On the morning of Easter Sunday 2020, as the majority of American Catholics watched Mass virtually on laptops and iPhones due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, the priests and seminarians of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary gathered to celebrate the Resurrection.

A photograph was taken on that day depicting the 30 seminarians who were then living, working and studying as an isolated community on the historic seminary grounds — an ordinary photo of 30 ordinary men, struggling to discern the will of God just like anyone else.

In a few days, it will be a photograph almost entirely of priests. Twenty-nine of the 30 men who were seminarians during that lockdown experience have been or will be ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

“It’s remarkable,” admits Fr. Luke Strand, Rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

The ordination class of 2024 is one of the largest in the nation, and the largest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee since 1992. Fr. Strand describes the group as “resilient and reverent” men of prayer.

“Despite knowing these men for years, I am still regularly humbled by their faith and generosity,” he said.

Because of the number of ordinandi, the ordination on May 18 is by invitation only, but the public is welcome and encouraged to view the livestreamed Mass on the YouTube page of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist at https://www.youtube.com/@sjcathedralmke1314/streams.

Dcn. Dennis Beltre

Home parish: La Sagrada Familia, Dominican Republic

Teaching parish: St. Paul the Apostle, Racine, and St. Louis, Caledonia

Parish assignment: St. Clement, St. Dominic and Holy Name of Jesus, Sheboygan (Sheboygan North)

Though Dcn. Dennis Beltre was born and raised 2,000 miles away from the shores of Lake Michigan, there is something about the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that has always felt like home.

“There was a sort of spiritual familiarity,” said Dcn. Beltre of his connection to Milwaukee.

There’s a good reason for that: Dcn. Beltre was raised in the archdiocese’s sister parish, La Sagrada Familia, which is supported through the Office for World Mission. The parish serves 30,000 people in 19 towns and villages in the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic.

The second oldest of five children, Dcn. Beltre grew up in Sabana Yegua, where the parish is based. His father worked for the church, and the priests serving La Sagrada Familia were always from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“Many of the priests became our friends, and I would see them at our house,” recalled Dcn. Beltre, who was also an altar server and a lector at the parish.

In his youth, Dcn. Beltre was drawn to the missionary work of the Community of St. Paul, the Racine-based Public Association of the Faithful in the Catholic Church, headquartered in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and present in Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia. The community is made up of priests and lay men and women from various countries.

“My vocation starts there — with caring for people in a way that makes the faith very tangible,” said Dcn. Beltre. “I wanted to help people in their lives so that they can have dignity and hopefully, through that, they can be more free to live like Christ.”

Following high school, Dcn. Beltre joined the Community of St. Paul and prepared for life as a missionary, first studying philosophy at the university in Santo Domingo and later serving in the community’s missions in Mexico and Colombia. All the while, he made regular visits to the United States, and even to Milwaukee specifically, to study English and to participate in missionary appeals for the community.

It was while serving in Colombia that Dcn. Beltre began to feel called beyond missionary work, sensing an invitation to discern a vocation to the priesthood.

“Things started clicking. I started realizing more strongly that what we do, what I do — it’s all for God. It helps people, but it’s for God,” he said. That realization, he said, “was the meaning that I was looking for in my life.”

In 2018, Dcn. Beltre returned to Milwaukee — a place that was so familiar to him by now, physically and spiritually. But this time, he was coming with an altogether different purpose. He was coming for the priesthood.

In his first year at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, Dcn. Beltre recalls struggling with translating his active missionary lifestyle to the more contemplative routine of a seminarian.

“The life is very structural (in the seminary) — structural morning prayers, evening prayer, the Masses, classes. I struggled,” he admitted.

Taking classes exclusively in English was also a challenge. “I had to be super, super attentive because if I would get distracted for a second, I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. He also felt homesick for the first time in his well-traveled life. “I really started missing my family. The other guys had family coming to the seminary, and I was one of the few that was by myself.”

These trials all combined to create an invitation to lean more heavily on the divine providence that had brought him to Milwaukee in the first place, he said.

“I had to overcome a lot of second thoughts. ‘Is this really what I should be doing?’ (It took) a lot of trust,” he said. Ultimately, “the faith that I had was stronger that God’s plan would come to fruition.”

Dcn. Beltre will be the first man born and raised in the La Sagrada Familia Parish to become a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. His family will be traveling from the Dominican Republic to attend his ordination, and as he contemplates the nearing milestone, he said he is feeling a mixture of emotions — “mainly excitement.”

“I’m joyful that I am at the place where I am now. This week has been a roller coaster of emotions,” he said. “Our official graduation day (from Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, where the seminarians receive their academic formation) was a confirmation that God was at work in my life. This is what I have been preparing for, not just these six years but from the beginning.”

