Fr. John Hemsing led Saint Francis de Sales Seminary as rector during an era of significant growth, and served as a decisive leader and generous spiritual father for more than a decade. In June, he plans to return to parish ministry.
Replacing him will be Fr. Luke Strand, who served as the vocation director for 10 years and concurrently as the vice-rector of the seminary for the past five years.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki announced Fr. Strand’s appointment on Wednesday, Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“This is a very positive time for the seminary. Fr. Hemsing has devoted more than 10 years of his priestly life to developing one of the greatest seminaries in the country,” Archbishop Listecki said. “He passes the reins to Fr. Strand, who is experienced and prepared to continue the remarkable legacy of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.”
Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese in 2009, Fr. Strand was born and raised in Dousman and attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh before entering Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. He studied at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in 2006 and was ordained a priest by the Most Rev. William Callahan, current bishop of the Diocese of LaCrosse.
Fr. Strand has two brothers who also serve as priests; Fr. Jacob Strand is the pastor of Holy Trinity and St. Michael in Kewaskum, and Fr. Vincent Strand, S.J., is currently in doctoral studies in systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame.
Fr. Strand spent his first three years of priesthood as a pastor in solidum of Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac, the largest parish in Wisconsin. In 2012, Archbishop Listecki asked him to serve as vocation director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
After being appointed vocation director, Fr. Strand began the Saint JPII House of Discernment at St. Robert Parish. To date, more than half of Milwaukee’s seminarians have lived there. It has provided a model that many dioceses throughout the country have followed.
He has served as the director of college seminarians and has been very involved in many youth and young adult apostolates, often as a conference speaker and chaplain.
Fr. Strand, 41, said he is grateful to Archbishop Listecki for his fatherhood and support.
“I am humbled by his decision to appoint me the 20th rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. I love the Salesianum and believe that the work of forming faithful priests is one of the most essential in the Church today. My hope is that Saint Francis de Sales will continue to be a light in the Province of Wisconsin and will be a catalyst for more diocesan priestly vocations,” Fr. Strand said. “It has been an honor to serve alongside Fr. Hemsing over the past five years. I have learned a great deal from him. He is a believer, a decisive leader and a man who truly cares. His humor is invigorating.”
While this new role will be a challenge, Fr. Strand is no stranger to challenges. Beginning in 2012, while he helped grow the number of seminarians from 17 to 45, he also battled stage 3 colorectal cancer for three years. He has been in remission for six years.
“This new role is daunting but exciting,” Fr. Strand said. “Moments like this provide a great opportunity to trust more fully in the Lord. I was thrilled that this announcement was made on the Solemnity of Our Lady, and I have been entrusting the Seminary to her protection and prayers. I am grateful to our seminarians and their families; the seminary staff, faculty and administration; our generous benefactors and priests; and all of those who make this mission of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary a reality.”
Fr. Strand will work alongside Fr. Hemsing to prepare for his new role as rector until June. He is also completing his doctor of ministry degree through the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois.