SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Can you tell me a little about your family?
I have an older brother who is married with four daughters, an older sister who is married with a son and two daughters and three younger sisters. I’m in a unique situation because I got to watch my parents grow in their faith, especially my dad. They’re both converts; my mom was baptized Catholic but not raised Catholic; so she discovered her faith later in life when I was a young boy. She always had a deep faith in God but specifically her Catholic faith started to grow when they sent us to Catholic school. My dad converted when I was around 10 or 12. It’s a powerful thing to see where their faith is at now. Both of them are deeply faithful and love the Lord.
When did you begin to discern the priesthood?
I didn’t really have the courage to consider the priesthood seriously until after college, when I was actually pursuing my faith for the first time on my own. I was in a non-Catholic environment for the first time, surrounded by people who weren’t Catholic, and I realized that I could no longer live my faith passively as I had been doing. I was going to let it go or I was going to pursue it. I had a deep desire to get to the Lord but I didn’t know how to pursue him. All I knew was to pray. The discernment that followed was the first time I experienced grace, and that was enough for me to submit to his will and plan for my life.
When you began your discernment you had already begun your career on Capitol Hill, correct?
Yeah, for a year and a half after college I worked in D.C. in the congressional office of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. I’d always loved politics. In high school, I used to come home from school and watch the news until I went to bed, which is pretty abnormal for a high schooler. I always thought I’d run for office one day.
When you quit your job, did you enter into the seminary right away?
Not right away. I quit my job and in December (2013) I moved into the John Paul II House of Discernment at St. Robert Parish. I lived there for eight months and applied to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary for the fall. It was powerful to live among men who were discerning the same vocation. It felt like home; it was a house of peace.
What challenges have you faced in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in your first year of the priesthood?
It was really hard being disconnected for so long from the people I desire to serve. Our life as a priest doesn’t make a whole lot of sense separated from the people, so we really do feel the absence. The only connection we had with the people was drive-through confessions, and the food drop. It was like a forced retreat, though, and that provided me with a lot of time to be quiet with the Lord, which gave the whole situation a lot of opportunity to bear good fruit.
During the first days of the pandemic, you started a video series on Facebook with Fr. Paul Hartmann called “Two Priests in a Pod…Cast.” How did that come about?
I was trying to think of ways to stay connected to people along with the daily livestream of the Mass, and I’d been brainstorming with a friend of mine and I thought that would be a good idea, and be fun for people to see us both. It was a great chance to talk about things that people might be interested in. Before the coronavirus, I never thought that making videos was really worth the time because you’re never going to be as good as Bishop (Robert) Barron, but it’s amazing. You may not attract a huge audience but all of your parishioners are watching. It’s a great way to address them and be there with them.
What feedback have you gotten from your parishioners?
I think people have really appreciated the effort. Fr. Paul was on the ball from the very first day. He knew that we needed to livestream Mass and make the quality better and better, so really the rest of us were just following his lead.
What kinds of things do you talk about on your video series?
We’ve talked about everything from the pandemic, the Urbi et Orbi of the Holy Father, to the priesthood. We’ve talked about ordinary time, Corpus Christi, lent, Easter; we did something for each day of holy week. We’ve covered a whole range of topics that I think have touched and inspired a lot of people.
What do you feel that God has taught you specifically through this forced retreat?
I’ve been praying a lot with poverty of spirit, just the reality that in life there’s only so much control that we have and being able to let go and trust that each and every day in whatever life throws at you you’ll be able to encounter the Lord in the midst of it. Knowing that God is in control and has a design for your life, there is such freedom and peace in that. I prayed a lot with that and it’s been helpful. Even just thinking about how one’s life has unfolded to this point, so little of that is due to any control that you have. Our lives are designed and given, and I think that much of the Christian is accepting exactly what has been given instead of trying to take control of your circumstances.
Have you found yourself turning to a particular saint as you pray?
St. John Paul II has come up quite a bit. I also have a deep love for the Holy Father; so I’ve taken a lot of consolation in a lot of the things he’s shared with us during this time. I thought that this Urbi et Orbi was one of the most powerful things that I’ve ever seen. He really challenged us to ask ourselves where we encounter the Lord and what our lives look like. He has a very subtle but powerful way of seeing the spiritual component to what’s happening around us. He’s someone that I always look to as a beacon.