The annual archdiocesan priesthood ordinations will take place this Saturday, May 21, in the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist for three young men: Patrick Behling, Andrew Linn and Michael Wolfe. It will be the culmination of a long discernment process.
They will have been analyzed, scrutinized and spiritualized by academic and formational faculties of Saint Francis de Sales and Sacred Heart seminaries.
Reports have been gathered by collaborative lay ministers from their deacon and parish programs. They have spent time at La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic and a summer of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) in a hospital program of their choosing. All this data has been gathered in an effort to produce quality priests for the people of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
A vocation is a unique call of the Lord to serve the people of God as a priest. Like fingerprints or DNA, no two calls are alike. Each priest can tell you his particular vocation story and each is fascinating.
Having spent 24 and half years of my first 25 years in the priesthood serving as a faculty member in the seminary, I can testify vocations to the priesthood are not produced in a “cookie cutter” fashion. The mere “call” to the priesthood is not sufficient to be ordained.
The call seeks the affirmation of the church, which is only affirmed when the bishop places his hands on the head of the man. As a little boy (about age 3), I naively thought that to be a priest, all one had to do was become an altar boy and then learn how to celebrate the Mass. My 12 years in the seminary would cure me of that misconception.
We have been blessed to have a strong seminary program supported by many of the faithful of the archdiocese. Former seminary rector Bishop Donald J. Hying did a wonderful job instilling a confidence in seminary preparation through a deep commitment to serve Jesus in the church, and Fr. John Hemsing has ably continued the growth of the seminary to reach out to all the dioceses of Wisconsin becoming a truly provincial seminary for the first time in decades.
They have produced a program of which we can be proud; its preparation concentrates on the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.
The success of the seminary and vocation program did not happen overnight. Recently I was in Sheboygan at a gala dance event at Lakeland College, watching Fr. Matt Widder dance the Texas Two Step. Not a professional dancer, his willingness to make himself a public spectacle for the common good endeared him to his community. He offered his priesthood and they embraced his generosity.
It was there that I met a woman who had four sons. She told me, “Archbishop, I would be proud to have one or more of my sons become priests.”
This was music to my ears. I lived through a period of time when parents discouraged their sons and daughters from any desire for priesthood or religious life. A growing secularization, the clergy abuse scandal and a hyper sexualized society portrayed priesthood as a waste of one’s life. Yet here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, there seems to be a vocational environment friendly to priesthood.
Our vocation program has been supported over the years through dedicated priest vocation directors. Currently, our vocational program is headed by Fr. Luke Strand, who challenges young men at every stage of their lives to consider priesthood. Vocation camps for those in junior high, talks to high school students and living with men in the workforce in order to discern potential vocations.
His work is supported by many priests and seminarians. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan often stated that one of the best vocational recruitment tools is the seminarian who knows his contemporaries, is happy and can challenge his friends’ life style choices. This year, Fr. Strand will be joined by Fr. Enrique Hernandez as we explore potential candidacies in the Hispanic community.
There has been a consistent development of pietistic practices in the archdiocese: adoration, recitation of the rosary and devotional practices involving the lives of the saints. I am a firm believer that prayer makes a difference and the increase of prayer activity directly results in an increasing commitment to Christ and his church.
The years of praying for vocations to priesthood and religious life has had an effect in the manner that we view the importance of a vocational commitment.
The third is the example of the priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The example of a dedicated priest and the difference he makes is undeniable. At every priest funeral I perform I am encountered by a number of people whose lives were altered for the good because of the ministry of a “good priest.” They sought no advantage for themselves but merely to serve the Lord.
Our recently ordained priests have not only been examples of happy, dedicated priests, but they have actively supported the call of young men to the priesthood.
As I receive the promise of obedience, the pledge to live a life in accord with the Gospel and a commitment to a prayerful and chaste life for the sake of Christ and his church at this Saturday’s ordination, I look forward to the additions of these three priests and their assistance in meeting the challenges presented by our society in offering the only clear solution to its ills and that is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and taking his words to heart, “Follow me.”