Looking ahead to his life as a priest, Dcn. Beltre said he is most excited “to share Christ with the community” — most importantly through the liturgy and the sacraments, but also through a ministry of presence.

“I’m looking forward to forming a community, a family of people that believe and people that are here for each other — not because of my ministry but because of Christ,” he said. “I hope to be a bridge that connects people to God.”

Dcn. Nicholas Dhein

Home parish: St. Peter, Slinger

Teaching parish: St. Eugene, Fox Point, and St. Monica, Whitefish Bay

Parish assignment: St. Joseph, Waupun; Annunciation, Fox Lake; St. Katharine Drexel, Beaver Dam; St. Columbkille, Elba; Holy Family, Reeseville; and St. John the Baptist, Clyman (Dodge West)

Officially, Dcn. Nicholas Dhein has been on a path to the priesthood for almost a decade now — so as his ordination date approaches, he’s filled with expectation.

But he also knows that expectation does a priest no good.

“We can expect all we want, but most of the priests that we talk to are very good about reminding us that whatever we have in mind, it’s not going to be that,” he said. “I’m ready to be surprised.”

Dcn. Dhein grew up in Slinger, the younger of two kids, attending St. Peter Parish just as generations of his family had before him. But even though he was a student at the parish school through fifth grade and was present at Mass every Sunday, religion was not “a huge part of my life,” he said.

His “reversion” to a fuller and deeper commitment to the Catholic faith would be the result of a trying time in his young life. During middle school, “I hit kind of a shaky point in my life,” he said. As so often is the case, the transition from middle to high school was difficult, and friendships changed. “I ended up making a number of very poor decisions,” he said. At that crucial time, Dcn. Dhein found solace at the St. Peter youth group. There, he not only connected with a solid community of young people who cared about him, but he was immersed in the practice of the faith and exposed to the Wisconsin Catholic Youth Rally and other events that brought together young Catholics.

“I started falling in love with the Church, and especially with Eucharist, as I did these events,” he said. “I started to see more and more of the beauty of our faith and just really felt God’s love for me from the Church.”

That love became especially real in experiences that Dcn. Dhein had during Eucharistic Adoration, which he frequented even before he could drive himself. “I’m sure I annoyed my parents for quite a while because I was doing it before I could drive,” he said with a laugh. But it was in adoration that he felt it most clearly: that call to discern the priesthood. But as he graduated from Slinger High School in 2014, he knew the time wasn’t right. He headed instead to UW-Platteville to study mechanical engineering, and on campus became involved both with the Newman Center and a Christian group that consisted of mostly Evangelical Protestants. Those experiences — complementary, but different — enriched his faith life. Being in close relationship with non-Catholic Christians drove him to learn and understand Catholic teaching in a deeper way. By his sophomore year, he made the decision to transfer to St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University in Chicago, filling out the application in the middle of an exhausting 18-credit semester.

“The fact that I didn’t procrastinate on the application was a sign to everyone, including myself, of how much this meant to me,” he said.

After completing his philosophy degree in Chicago in 2018, he came to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. While there, Dcn. Dhein said, he has been challenged to grow not just in virtue but in strength. “To use the old ‘no pain, no gain’ (adage) — some of the stuff that we have to grow through is difficult, and it’s painful, learning to recognize and deal with emotions,” he said. “One of the bigger struggles for me was obedience to the person who is my superior. The idea of obedience to God has not been an issue. But hearing (God) and remembering that, when getting news from the person I need to be obedient to and I don’t agree with it, was a test that was a big struggle for me.”

Dcn. Dhein’s teaching parishes have been St. Monica in Whitefish Bay and St. Eugene in Fox Point, and while staying at St. Monica during the summers, he said he has been able to witness the priesthood lived out joyfully in many different ways.

“When I first came to St. Monica and St. Eugene, I lived in the rectory with Fr. (Paul) Hartmann, Fr. (Jordan) Berghouse, Fr. Patrick Behling and Fr. Stephen Buting,” he said. “To get to see all of those personalities live out their priesthood in their different ways really helped me, both to refine my own approach and to just be more comfortable as me.”

One particularly beautiful moment in his life as a transitional deacon has been to assist at Mass at the Wisconsin Catholic Youth Rally, an event that played such an integral role in his spiritual development and vocation.

“For me to think back 12 years ago now, when I was sitting in the crowd, and to think about how much God has worked in me both through that and since then — it really hit me,” he said. “It was just amazing to see how much God has worked through this event, and really to be reminded of just how far I’ve come.”

Dcn. Kevin Durand

Home parish: St. Thomas Aquinas, Waterford

Teaching parish: Holy Trinity, Kewaskum, and St. Michael, St. Michaels

Parish assignment: Holy Family Parish and St. Mary’s Springs Academy, Fond du Lac

Dcn. Kevin Durand learned early on in life that he didn’t have to be afraid of asking big questions.

