CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
Saint Francis de Sales Seminary will see six of its seminarians ordained to the priesthood Saturday, May 18. The Ordination Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist (the Mass will also be available on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel). Here are profiles of the six men who will be ordained.
Dcn. Nicholas Baumgardner
Even though he’s the second in his family to be ordained in as many years, Dcn. Nick Baumgardner isn’t exactly following in the footsteps of his older brother, Fr. John Baumgardner.
They may both be serving the Church and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but Dcn. Baumgardner’s vocation is its own unique answer to God’s equally unique call.
“We realized our vocations around the same time, but it was independent of each other,” said Dcn. Baumgardner. “That just goes to show the hand of Providence in it.”
Growing up in a large Catholic family in Greendale, said Dcn. Baumgardner, the practice of the faith was never something just reserved for Sundays. “My parents modeled a lot of really good Christian virtues in our home — especially love of each other, first and foremost. But they were also really good witnesses to the faith being in everything we do,” he said.
After attending St. Alphonsus School and Pius XI High School, graduating in 2010, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study chemical engineering. While there, he became involved in the St. Paul University Catholic Center, attending daily Mass when he could and participating in Bible studies. It was while deepening his faith at the community at St. Paul’s that thoughts of the priesthood began to resurface in his mind.
“I had thought about the priesthood since I was a little kid, but I had kind of stopped thinking about it by the time I got to high school,” he said. “I began to really pray and ask if that’s what God wanted me to do.”
Following his sophomore year in college, he joined the staff of Catholic Youth Expeditions (CYE) in Door County, an organization that facilitates outdoor spiritual retreats for high school students and young adults. “That summer, I got to meet some awesome priests and also some good and holy seminarians. That was really my first encounter with a seminarian — I had never met one before,” said Dcn. Baumgardner. At the end of the summer, he called vocations director Fr. Luke Strand and told him: “I think God is calling me to be a priest.”
His time at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary has been especially marked by profound friendship that he has been able to form with other men seeking to do God’s will.
“The best friends I’ve ever had in life were made here at the seminary,” he said. “They’re really deep friendships based on giving your life to God and growing in virtue with other people. That’s just the best possible context for really deep friendship.”
The time he has spent at his teaching parish of St. Dominic in Brookfield has been a valuable glimpse into what parish life is like from the priest’s point of view, and has also been an opportunity to witness “how much people love and support their priests,” he said. “St. Dominic’s has a long history of supporting seminarians and being a teaching parish, so there’s a really good climate of vocations and support for the priesthood and the diaconate.”
Following his ordination, Dcn. Baumgardner will be assigned to St. Charles in Hartland. He is most looking forward to being able to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and make the Lord present to the faithful in the Holy Eucharist.
And has his older brother given him any priestly pointers? “He’s really taught me, by his actions and by his words, that it’s important for a priest to be humble and that humility is a really essential virtue for a priest to have,” said Dcn. Baumgardner. “It really goes a long way, I think, to keeping that priestly spirit of service and sacrifice.”
Dcn. Jordan Berghouse
During childhood, living in the North Lake area, serving Mass at Holy Hill and attending Trinity Academy in Pewaukee, the priesthood was always in the back of Dcn. Jordan Berghouse’s mind — but for a long time, it wasn’t something he felt ready to discuss openly.
“I had that fear, however irrational — what would my friends think of me; what does this say about me that I would actually want to become a priest?” said Dcn. Berghouse. “But I always did look up to priests, and I loved to serve Mass.”
While in college studying politics at Ave Maria University in Florida, his priorities shifted, he said, and his once-prominent faith became less of a focus in his life. “A vocation was still in the back of my mind, but I didn’t have the courage to take serious steps to discern,” he said. Following graduation in 2012, he considered attending law school but eventually took a job in Washington, DC, in the congressional office of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. It was during his 18 months on Capitol Hill that “my faith really blossomed and grew,” he said. “That was the first time that I wasn’t in a Catholic community, so I couldn’t live my faith as passively as I had been used to. I really had to make a decision whether or not I wanted to live my faith — and I knew that I did.”
But after living in Washington, DC, for a short time, he realized even though he had a fulfilling job, great friends and a wonderful girlfriend, “I was just very dissatisfied,” he said. “I was really sad — which didn’t make any sense.” He began to pray more, attended daily Mass and went to Confession more regularly.
