Gradual process led to priesthood
But the sacred chrism didn’t soak in all at once; it was a gradual process. While he was earning his college degrees – an associate’s degree in arts and sciences from the University of Wisconsin – Washington County in 1999, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a double major in marketing and real estate and urban development from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 2001 – he entered different programs offered by the archdiocese to discern his call.
Upon graduating from West Bend East High School in 1997, Erich was told he should “continue to pray about it” during his freshman year before joining the minor seminary. “Then, they allowed me into the ‘Quo Vadis’ program my sophomore year of college,” which is Latin for “Where are you going?” Afterward, he continued his discernment through the “Seminary Without Walls” program his junior year and then continued with the college residence program his senior year.
He’s natural with people
He shifted gears after graduation and worked for his father, Joe Weiss, selling real estate with Shorewest Realtors in West Bend. He experienced quick success. The plaque still hangs on Erich’s bedroom wall at his father’s house – he achieved nearly $3 million in sales during the first of his two years working for the company, which Joe, a member of St. Lawrence Parish, St. Lawrence, said has been accomplished by only three or four other people his 31 years as the sales director of the real estate office in Washington County.
“He was just a natural with people,” he said.
Joe knew Erich would make a good agent, with his personality and the way people have always gravitated toward him.
“And he knew, too, that he had a very promising career and he walked away from that,” Joe said. “… worldly possessions were never a big factor in Erich’s life.”
During that time, Erich said he discerned the priesthood on his own and with the help of a spiritual director.
“It was then through prayer that I decided to spend the entire Lenten season of 2003 in penance in a Trappist monastery to discern, free from distractions in the world,” said Erich, who spent that time in a cloistered community in Conyers, Ga. When he returned, he joined the seminary ready to finish what he had started.
Erich’s many experiences made his 27-year-old brother, Nickolaus Weiss, a dentist in West Bend, value his older brother’s decision more.
“He kind of got experience of what it was like in the real world, and he still had that calling, so that made me respect him even that much more, whereas you can have the balance of … having a normal job, doing the everyday grind and still have that calling,” he said.
Over lunch, son shares future plans
Their father remembers the day Erich asked him to meet for lunch in Milwaukee and told him about his plans to become a parish priest.
“I always knew that at some point he would consider it,” Joe said.
Though elated, Joe also knew of the hardships with the priesthood.
“As a parent you always want everything, the best, for your kids and I was thinking of the burden sometimes of the priesthood, of being a single person and moving around every few years from parish to parish and not having roots like you normally would, growing a family and that sort of thing … but then I realized that was more of a selfish thing,” he said. “It’s what Erich really wanted and, of course, any parent, (any) Catholic parent, would like their son to be a priest.”
Erich told his dad he was set on parish life.
“He said, ‘I’m more in touch with people that way and with all of the everyday situations, and whether it be not just the problems of the people and the problems of the parish, but also the joys of the people and the parish,’” Joe said.
Joe told Erich that if the Lord is calling him to this vocation, then he’s “got to do it.”
“I think he was relieved because he wasn’t sure exactly what my reaction would be to it, but he knew I was always supportive of whatever he did,” Joe said, adding that it also didn’t come as a complete surprise because of his son’s experiences and the little “tip-offs” throughout his childhood.
Unusual request from a 9-year-old
Joe remembered his son’s interesting request when his grandmother gave him money for his ninth birthday: he wanted a rosary.
“… which was kind of an odd thing for a 9-year-old to want to buy, and it shocked me even, so I said, ‘Well, fine,’ and we went up to Holy Hill and he picked out a rosary and he has it to this day,” said Joe, adding that he just found one of the many rosaries Erich owns, in the couch when he was cleaning.
Nick also recognized “inklings” of Erich’s vocation sprinkled throughout their years growing up in their country home in West Bend with their father and their mother, Gail: Erich was an acolyte, serving at Masses at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in West Bend, and “he always took faith, and, actually, our family always took faith, really seriously,” Nick said, explaining that the openness among the members of his family is what he thinks allowed Erich to feel comfortable with the idea of priesthood.
The prayers and support of his parents and family helped Erich answer God’s call.
“In moments of confusion, I’ve been blessed with much longer periods of grace and peace because I prayed that Jesus would call me to whatever I was supposed to do, so I was confident that, in time, I would know,” he said.
Still, Erich said he and Nick, who talked “about everything in life from school to our faith to playing with action figures or fire trucks,” dreamt of other careers when they were growing up.
“I think Nick and I always dreamed of being baseball players in the summer or hockey players in the winter, but I don’t think either one of us had ever dreamed about the possibility of actually being a priest,” he said.
Sports are huge part of brothers’ lives
They had a normal childhood with brotherly tiffs like other siblings, and enjoyed sports together, which Joe said was a huge part of Erich’s life – baseball, ice hockey, volleyball, tennis, softball, soccer and bowling – evidenced by five shelves in his room lined with about 50 trophies, and two plaques commemorating the two perfect games Erich bowled.
Hockey continues to be one of the brothers’ favorites.
“It was kind of funny; sometimes people, whenever Erich was a seminarian out on the ice and kind of getting like a little bumping guys around and stuff, thought that was pretty funny,” Nick said of the same big brother who used to play with stuffed animals with him, creating characters out of them that performed in plays they put on for their parents.
Joe said that Erich, at times, engaged in fist-fights on the ice.
“And I always said, ‘Erich, be careful because someday you’re going to be handing out Communion and that guy that you punched in the nose is going to come up for Communion and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s this guy!’” Joe laughed in a phone interview with your Catholic Herald, adding that it’s all part of the game that Erich and his brother have loved since Joe first took them to an Admirals’ game.
Strong prayer life kept him focused
Erich knows that sports come with temptations, but prayer keeps him strong.
“Playing sports most of my whole life has been a tremendous blessing, but with that culture comes many temptations. So, just perseverance and a strong prayer life kept me more focused than not,” he said.
Erich dated in college and thought about marriage afterward, but “that’s just not what Jesus had in store for me,” he said, adding that if God didn’t want him to become a priest, he wouldn’t have allowed him to continue in the seminary “and be ordained to the sacred order of the diaconate and continue to affirm me all the way to priesthood.”
“I always thought that I wanted to do God’s will and understand that and not knowing growing up, I just prayed that Jesus call me to whatever it is that he wanted me to do and that I would have the strength through the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother to always lead me to her son if that strength was weakened,” he said.
As Erich’s ordination approaches, so does his chance to have a similar effect on the people he meets as Bishop Sklba did on him years ago. In the meantime, “I just put all my trust in the Lord for bringing me to this point in my life at this time and trust that as someone once put it to me, ‘Sometimes the church in her infinite wisdom moves at her own pace, and sometimes the church in her infinite wisdom moves at the speed of light. The rest – I’m just along for the ride,’” he said.