The oldest of six children, Dcn. Durand would pray the Rosary every week with his family. It was a time not just for prayer but for discussion, when the children were welcome to ask any questions they had about their Catholic faith.

“When you’re a kid and you’re reading Genesis, you’re wondering things like, ‘When did the dinosaurs come into this?’” he said. “It allowed me to see that there are good answers to all of these questions. And throughout my life, I knew that it was okay to have a question. So not only did I grow in devotion from praying the Rosary, but I also grew in a general sense of confidence about the legitimacy of what we believe.”

That sense of confidence was reinforced through 12 years in Catholic schools, including St. Joseph Parish School in Big Bend, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish School in Waterford, Trinity Academy in Pewaukee and Catholic Central High School in Burlington. “That was a great gift,” he said of his Catholic education. After graduating high school in 2011, he headed to Ave Maria University in Florida.

It was during his sophomore year in college that he began to experience thoughts about a possible vocation to the priesthood — thoughts that he found “confusing,” he admits.

“Even though we grew up Catholic, I didn’t know a lot of priests that well,” he said. “We moved around a lot. and I didn’t ever get to know the parish priest. I always pretty much had a girlfriend in college, so I wasn’t particularly excited about the idea of being called to the priesthood.”

But the thoughts were persistent, and had only increased by his senior year, when he joined a “household” (an element of community life at Ave Maria similar to a fraternity or sorority) and began praying the night prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. One evening, a friend invited him to Eucharistic Adoration, and it was there, before the Blessed Sacrament, that Dcn. Durand finally confronted his calling.

“It was pretty undeniable that he was calling me to be a priest, but I was not ready to say yes at all,” he said. “So, at this point I had a decision to make.”

It was easy enough, though, to get swept up in the current of a very different life that he had already started for himself. In 2015, he graduated from college and moved back to Milwaukee to work for his father’s company selling magazine advertising. He even became engaged to be married. “I really didn’t pray much during that time because I was kind of nervous about praying,” he admitted.

Eventually, the engagement ended, and it gave him an opportunity to evaluate his life, the choices he had made, and all the choices he had to make going forward.

“I started to pray again. I needed God in my life,” he said.

In late 2017, a friend gave him the book “To Save a Thousand Souls” along with Fr. Luke Strand’s contact information. “I thought, ‘Well, I just have to give this a shot — but I don’t think I’m actually called to be a priest. What are the odds of that?’” he said.

After meeting Fr. Strand and getting to know seminarians, Dcn. Durand experienced a sense of fraternity and encouragement that allowed his confidence in his fledgling vocation to grow. He applied to and was accepted to Saint Frances de Sales Seminary in 2018.

“When I came into seminary, the thing that most stuck out to me was just that God loves me,” he said. “You always hear that in homilies, but I didn’t think it was that profound until seminary, where I realized: not only does he love me, but he actually sees me and he knows me. The good and the bad. Everything. And he still loves me, and he’s calling me to live out of that.”

A particular highlight of his time at the seminary has been the annual De Sales Invitational basketball tournament. “That’s just borne a lot of great fruit in terms of friendships with other seminarians all throughout the country,” he said of the event, which this year hosted 350 seminarians and priests from around the country for a weekend of sports and fellowship. He was also deeply impacted by his summer assignments, which included stints in Catholic Youth Expeditions in Door County and hospital ministry in Little Rock, Arkansas.

As he approaches ordination, he said he is “grateful to God for his fidelity to me” during the long road of discernment. He wants to represent that fidelity, that sense of being present and true and steadfast, in his own ministry.

“A lot of the priests that I have found to be really helpful in my life have been priests who have just been very present with me,” he said. “So, I’m looking forward to just being with people in their life, as someone who’s representing Christ.”

Dcn. Zachary Galante

Home parish: St. Frances Cabrini, West Bend

Teaching parish: Holy Trinity, Kewakum, and St. Michael, St. Michaels

Parish assignment: St. John Vianney, Brookfield

Like most Catholic children, when Dcn. Zachary Galante was in second grade, he received his First Holy Communion.

It was a beautiful experience for the young boy, who had always felt an intense attraction to the Mass and a strong conviction that Jesus Christ was present in the Eucharist. So, he knew exactly what he wanted his role to be in St. Frances Cabrini Parish School’s celebratory Mass the following week.

While his teacher was asking for student volunteers for the liturgy, “my hand shot up in the air,” recalled Dcn. Galante. “I said, ‘I want to read the Gospel.’ She kind of laughed and said, ‘Well, you can’t do that. That’s only for the deacon or priest.’”

Two decades later, Dcn. Galante is finally getting his shot. As a transitional deacon, he’s been able to proclaim the Gospel for about eight months now, and in just a few days, he will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the presence of the same man who baptized him back in 1996 — Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines, who was then the pastor of St. Frances Cabrini.

