This is the second in a series of articles introducing you to the four men scheduled to be ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee this year. Ordination will be Saturday, May 18, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee.
Philip Schumaker’s description of his childhood seems straight from a Norman Rockwell painting.
One of six Schumaker children, he grew up on an 80-acre hobby farm just north of Milwaukee where the summer swimming pond turns into an ice skating rink in the winter; there are tennis courts, a basketball court, woods for exploring, not to mention dogs, cats and four horses.
It was a great place to be a kid, admitted Deacon Schumaker.
Mom, Colleen, homeschooled all of her children and their days began with daily Mass, even though for a while that meant a 17-mile drive one way to the nearest church in this rural Washington County area.
When Deacon Schumaker, 25, reflects on his journey to the priesthood, it’s this upbringing, this family oriented and faith-oriented lifestyle at the heart of his religious vocation.
“I have my family to thank for my vocation,” he told your Catholic Herald in an interview about three weeks before his ordination as a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. “They helped me to pray, taught me to pray, taught me about faith. Really, family is everything and I start to see that more and more as I get older.”
Because the family began their days with Mass, in the early years at St. Michael, St. Michael, and later at their current parish, St. Kilian in St. Kilian, Deacon Schumaker said he not only became familiar with the church, but with priests he now looks to as role models.
He served daily Mass for the late Fr. Victor Kemmer for seven or eight years.
“He’d always take the chasuble and hold it up in front of me and say, ‘You need to grow a little bit before you put it on,’” recalled Deacon Schumaker, adding he’d often encourage the youngster and his brothers to consider priesthood. “He was quite influential in my own vocation.”
Priesthood intrigued him from an early age, admitted Deacon Schumaker, but so did the idea of having a large family, similar to the one in which he grew up.
“I always knew I would be called to priesthood or I’d be called to marriage,” he said, explaining that both were possibilities for him after he finished high school and headed off to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., a place he felt he could continue learning about the Catholic faith and gain the skills to follow in his father, Rick’s footsteps an insurance salesman.
Instead of following his two older siblings to Marquette University, he chose St. Thomas where he lived in a Catholic studies lay formation house of men.
He found this living arrangement “less crazy than the dorms” and one where he forged lifelong friendships. While here, he weighed the options for his future, and his mom remembers him vacillating between choices.
“He came home one Christmas vacation and told us, no, he was going to get married, have a family which was more shocking to me than anything that he didn’t want to go to the seminary,” said Colleen in a telephone interview with your Catholic Herald.
He met regularly with a spiritual director at St. Thomas who he said guided him through his decision-making process.
“He asked why I’d want to be a priest, and I’d say, ‘I want to serve others, bring people (to) the sacraments,’ all very good things, and then he’d ask why I want to have a family and I’d say, ‘I’d want to have a wife, bring children up as good Christians, good Catholics,’ and he’d say, ‘Those are all good things again, but what about you and your relationship with God?’ It took me a while to understand what he was trying to say, he was trying to get me to see what God was calling me to was to bring myself to a close relationship to him. What would bring me to holiness,” explained Deacon Schumaker.
Being from such a close-knit family, Deacon Schumaker admitted it was tough to finally choose religious life over family life, but he is confident in his decision.
“I was raised in a wonderful, close-knit family and I see that, I desire that, and it’s a good thing to desire,” he said. “What makes it hard is that I have to leave something good behind and it was not easy to leave all that behind,” he said, explaining he believes God is asking him to give up one good for another good.
While he said there was no “lightning bolt moment” where he felt called to priesthood, Deacon Schumaker said that through prayer and discernment, he is convinced he is doing what God wants of him.
Deacon Schumaker is not leaving family behind when he is ordained. His first cousin, Deacon Patrick Burns, will be ordained with him and the two will join Deacon Burns’ older brother, Fr. John Burns (Class of 2010), as ordained members of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Calling it a wonderful blessing for their family, Colleen said she’s thrilled her son will have a built-in support system in his cousin.
She described the two as very different – not only in size. Deacon Schumaker at 6’4” is about 8 inches taller than his cousin, and Deacon Burns is much quieter than her son, said Colleen, yet she remembers from little on, the two were close, teasing each other affectionately.
“They tease each other constantly, and Patrick looks up to Philip while Philip looks down at Patrick, but they’re both good young men, very holy young men,” she said, adding they continue to have a good time together on the farm.
“They can act like a bunch of crazy young kids in the swimming pond, diving off the pier trying to outdo each other, causing me to ask them, ‘How old are you?’” she said, adding other times, they’ll have serious talks long into the night about faith and theology.
“They’re really a nice group of young men,” she said of the ordination class. “It’s amazing after they were ordained deacons to see how much they matured,” she said, adding she expects they will make wonderful priests.
As she looks to the future for her son, Colleen is certain of two things. She knows she’ll be needed to hem his clothes and she’ll also have to be prepared to do a lot of dancing.
“Philip loves to dance, he loves to swing dance, and I tell him, ‘You can dance with your sisters and your cousins, but you won’t be dancing with single women anymore,’ so he’ll always need someone to dance with him,” she predicted.
Also in his spare time, Deacon Schumaker enjoys sports, including soccer, football, hockey, tennis and skiing, both on the snow and in the water.
“I love to remain active, exercise helps keep me mentally sane and refreshes me,” said Deacon Schumaker, adding he also enjoys reading English and Russian literature and building remote control airplanes.
Yet, he knows his free time will be limited soon as he begins life as a parish priest.
He said he’s looking forward to everyday life in a parish, including daily Mass and hearing confessions.
“I look forward to being with people ministering to people in any way possible,” he said, adding because family is so important to him, he hopes to help strengthen families which he described as “the building block of our church.”
He’s also happy to be a visible sign of Christ in the world. He said he is getting used to wearing his Roman collar in public and said he was gratified recently when a woman approached him at a restaurant.
“We were there eating and a woman came up and thanked me for what I was doing,” he explained, adding that she told him it was wonderful he was wearing his collar.
“It’s a beautiful time to become a priest,” he said, adding while his decision may be countercultural, “there is a beauty in doing it now.
I think my generation is searching for something, it is searching for love and intimacy and those things are only truly provided in a relationship with God. Hopefully in my ministry as a priest, I can bring people to Christ and let them know they are loved by God.”