he wanted to do.”
As a lifelong Catholic, Bob has always been involved in the parish in one way or another, either on the boards at his parish, Grand Island Central Catholic or at St. Leo’s when the parish was created in 1974. He became a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus in 1968 and became a member of the honor guard.
“I spent a lot of time (there) . . . I don’t even know how many ordinations for the bishops, ordinations for the priests, funerals for priests and even some nuns,” he said. Not to mention the school activities and games, as well as participating in the parade for the state fair in the heat of the summer.
He laughed and said, while he is still a member of the Knights, at age 87, he has cut back his activities.
“I’d gotten to a point, when you’re old, you don’t walk as steady,” he said. “There’s a point where you stop and let someone else do it.”
In 2019, Bob and Pat Golka were inducted into the Grand Island Central Catholic Hall of Fame. In addition to their support of Central Catholic and all 10 of their children attending, Pat also taught there for many years. Bob said a Catholic education has been one of the most important aspects of raising a Catholic family.
“We raised them in the Church, they went to St. Mary’s Grade School until it closed and then Central Catholic,” he said. “That’s really important.” But Father Golka, who said he was hesitant to “say this out loud,” admitted he was “shocked that all nine of his siblings were practicing Catholics,” as are all of his nieces and nephews. When asked what he attributed that to, Father Golka subtlely pointed to his parents.
“These guys,” he said. In fact, they’ve been so influential over the years that even sons- and daughters-in-law who weren’t Catholic have joined the Catholic Church.
“They’re all blessings, our family,” Bob said. “We’re all Catholic.”
Like St. Joseph, Bob has raised a family of faithful followers that are, in Father Golka’s words, “full of fire.”
But he also helped to build a strong foundation for Father Golka — literally — when he built the altar in the rectory at the cathedral.
After all, he’s a carpenter, too.
(This article originally appeared in the May-June 2021 issue of West Nebraska Catholic magazine and is reprinted with permission.)