Dcn. Galante considers his early attachment to the faith as a true grace, one that would help carry him through some unforeseen trials. “I had a childhood form of epilepsy,” explained Dcn. Galante. The brain disorder manifested in seizures that began when he was in the sixth grade, and he required treatment at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee.

“I wasn’t experiencing a lot of physical pain, but it was scary in its own right, especially for my parents,” he said, noting that there was some concern on the part of doctors that he may have a brain tumor. Ultimately, the seizures went away, but the experience was “a wake-up call to the complexity of life,” said Dcn. Galante.

“That really challenged my kind of worldview and made me think differently about the purpose of life and what I was alive for, how I was going to live my life,” he said. “It challenged me to want to seek higher horizons for my life, to serve the Lord and to be of service to other people.”

He didn’t necessarily see that service taking form in a priestly vocation — he was already an enthusiastic lay minister, serving Mass, cantoring and lectoring, and even asking his youth minister for a copy of the Catechism (“I was like, ‘This book is amazing — can I have a copy?’” he said). After graduating from St. Frances Cabrini, he attended West Bend East High School, busying himself with musical groups, Boy Scouts and theater. He made time to attend St. John Bosco Youth Day at Holy Hill, Steubenville conferences and mission trips with his parish — “all really transformative moments for me of encountering the Lord’s love for me in the Holy Eucharist,” he said.

As a sophomore in high school, his pastor, Fr. Nathan Reesman, encouraged him to consider whether or not the Lord might be asking him to discern becoming a priest. He wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about the idea, but he prayed about it, making weekly Eucharistic Adoration part of his routine. When he graduated high school in 2014, he chose the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, for Catholic studies and international business, joining a Catholic fraternity and attending daily Mass.

As part of his fraternity, he had several early-morning holy hours, and it was during those quiet moments — “When it’s just you and Jesus, and the whole world is asleep,” he said — that Dcn. Galante’s vocation was really cemented in his heart. He dedicated the whole of Lent during his sophomore year to discerning the call to the priesthood. On Holy Thursday, Fr. Luke Strand — with whom he had been in contact continuously throughout his discernment — gave him an application to the seminary.

“I knew I had to take this step,” said Dcn. Galante. “It wasn’t super climactic; it was just a very simple, graced moment of saying, ‘Yes, Lord, I think this is what you’re calling me to, and I’m going to see where it goes.’”

In the fall of 2017, Dcn. Galante entered the college seminary at St. Thomas. Following graduation, he spent a year in pre-theology formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary before being asked to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

His time in Rome, which began in 2019, was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he returned the following fall. He also did a pastoral year at Holy Trinity and St. Michael parishes in Kewaskum, in between his second and third year of theological studies.

Looking ahead to his ordination, Dcn. Galante quotes Pope St. John Paul II: “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

“Life with Christ is way more interesting than life without him,” said Dcn. Galante. “And we can’t plan it. We can’t figure it out. We don’t always know what suffering we’re going to experience or the challenges we’re going to encourage within ourselves or other people. But the Lord is the one who is good and who has given us all these things. Now looking back on it all, I’m so grateful that I said yes.”

Dcn. Denny Jacob

Home parish: St. Mary, Santi Nagar, Kerala Province, India

Teaching parish: St. William, Waukesha

Parish assignment: St. James, Mukwonago; St. Theresa, Eagle; St. Peter, East Troy

Dcn. Denny Jacob’s upbringing in southern India meant that, since his early life, he has been surrounded by a rich variety of religious traditions.

But for Dcn. Jacob and his family, there has only ever been one road to the truth — that which leads through the Catholic Church. Faithful practitioners of the Syro-Malabar Rite, Dcn. Jacob’s family were devout in their daily activities, reading the Bible and praying the Rosary at home.

“I am very proud of my family,” said Dcn. Jacob, who is the youngest of three sons. “My parents gave me my faith in God.”

When Dcn. Jacob was a teenager, he began to realize his faith could mean even more than prayer and devotion. It could mean the love of Christ carried out in a physical way — through charity, through mission work, through even simple parish activities.

“I began to meditate, do spiritual readings and practice daily prayer,” he said. “In addition to attending daily Mass, I realized I could grow spiritually in other ways, not only through prayer.”

He also began to have thoughts of pursuing the priesthood. “When I was studying in secondary school, I was active in church activities, and from there I had a zeal and interest to become a priest,” he said. “As a teen, I was inspired by the beauty and grace of the Mass and by how my parish priest interacted with the people.”

Dcn. Jacob attended school in his hometown of Manikadave in the Kerala province before moving to the state capital city in 2008 to pursue his college degree, and those thoughts of the priesthood persisted. One day at Mass, he found himself having a conversation with a parishioner whose son was a priest in the Community of St. Paul, which is based in Racine. The priest was Fr. Antony Thomas, who now serves as pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Whitewater.

