Msgr. Ross Shecterle and Sacred Heart Fr. Jan de Jong, incoming and outgoing rector, respectively, of Franklin’s Sacred Heart School of Theology, shared elements of their life stories when interviewed recently about their seminary’s leadership transition.
“I consider myself a Newman Center vocation,” Msgr. Shecterle said, explaining that he sang in a guitar group and was active in other activities at the center for Catholic students during his two years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Somewhere along the line, the Newman chaplain, Fr. Bob Cook of the La Crosse Diocese, asked the pre-med student and 1978 Greendale High School graduate if he might be interested in becoming a priest.
“I was seriously dating at the time,” Msgr. Shecterle recalled.
At first, he regarded Fr. Cook’s question as ridiculous. But the chaplain’s words proved to be “like a song that plays over and over” and the future seminary rector realized that his aspiration “to help people” in his career could definitely be realized as a priest. Soon enough, young Ross was enrolled at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.
The second of Don and Lois Shecterle’s four children and a onetime altar boy at St. Alphonsus Parish, Greendale, where his parents are still members, Msgr. Shecterle was ordained in 1986. His first priestly assignment (1986-90) was as associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish, Burlington.
“The joke in our family is that we had our own pew,” Msgr. Shecterle said with regard to his relatively large birth family and Sunday Mass at St. Al’s. If that is indeed the case, the de Jong family would’ve required a couple of pews in the church of Fr. Jan’s childhood in the Netherlands.
Fr. de Jong is the eldest of 12 children. His parents were devout Catholics, yet his father was less than delighted when the future priest revealed he’d be forsaking the family dairy farm for the seminary. Fr. de Jong was 14 or so at the time; it was an era when young men generally spent 12 years as seminarians – all of high school and college, then four years of theology.
Fr. de Jong became SHST’s 18th rector when his predecessor, Sacred Heart Fr. Thomas Cassidy, was chosen to serve as superior of the approximately 100 Priests of the Sacred Heart in the United States. He felt retiring in the year of his 75th birthday made sense, although he may return part-time to a SHST classroom after adjusting to life outside the rector’s office.
Fr. de Jong is living at the new senior residence, Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake, right across Highway 100 from SHST. A score of colleagues from his order are
among the many seniors at the complex.
During his first summer at Monasterey Lake, Fr. de Jong devoted time to growing dahlias, tomatoes and cantaloupes. He’ll soon return to Rome, where during and after Vatican II, he studied for his licentiate and doctorate in theology; the pleasure trip coincides with the inauguration of the Year of Faith. A specialist in medical ethics, Fr. de Jong serves on the ethics committee of the archdiocese.
Fr. de Jong’s tenure as rector included increased collaboration between SHST and Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, considerable enhancement of the SHST English as a Second Language Program, technological improvements and creation of a strategic plan for the seminary.