“I started to feel strong in a way that I hadn’t been able to on my own. It became very clear that this was what grace feels like,” recalled Dcn. Berghouse. “This is what God working in your life feels like.”
Thoughts of a priestly vocation began to creep back in, but “I felt very unworthy to consider it at this point.” He eventually contacted Fr. Strand, who became a mentor to him in his process of discernment. “He was the first priest I opened up to about everything in my life, everything I was afraid of, thoughts of not feeling worthy. He walked me through that.”
It was in adoration one day that Dcn. Berghouse finally realized, once and for all, that he was being called to discern the priesthood. “I saw myself as a priest, doing the actions of the priest, and thinking about it gave me this incredible amount of joy in a way I had never really experienced before,” he said. “Something that used to cause me a lot of fear to think about, now I had a strong desire for.” On the metro ride home, he realized it was the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, patron saint of seminarians.
Dcn. Berghouse returned to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in December 2013 to live in the John Paul II House of Discernment at St. Robert Parish, and was accepted to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary the following year. Following his ordination, he’ll have the unique opportunity to serve as associate pastor at his teaching parish of the last four years — St. Monica in Whitefish Bay, along with nearby St. Eugene in Fox Point.
As he looks back on his time of priestly formation in the seminary, he said it was a time of remarkable self-reflection — of “encountering myself and who I am before God.”
“I would say that seminary is a deconstructing of our own Towers of Babel, which I think is, in a sense, the spiritual life for us all, but the seminary happens to facilitate that in a really accelerated way,” he said. “It’s starting from scratch, where God can build you up from a strong foundation rooted in him, reveal to yourself who you really are and what your gifts are really meant to be used for.”
Dcn. Stephen Buting
Dcn. Stephen Buting will spend the first few months of his priesthood making a total of four trans-Atlantic flights. After returning to Milwaukee for his ordination in May, he’ll need to get back to the Pontifical North American College in Rome to sit for exams two weeks later, before making another trip home in June to spend the summer serving the parishes of St. Frances Cabrini and St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception in West Bend, rounding it all out with a final flight back to Rome in September for the fall semester.
The jet-setting itinerary is surprisingly fitting for a young man who went to college with plans to work in international relations — but oddly enough, after all these years studying in Europe, all Dcn. Buting says he really wants to do now is return home to start serving the faithful of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“I could not have asked for anything different, because this experience in Rome is what the Lord had in mind,” he said. “But I’m anxious to get back to Milwaukee.”
Growing up in Brookfield, Dcn. Buting attended St. Dominic Parish School and graduated from Marquette University High School in 2010, where his class voted him “Most likely to join the Peace Corps.” He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a double major in history and international relations.
“I was going to become fluent in Arabic and eventually work in some NGO or the State Department, helping to solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis,” he said. “You might call it hubris, which it probably was. Back then, I just called it big dreaming.”
While at UW-Madison, through his involvement with the St. Paul University Catholic Center, his ambitions began to skew away from secular work. “God had a funny way, throughout college, of slowly but surely shifting my desires by proposing a new door to walk through every time I would make a big decision about life plans. God would take that moment to propose a fork in the road,” said Dcn. Buting.
First, he decided that instead of non-religious service work, he might like to pursue working for the Church on a global level. Then, he began to consider diocesan ministry as a layperson.
“It was a comfortable place to be because I could ‘have it all.’ I could have a family and be a dad and help people to come to know Jesus,” he said. “And from that comfortable middle place, God then proposed: what about working for the Church as an ordained celibate minister?”
After connecting with Fr. Strand and attending a discernment retreat over Christmas break his junior year of college, Dcn. Buting lived at the John Paul II House of Discernment at St. Robert Parish in the summer of 2013. It was there, engaging in a lifestyle of communal prayer and regular Eucharistic adoration, that he began to “see that this was a real possibility — this could be my life, this could be my vocation.”
He enrolled in St. Francis Seminary in 2014, and at the conclusion of the year was called into the rector’s office and offered a spot at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. It was another unexpected fork in the road, and Dcn. Buting was reluctant, he said, to leave his classmates. But after prayer and discernment, “I decided to follow the Lord’s invitation across the sea,” he said. His life in Rome has been a whirlwind of study and fellowship with other priests and seminarians from around the United States and Australia, all in the heart of the Universal Church.
As he approaches the occasion of his ordination, Dcn. Buting describes himself as “excited and awed … truly feeling like St. Elizabeth at the Visitation Who am I, Lord, that you would come to visit me in this way?”