The conversation piqued Dcn. Jacob’s interest in mission work, and he joined the Community of St. Paul in 2011 with the intent of becoming a priest. The community sent him to work at La Sagrada Familia Parish, the sister parish of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the Dominican Republic, and while there, he pursued philosophy studies in Santo Domingo.

“My family were amazed about my decision to join the priesthood,” he recalled. “Like any parents, they were disappointed that their ‘baby’ was moving so far away. My parents expressed their concern and worries, but my determination and the grace of God helped to change their minds willingly.”

In 2016, Dcn. Jacob was sent to Milwaukee to polish his English language skills, and eventually began his seminary formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. He found the change of scenery to be “overwhelming — in the best possible sense.”

“I thought I was in paradise,” he recalled. “Then the next day, reality set in.” Having arrived in August, the weather was not too different from what he was used to in his home country — but winter brought a shock to the system. “Learning to drive in the snow was a source of increased prayer,” he quipped. “Studying theology in English was a dual challenge.” Dcn. Jacob’s studies in India had all been in his native language of Malayalam, and English had not been a major part of the curriculum.

He credits his fellow seminarians and the seminary faculty with helping him to adjust, and said he found a warm welcome in his teaching parish at St. William in Waukesha. Shortly after Dcn. Jacob began serving there, the parish was rocked by the tragedy of the Waukesha Christmas parade. “I was impressed with the support offered by the parish,” he said. “Visiting the sick, offering support at funerals and ministering at Mass were a profound joy and grace.”

Since Dcn. Jacob was baptized in the Syro-Malabar rite and will be ordained in the Latin rite, he is granted biritual faculties and can celebrate Mass in either rite. He will celebrate one Mass of Thanksgiving at St. William and another in the Syro-Malabar rite at his home parish, St. Mary in Santi Nagar, shortly thereafter.

“Someone once said that being a seminarian is like being a bird in a nest where the mother bird consistently feeds you,” said Dcn. Jacob. “I am looking forward to beginning to nourish others in a whole new way.”

Dcn. Dominic Lazzaroni

Home parish: St. Francis de Sales, Lake Geneva

Teaching parish: St. Frances Cabrini and Immaculate Conception/St. Mary, West Bend

Parish assignment: Catholic Community of Waukesha

When he was a senior in high school, Dcn. Dominic Lazzaroni’s mom encouraged him to go to a Steubenville Youth Conference.

“I didn’t really want to go that much,” he admitted. “So thank you, Mom.”

Call it vindication for mothers everywhere who sometimes have to give their children a little push in the right direction — because Dcn. Lazzaroni now sees that conference as a crucial turning point in the story of his vocation to the priesthood.

“I realized there’s a lot of kids here about my age who are really in love with the Lord, and there’s something happening,” he said. “So I decided, ‘OK, for this conference, I’m going to actually open myself up to what the Lord might have in store for my own life.’”

He didn’t really know any of the speakers, but he was moved by the experiences of going to confession and Eucharistic Adoration — “during adoration, I realized the depth of the Lord’s love for people at their lowest points and their highest points,” he said. On the last day, one of the presenters invited young men considering the priesthood to approach the stage for a blessing.

To everyone’s surprise, including his own, Dcn. Lazzaroni stood up.

“I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said, of the feeling that had made him rise to his feet. “I was just going to go home. But luckily, there were the right people in my life who helped me take the next step to really seeing if this was the Lord’s will for me.”

On the bus home, a chaperone encouraged him to tell his mom. Dcn. Lazzaroni is the youngest of two children, and the Catholic faith has always been at the center of family life (his parents even met in a church choir at his home parish). But the teenager had struggled to “make (the faith) my own, in a lot of ways,” he said. “I hadn’t really personalized it. I knew it was important, but I didn’t see the full value.”

At the time, his parish, St. Francis de Sales, was served by a seminarian named John Baumgardner (now Fr. John Baumgardner, Vice-Rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary) who encouraged Dcn. Lazzaroni to come to a pizza dinner where then-Vocations Director Fr. Luke Strand would be present. At Fr. Strand’s invitation, Dcn. Lazzaroni then attended one of the seminary’s Duc in Altum silent discernment retreats.

“Over that retreat, I just realized, ‘OK, if the Lord is calling me to be his priest, I need to take that seriously.’ To take that seriously, I need to go to seminary,” said Dcn. Lazzaroni. “So that’s what I did.”

After graduating from Badger High School in 2016, Dcn. Lazzaroni enrolled at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University in Chicago. Unfortunately, the seminary was closed during his junior year, a development that was “challenging,” he said.

“It was an invitation to be rooted in the Lord, even when the group of people and the place you leaned on is taken away,” said Dcn. Lazzaroni.

