Family ties at the Fort; how the Catholic Campus Center reunited a family

BY LAURYN BECKER

Photos courtesy Fr. Andy Hammeke

Whether you attend the Catholic mass at the Comeau Catholic Campus Center, or attend any Fort Hays sporting event, there’s one thing in common that most don’t know about: the family tie between the two.

In the spring of 2021, it was announced that Father Andy Hammeke (FHSU Class of 2012) would be returning as the Priest of the Catholic Campus Center. Andy’s dad, Curtis Hammeke, has been the Athletic Director of Fort Hays since 2004. Curtis and his wife Annette raised three children, all of which are back in Hays now.

“Fr. Andy is our oldest child, our daughter Alicia Knight and her husband Kegan live here in Hays and have three kids. Our youngest son Nick also recently moved back to Hays from Stillwater, Oklahoma,” Curtis said. “Our entire family has been deeply involved in athletics for many years, and Annette, a former special education teacher, has been the glue that has held us all together.” 

Another connection Fr. Andy and Curtis share is their involvement with FHSU baseball. Both played baseball for Fort Hays – Curtis from 1983-84 and Andy from 2008-20012 – and Curtis eventually coached the team from 1991-96.  

“It meant a lot to be able to play for the same team my dad played and coached for,” Andy said. “I was a batboy for his teams in the early 90s so it was pretty cool to be in the samedugout years later as a player. It was also special to watch my brother Nick play shortstop for the Tigers.”

Sports have always been a big part of the Hammeke’s lives. It created an irreplaceable bond between the two, and they continue to attend many games together. 

“Sports offered Annette and I a natural connection to all three of our kids. That was how we spent our free time. Lots of tournaments throughout the summers, playing catch, taking extra batting practice, playing basketball, throwing the football, etc,” Curtis said. “It was simply a means of us spending time together as a family. We share many great memories from those days.”

Fr. Andy suffered an unfortunate injury that ended in him getting Tommy John surgery that resulted in him not being able to compete at the same level again. As hard as it was on both Fr. Andy and Curtis, it eventually would push him into the priesthood. 

“Sports played a huge role in our relationship. I loved baseball my whole life. It was pretty handy to have a dad who could teach you the game far better than other kids’ dads. I’ll never forget how present he was when I was struggling to throw strikes coming off my surgery,” Andy said. “He traveled all over the state to watch me throw, knowing I was going to struggle. Sports helped us to bond in the good times and the bad.

“Little by little the idea of priesthood started to creep into my mind. I was nervous to share this with teammates and friends but when I did, I was pleasantly surprised by how supportive most of the guys were. In the end, it was the peace I received in the adoration chapel, week after week, asking God if he wanted me to be a priest that inspired me to enter seminary and become a priest.”

After being in Salina for a few years, Fr. Andy has now come back to not only Fort Hays as Priest, but also as Chaplain of his high school Alma Mater, Thomas More Prep-Marian. 

“It has been great serving at TMP. The school still smells and feels the same but theadministration and faculty has turned over completely since I was there,” Andy said. “Great things are happening at TMP and it is fun to be a part of.”

Regarding leading Catholic Disciples at the university, Fr. Andy is excited to be back in the church that he went to in his years at Fort Hays, but this time, as the Priest. 

“Working with Catholic Disciples has brought me a lot of hope. The students are joyful and energetic. It has been fun to watch new students come in and form relationships that will help them through the joys and struggles of college life. It has been great to see the leadership of the older students and of our FOCUS Missionaries,” Fr. Andy said. “I live right across the street from one of the houses I lived in during college. Almost every time I walk outside a memory pops into my head from those years and makes me smile. I love serving the students at the Campus Center. There are a million other things they could be doing with their time and they are choosing to make faith a priority.”

When it comes to being reunited on campus, both the Hammekes could not be more excited. The opportunity to be only a few minutes away from each other has continued to strengthen their bond as well. 

“After three years in Salina, we were anticipating Fr. Andy moving, but we never would have imagined him coming to Hays or more specifically the Catholic Campus Center. It’s a tremendous blessing to begin with to have daily Mass available, basically on our campus, but going to those Masses with your son serving as the Priest has been kind of surreal,” Curtis said. “Disbelief. Excited. A bit anxious. Parents just want their kids to be happy and at peace. Annette and I are no different. We’re selfishly delighted that all three of them are in Hays right now. But ultimately, we’ll be happy knowing they’re happy, regardless of where they live.” 

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