“Something I’ve grown to appreciate more this year has been just the radical disparity between the dignity of the priesthood, sharing in the priesthood of Christ, and the particular person that is doing all of these things — with their flaws, weaknesses, limitations, what-have-you,” he said. “The closer I get, the more I realize just how completely free a gift this is and how I could never have earned, deserved or merited something this awesome to come to me.”
Dcn. Alexander Nwosu
When he was a young boy growing up in the village of Ufuma, in the Anambra State of Nigeria, Dcn. Alexander Nwosu would race the other altar boys to see who could reach the sacristy and don their cassock first.
The local Catholic church was just a five-minute walk from the house where he lived with his parents and four siblings, and he served Mass beginning at the age of 6. A love for the faith is very vibrant in that part of Nigeria, said Dcn. Nwosu, and his interest in the priesthood was piqued by those early experiences.
“I just grew with the spirit of being at church and attending church, the meetings and the programs,” he said. “We were always proud to be Catholics — that was how we were brought up. Seeing the priest and serving the priest at Mass, that was like, wow — I want to be like that.”
He couldn’t have known it then, but the young boy in the sacristy was beginning a journey that would span several decades and take him to three different continents in search of God’s plan.
He enrolled in minor seminary in Nigeria in 1990 at the age of 12, and he describes his six years there as a profoundly formative experience, teaching him much about prayer and “how to be in a good relationship with God.” Following graduation, he spent a year living with a priest and serving the people of his parish, eventually going on to major seminary, studying with the Schoenstatt Fathers at the Dominican Institute of Philosophy. After five years of study, he was no longer entirely sure of his vocation, and went to work at a Cistercian monastery. Eventually, a priest friend invited Dcn. Nwosu to travel to Belize with him to pursue graduate studies, but he was reluctant. “I said no, no — I think I’m done with the seminary.”
But the seminary was not done with him. He eventually did make the move to Belize in 2011, and found a Catholic church to attend. “After Mass, the priest was saying hi to people; I was the last person to leave, so when I came to say hi, he asked me my name, how old I am, and he just said, ‘Don’t you go to the seminary?’” recalled Dcn. Nwosu. Shaken, he went to the chapel to pray, questioning what God was trying to tell him. The priest eventually gave him a job at the parish. After two years, he moved to Mexico, where he became acquainted with the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, a religious community involved in mission work in Latin America and the United States. Compelled by their spirituality, Dcn. Nwosu moved to California to live at their formation house in preparation to become a novice — but after several years, he realized that the religious life still did not fulfill the longing that persisted in his heart.
Intent on becoming a priest but unwilling to continue living in the hot California weather, he searched for milder climates in which he could fulfill his vocation. He stumbled upon the website for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“I fell in love with the archdiocese,” he said. “I saw a photo of the archbishop and I thought, ‘I like this guy.’”
After visiting Fr. Strand, he enrolled at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in 2015. His teaching parish has been St. Agnes in Butler, and following his ordination, he will begin his assignment as the associate pastor at St. John Vianney in Brookfield.
“I am looking forward to being at St. John Vianney and interacting with the people — to help them grow in closer relationship with God,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
Though his family will not be able to attend his ordination, he knows that this is an occasion that will bring them as much joy as it does to Dcn. Nwosu.
“They felt a little disappointed the many times I left the seminary because they believed that God was actually calling me to the priesthood even from that tender age at the minor seminary,” he said. “My father died seven years ago, but before I left for Belize, his last words to me was to focus on my vocation to the priesthood.”
Dcn. Sergio Rodriguez
Dcn. Sergio Rodriguez’s vocation to the priesthood is proof that God, in his mercy, can bring beauty from even the most tragic circumstances.
He was only 5 years old when, on the first anniversary of his father’s death at the hands of guerillas in his native Colombia, Dcn. Rodriguez decided that he would one day become a priest.
“The only thing I remember from my father is his funeral, and everything that happened at his funeral. I remember the priest cared for my family, the priest supported my family. That never went out of my mind. He was a very good man of God who showed the mercy and love of God in that moment,” said Dcn. Rodriguez. “So, when I went back to the church for the Mass of the anniversary, I said, ‘I want to be like him — I want to be like the person who is caring for other people in a moment of sadness, of pain, of troubles.’”