He was able to finish up his undergraduate degree at Loyola University, living in Chicago during the week and spending the weekends at the seminary in Milwaukee before moving to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary full time in the winter of 2020.

His experience at the seminary was “a beautiful journey,” he said.

“Being in the same house as the Blessed Sacrament, having a chapel right down the stairs — that was huge. I had never really had consistent prayer in the same way that I did at the seminary,” he said. “I hadn’t gone to daily Mass growing up, besides some days during the week at Catholic school, so going to Mass now every single day was really beautiful.”

The community aspect of the formation process was as integral to his development as the spiritual aspect, said Dcn. Lazzaroni.

“I remember entering seminary and hearing guys refer to other seminarians as ‘brother seminarians.’ I thought it was kind of goofy. But really, it’s a fraternity. These guys are your brothers,” he said.

At his teaching parishes, St. Frances Cabrini and Immaculate Conception/St. Mary in West Bend, Dcn. Lazzaroni said he learned “to really allow yourself to be yourself around the people that you’re ministering to.”

“Seeing Fr. Nathan Reesman, Fr. Jacob Strand, Fr. Carlos Londono and Fr. Kevin Harmon — everyone’s got a different approach. They’re all bringing their different gifts, different talents, and the people are grateful for you just being there as your priest, even in your quirks and everything.”

Dcn. Lazzaroni is now about to close the chapter that started, in many ways, almost a decade ago at that youth conference when he stood up from his chair. Much has changed, but much has also stayed the same. “The Lord was calling me then, but he had been calling me from the beginning — calling me out of myself, calling me for others,” said Dcn. Lazzaroni.

As he looks ahead to the priestly life, he sees another invitation to be rooted in the Lord.

“You’re jumping into it without exactly knowing what to expect,” he said. “But at the same time, I know this is what the Lord’s plan is for my life, and he’s going to get me through it.”

Dcn. Charles Luke

Home parish: Holy Name of Jesus, Sheboygan

Teaching parish: St. Leonard, Muskego

Parish assignment: St. Robert, Shorewood, and Holy Family, Whitefish Bay

It’s going to be an exciting spring for the Luke family.

As if the impending ordination of Dcn. Charles Luke to the priesthood wasn’t enough of a milestone, it comes just two months after his sister Regina’s profession of vows with the Sister Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus.

And the real kicker? Sr. Regina Marie and the future Fr. Luke aren’t just brother and sister: they’re twins.

“You couldn’t script it if you tried,” said Dcn. Luke. “It’s much more marvelous just to look at the providential plan of God and his ordering of our lives.”

God’s providential plan is something Dcn. Luke reflects on often when he considers his own vocation story. Growing up homeschooled in a family of five siblings, in addition to a baby brother who passed away at birth — “our intercessor in heaven,” said Dcn. Luke — the concept of the priesthood was certainly never foreign to him. The family was devout, belonging first to Holy Name of Jesus in Sheboygan and later to St. John Evangelist in Kohler before eventually settling at St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr in Milwaukee. After completing eighth grade as a homeschooler, Dcn. Luke became a student at St. Lawrence Seminary High School. Upon graduation in 2015, he headed to Steubenville, Ohio, to study at Franciscan University.

It was when he came to Steubenville that the idea of a priestly vocation became a real force in Dcn. Luke’s interior life. Impacted by a number of experiences he would have as an undergraduate, he began to discern the question more seriously.

One of these experiences was as a Totus Tuus missionary in the Diocese of Superior, where Dcn. Luke traveled from parish to parish during summers to engage youth in faith formation. Daily prayer had been a habit before, but in his missionary life, Dcn. Luke learned to prioritize and appreciate it in a new way.

“This was when I really had to confront for myself the reality of being a public witness of Christianity,” he said. “I had a realization that if I was going to be this public witness, I needed to develop a life of prayer and be a man of integrity, and really live the life I was representing and talking to people about.”

While still a student at Franciscan, Dcn. Luke reached out to get in touch with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s then-Director of Vocations Fr. Luke Strand. A come-and-see weekend visit to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in the winter of 2017 further cemented his feeling that this was the place for him to continue his discernment, and he formally entered formation there upon his graduation from Franciscan University in 2019.

Just a few months after that, with the sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Saint Francis de sales Seminary became Saint Francis de sales Monastery,” Dcn. Luke quipped. The seminarians and faculty went into quarantine, and all non-residential staff members stayed home. But that unexpected period of isolation was actually a transformative time for Dcn. Luke, he said, and for the seminary community as a whole. As they celebrated Easter in 2020, the seminarians and priests were acutely aware that the rest of the United States was prohibited from gathering for Mass.

“To be in that space, to have the seminarians gathered together in the chapel and to be celebrating the liturgy with this profound sense that we were the only ones who got to do this, really brought with it the sense of the priestly responsibility to pray for the people of God,” he said.

With his classmates, Dcn. Luke spent the summers of his seminary years learning how to translate his classroom studies into ministry. During the summer of 2020, the seminarians embraced a lifestyle of ora et labora at the then-shuttered retreat center Camp Gray in the Diocese of Madison. Accompanied by a priest who oversaw their academics, the seminarians studied spiritual classics and Scripture in the morning and took care of the camp during the afternoon.

“That routine of prayer, study and manual labor was a great experience, and really cemented a lot of the relationships within the class,” he said.

The following summer, the group headed to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s sister parish La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic. “That was probably the most challenging of my summers in the seminary,” said Dcn. Luke, who does not speak fluent Spanish. “Just to enter into the poverty of not being able to express oneself — man, that was hard. In some ways, it’s the experience of being isolated and alone when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people.”

Having gone from high school seminary to college and, subsequently, straight into formation at major seminary, Dcn. Luke is ready to be finished with the classroom and embrace the life of a priest. As he looks back on the journey, he said he’s overcome with gratitude.

“The plan of God is so good,” he said. “Looking back on the experience as a whole, it’s just such a beautiful life. I feel so tremendously blessed.”

Dcn. Craig Richter

Home parish: St. John Neumann, Waukesha

Teaching parish: St. Raphael, Prince of Peace and St. Vincent de Paul, Milwaukee

Parish assignment: St. John Nepomuk, St. Joseph, St. Patrick, Sacred Heart, St. Richard, St. Edward and St. Lucy parishes (Racine) and St. Sebastian, Sturtevant.

When he was a young kid, Dcn. Craig Richter planned to be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.

“Then I didn’t grow up to be 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds,” said Dcn. Richter. “So, I figured God had other plans.”

God indeed had another journey plotted out for Dcn. Richter, and it didn’t pass through Titletown — though it did take detours through Minneapolis, Kansas City and a host of other cities before leading him straight back to the shores of Lake Michigan, where he is now preparing to be ordained a priest for his home archdiocese.

The oldest of three children, Dcn. Richter was baptized at St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield and grew up in Waukesha at St. John Neumann Parish. He attended grade school at St. Mary Catholic School (Waukesha), middle school at St. Joseph and public high school at Waukesha West. “Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I say Waukesha, St. John Neumann, but kind of all those parishes — they have all been home to me,” he said.

As a teenager, he credits several events with helping him to grow into a deeper relationship with God. One was the Catholic Youth Conference, now known as the Wisconsin Catholic Youth Rally, when he had a powerful experience during a period of Eucharistic Adoration. “The emcee said, ‘If anyone feels called to serve the Church, please stand up, we’re going to pray for you,’” he recalled. “I felt an electric jolt go through my body. My sister was next to me. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t stand up because I thought she would think it was weird. But from that day, I felt convinced God is calling me to serve the Church in some capacity.”

Another impactful event was hearing Dcn. Scott Campbell, a permanent deacon who serves the Catholic Community of Waukesha, preach for the first time. “I remember being at that Mass, listening to him preach, and saying, ‘I want to do that someday — be an ordained minister,’” he said. “And at that time, or shortly thereafter, I remember thinking of the priesthood for the first time — but quickly said, ‘Nah, that’s not for me.’ And I set my eyes on a career and a family.”

After graduating high school in 2009, Dcn. Richter headed to University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and he majored in accounting and minored in finance and Spanish. After graduation in 2013, he took a job with a business consulting firm and spent much of his time traveling around the United States.

“I had everything that I thought I would ever want. I stayed in the nicest hotels. I stayed in or ate at the nicest restaurants, traveled to a bunch of cities that I had never been to, was spending almost none of my own money and being paid a lot,” he said. But he was working 90 to 100 hours per week, and was neglecting his faith, family, friends and health. The work was clearly not what God intended for him. “I was asked to leave that job after a year because I wasn’t very good at it. And it’s one of the greatest things God’s ever done for me,” he said.

What happened next is the period of Dcn. Richter’s life that he calls his “restoration.”

“It made me realize, I’ve forgotten what the most important thing about me is, and that’s that I’m a beloved son of God,” he said. “All of a sudden, the thoughts of the priesthood started coming back. And I thought I was going crazy. I thought I had too much time on my hands.”

He took a job in Kansas City and began to prioritize his faith life again. He enjoyed his work, developed a community of other young Catholics, and even thought he was called to marry his girlfriend of a year-and-a-half. But after the relationship ended, he decided to finally give his attention to the thoughts that had never quite gone away about serving God as a priest.

“I recognized that if I’m really a Catholic man, and I really believe God calls men to be priests, I need to be courageous enough to ask the Lord if he’s calling me,” he said. “And so I did.”

He told God that he would give it six months of consideration and prayer. One month in, he knew the answer to the question.