Following his father’s death, Dcn. Rodriguez’s mother had to go to work in the nearby town of Chaparral, leaving Dcn. Rodriguez and his brother in the care of their grandmother, Maria. It was Maria who instructed her young grandsons in the Catholic faith. “I received everything from my grandmother, especially my devotion to the Blessed Mother,” said Dcn. Rodriguez.
Upon the completion of his schooling at the age of 16, he was too young to join the seminary, so he moved to Bogota to work and to study philosophy and theology, while also volunteering at a parish in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city. It was in Bogota that he met Fr. Yamid Blanco, a native of Colombia who came to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 2007 and was ordained a priest in 2012. “When I finished my studies, he invited me to come to Milwaukee,” said Dcn. Rodriguez.
Learning English was one of the first and biggest hurdles he had to overcome after arriving in Milwaukee, he said. “I knew no English, nothing — at the university in Colombia, they require you to have some level of English, but I don’t know how I passed that,” he said with a laugh. But, though life is “very different” from Colombia, “I am very happy here.”
When he is ordained on May 18, his mother will be in attendance at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, along with Dcn. Rodriguez’s childhood pastor and another priest friend from Colombia. In early June, Dcn. Rodriguez will return to his home country for his Mass of Thanksgiving, and his entire family will reunite in his hometown for the first time since his father’s death. “Colombia is safer now, and my father’s family will be able to come back,” he said. “I think it will be really emotional for everybody.”
When he returns from Colombia, he will serve as the associate pastor of St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception and St. Charles in Burlington and St. Joseph in Lyons. “I’m so excited and happy to go to those communities — I know Fr. Jim Volkert is a great mentor, and I’ll learn a lot from him,” he said.
And he hopes to show the same love and care to others as that priest showed to him so many years ago.
“It is easy to see God in the great moments, but it’s difficult to see him in the moments of pain or sadness,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing that, to help people and to help God’s love be present in those moments.”
Dcn. Jonathon Schmeckel
Growing up on a working dairy farm in Paris in western Kenosha County, Dcn. Jon Schmeckel always assumed that he would go into the same business that seven generations of his family had before him.
“There are very few people who can say their family has done something for seven generations,” said Dcn. Schmeckel. “Priesthood was not on my radar at all.”
But his childhood was still one shaped by the witness of sacrificial love, as he watched his grandmother, Monica Schmeckel, care for his grandfather, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. “That always made a really big impact on me. She gave up so much to be able to take care of him for almost 15 years,” he said. “She was this incredible witness to love — a love rooted in something bigger than just that ‘she had to’.”
As the main Catholic influence in his life, it was Monica who ferried Dcn. Schmeckel to and from Mass and religious education classes at St. John the Baptist Parish in Union Grove. After graduating from Westosha Central High School, he took his faith with him to Iowa State University, where he planned to study dairy science and agricultural business. While at school, he became involved in the St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center, and found that it was “much more life-giving than all the other things that were supposed to give me energy in life.”
It was St. Thomas pastor Fr. Jon Seda who first encouraged Dcn. Schmeckel to consider the priesthood.
“He was crucial in that — once we were sitting in the student lounge and he said, ‘Jon, the way I see it, you can either feed cows or feed sheep,’” he said. “That always sticks with me.”
He got in touch with Fr. Strand, who framed the vocation to the priesthood in terms that Dcn. Schmeckel recognized from his childhood, witnessing his grandparents’ devoted marriage. “He was the first to talk about priesthood as a relationship with the people of God,” he said. “It’s not a life empty of love — it’s just a different love than a husband’s.”
He applied and was accepted to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, and has been learning at his teaching parish in St. Alphonsus in Greendale.
After his ordination, he will be assigned as the first associate pastor of the parishes of St. Peter (Slinger), Resurrection (Allenton) and St. Lawrence (Hartford).
“I’m just excited to celebrate the sacraments,” he said. “That’s what most of our preparation is for. In my own life, the sacraments are where we experience God most intimately, so I’m really excited about being that mediator for other people — the people of God.”
At his May 18 ordination, his grandmother Monica will be in attendance — “probably weeping the whole time,” he said with a laugh. One particularly powerful experience during his seminary studies was a trip to Rome, he said, where he was able to pray for her at the tomb of St. Monica.
And though he’s now fully committed to feeding sheep, he hasn’t forgotten about the cows. He still gets home regularly to visit the family farm, which his sister has committed to taking on. “I still love agriculture,” he said.