Dcn. Richter entered priestly formation for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri in 2019, having now been away from the Milwaukee area for close to a decade. But shortly thereafter, he came to understand that God wasn’t just calling him to the priesthood. He was calling him to Milwaukee.

“He was calling me to come back home to the archdiocese which had raised me,” he said. “I felt God very clearly saying to me, ‘You don’t know anyone in Milwaukee, but I’m calling you back there, and I’m asking you to say yes.’”

That summer, he packed his belongings into his car and headed north, bound for Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

Now, right before ordination, he said “the whirlpool of emotions has begun.”

“I feel like Mary Magdalen running away from the tomb,” he said. “Fearful, yet overjoyed.”

Dcn. David Sweeney

Home parish: St. John Vianney, Brookfield

Teaching parish: St. Charles, Hartland

Parish assignment: St. Dominic, Brookfield

Dcn. David Sweeney always thought the priesthood would be a great life — for someone else.

“My mom’s uncle was a priest, and I knew him well and I had great admiration for him,” said Dcn. Sweeney. “If any of my classmates mentioned that they were interested in being a priest, I would say, ‘Yeah, you totally should. That would be an amazing life.’”

The third of seven children, Dcn. Sweeney’s childhood was defined by a tight-knit family experience. There was lots of reading and playing outdoors, hockey and Little League, Mass on Sunday and Catholic school during the week, and two weeks every summer swimming and fishing up north with the extended family, including that great-uncle who was a priest.

The family belonged to St. John Vianney Parish in Brookfield, and Dcn. Sweeney attended the parish school through eighth grade, afterwards heading to Marquette University High School.

He credits his 12 years of Catholic school with giving him a firm foundation in the faith, and when he graduated from MUHS in 2011 and headed to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, he was conscious of the fact that this would be his first non-Catholic educational experience.

“I didn’t want to lose my faith,” he said. He became involved at the St. Paul Catholic Student Center on campus, and the experience would be one that helped Dcn. Sweeney transform the faith of his childhood into the faith of his adulthood.

“From my upbringing, I knew I was never going to miss Sunday Mass. I fully realized the obligation there and intended on keeping it all through college,” he said. But his own interior life and prayer habits began to mature and develop through his involvement at St. Paul. “What really got me was the witness of my peers who had a real prayer life. I saw the joy that came with that, which was unlike the joy that I saw anywhere else on campus,” he said. “The students who were involved with St. Paul’s were the happiest students that I had met on campus. And I wanted that.”

But with prayer came reflection. Then, sure enough, the thoughts of priesthood — a great life, for someone else — began to appear in his mind.

“It really freaked me out,” he said. “I would be in prayer in the chapel, and I would start to imagine myself as a priest. And I was like, ‘That’s not a funny joke, God. This is what I get for trying to pray? Now I have to go be a priest?’”

The thoughts persisted, even as he tried to ignore them, going about the normal business of creating an adult life for himself. “I decided to trust that if God wanted me to be a priest, he was going to make it known,” said Dcn. Sweeney. He graduated from UW-Madison in 2015, and got a job and a girlfriend. Life seemed settled; he was living in downtown Milwaukee, working at an investment banking firm and attending Old St. Mary Parish while enjoying being involved with the Catholic young adult community. During this time, a friend questioned him if he had ever considered the priesthood.

“I said, ‘Well, yeah,’” he said. “He’s like, ‘Well, what have you done about it?’”

The friend put him in touch with Fr. Luke Strand, who invited Dcn. Sweeney to the seminary’s annual St. Andrew Dinner in December. As Dcn. Sweeney began to attend other discernment events at the seminary over the next few years, he realized that he had been looking in the wrong place for that great big sign that God was calling him to discern the priesthood.

The sign wasn’t going to come from outside of himself. It was going to come from within.

“What I learned is that God doesn’t call us through external factors. It’s internally, because he made us,” said Dcn. Sweeney. “If he made my heart to be a priest, then if I have thoughts, feelings and desires to be a priest. That’s revealing his call for my life, and I can trust those things.”

In the spring of 2018, he quit his job and applied to the seminary. The intervening six years have been ones of growth and discovery, said Dcn. Sweeney. When he was ordained a transitional deacon last year and began to participate in ministry, he delighted in seeing the fruits of the long hours of study.

“While doing a Baptism, you’re the person giving this child divine life, welcoming this family into the Church,” he said. “That’s really humbling, because God could have chosen anyone else.”

Along the way, Dcn. Sweeney would often hear senior priests reflect on the life to which God had called them.

“A number of times an older priest would say, ‘It’s an amazing life,’” he said. “And you could see they really meant it.”

He knows, now, that it is an amazing life — and it’s meant for him.

“God’s been so good to me,” he said. “I didn’t choose this life for myself. Really, I did — but I chose it because God chose it first for me.”