This is the second of three articles introducing you to the three men scheduled to be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Saturday, May 21, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee.
Ask Deacon Andrew Linn how old he is and he’ll tell you he’s 30 years old. Then he’ll add,
“The same age Christ was when he began his public ministry.”
The oldest of Patrice and Tom Linn’s seven children, Deacon Linn grew up in Shorewood where he may have started his “public ministry” 28 years earlier.
His mother remembers taking then 2-year-old Andrew to Mass one Sunday at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
“He got away from me and it was at the end of Mass,” Patrice recalled, noting she was holding another baby as it was happening. “He ran down the center aisle and the priest picked him up and put him in the big chair (presider’s chair)… it was really cute.”
But at the time, the young mother didn’t think it was so adorable.
“I was standing back there with the younger baby absolutely mortified,” she said. “We’re very proud of him. We think he’ll make a great priest.”
Surrounded by family
Family was always important in the Linn home. Paternal grandparents lived next door and on the other side of them were an aunt, uncle and cousins. Besides three brothers and three sisters, Deacon Linn also has 46 cousins living in the Milwaukee and Chicagoland areas.
“We’re all committed to having strong friendships with each other and we do,” he said of his large immediate family. “Those friendships are really a huge blessing.”
But as with all large families, keeping the peace had its difficult moments.
“Whenever we would get into a fight we would always have to go back and make up,” Deacon Linn said. “One of the worst (ways to make up) was to say the Our Father. Because if you take the Our Father seriously and you’re bitter or mad, there’s a conflict there.”
Even today he remembers being annoyed by this type of conflict resolution.
“We were always irritated by it,” he said. “You can’t say it honestly and hold a grudge against someone.”
As a student at Marquette University High School, Deacon Linn was involved in a variety of activities. He swam year round, was on the debate team, auditioned for plays and musicals, was a member of the math and chess clubs.
“I was kind of a geek,” he said, reflecting on those years.
After graduating in 2004, he went to the University of Notre Dame, a school he’d had his eyes on since a family visit to the campus when he was 10 years old.
“He walked around the campus and said, ‘Wow, I want to go here,’” Patrice said. “And I said, ‘Well, Andrew, if you want to go here you’re going to have to be a really good student and you’re going to have to do ROTC because we can’t afford it.’”
Eight years later, that’s exactly what happened, but not before some probing questioning from his favorite teacher at Marquette, Joseph Griesbach.
“He did not discourage me, but he challenged me to think seriously about whether or not I wanted to enter the military,” Deacon Linn said. “Both for my own safety sake and for the question of whether or not I wanted to be in a position where I would have to take someone’s life.”
ND and ROTC
Deacon Linn entered the ROTC for the U.S. Navy while at Notre Dame.
“I decided on the Navy because the Navy offered full scholarships, but also because I love to swim; I love the water,” he said. “That was a little bit foolish. Most people in the Navy don’t need to swim because if you’re swimming, something has gone seriously wrong.”
The idea of becoming a priest was always there, but doubts arose along the way. During his time at Notre Dame, according to Deacon Linn, he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do professionally. He started off in biology with thoughts of becoming a doctor. He eventually switched to philosophy and almost majored in business.
“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think about being a priest,” he said. “In college I thought about that question a lot. Sometimes I wanted to be a priest, sometimes I really didn’t.”
During his sophomore year he dated a woman he thought could be “the one,” but it wasn’t meant to be and the relationship ended.
“That was painful for me,” Deacon Linn said of that time.
Struggles followed by answers
All the while, priesthood remained on his mind, but he struggled. Once when he was hanging out with some friends, one of them told him he’d make a good priest.
“I yelled at him; I was so pissed,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be a priest! Do not talk to me about being a priest! God’s not calling me to be a priest! I want to get married!’”
While struggling to find the right major in the right field, he was reminded there was no need to rush, he had a job ready after graduation – active duty in the U.S. Navy.
But during his senior year he applied to the Saint Francis de Sales Seminary to become a priest and return to the Navy as a chaplain. After submitting his application, Deacon Linn began dating a woman and decided to withdraw his application to the seminary.
“That afternoon, Archbishop (Timothy) Dolan called to congratulate me on being accepted into the seminary,” he said. “That was a little awkward.”
After a few weeks, the romantic relationship ended with “no hard feelings.”
“I’m really grateful it worked out how it did,” Deacon Linn said. “God purified my intentions.”
Following graduation, he went into the Navy and was deployed to the Persian Gulf for seven months in 2009.
The thought of going into the military didn’t surprise the family.
“I thought the Navy was safer than some of the other branches,” Patrice said. “I thought it would be good for him and I thought he would be good in it.”
On Jan. 10, 2010, an earthquake rocked Haiti and two days later Deacon Linn was on the USS Bataan heading for the island to help with the relief.
“We sent water ashore; we had Marines aboard flying helicopters doing search and rescue missions,” he said. “We flew victims aboard because my ship, an amphibious ship, had, I think, 84 hospital beds.”
It’s tradition on a ship to announce the presence of officers as they board or depart.
Deacon Linn said, for example, for a lieutenant there would be two bells, a commander or captain would have four bells and an admiral would have six bells. While in Haiti he remembers the arrival of a very special guest.
“We actually had a woman who was injured by one of those landslides, flown aboard, she gave birth aboard and this was one of the clearest memories from that,” he said.
While that was happening he was on the bridge of the ship when he got a call from the ship’s commander who told him to “strike four bells and announce baby arriving.”
To this day it’s a memory that brings a giant smile to his face.
“The birth of a baby is a big deal and it doesn’t happen on ships very often,” Deacon Linn said. “We had probably saved this baby’s life and the mother’s life.”
The USS Bataan served just under 90 days in Haiti during which time Deacon Linn had several jobs, including being the anti-terrorism officer.
“I am very grateful that I was never in combat,” he said, adding there were times when he had to issue weapons to sailors for their watches. “Thankfully, during my tour, during my time, none of my sailors fired a weapon.”
Despite being at sea, there was a Catholic chaplain on board — one of the reasons why he chose this ship. Another reason for choosing it was so he would never be in a position to disobey an order for moral reasons.
“I’ve heard of orders that would’ve made me feel conflicted,” Deacon Linn said. “I intentionally didn’t serve on a ballistic submarine, a ballistic missile submarine. I made a point of avoiding that kind of service because I didn’t want to have to make the decision, ‘Can I pull this trigger to launch a nuclear warhead?’”
He admitted that specific decision probably isn’t that simple.
“I don’t exactly know how that process works and even if I did I don’t think I could talk about it,” he said. “But I do know there are people involved in the decision to fire those weapons and I’m not sure that there are many circumstances, if any, in which you could justly launch a nuclear warhead.”
After Haiti, he would spend most of his service in Virginia.
“My last official act as an active duty officer was to commission my brother into the Marine Corps,” Deacon Linn said. “That was a pretty amazing experience.”
The event happened at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette University campus.
“To think they’ve grown up and had their little tiffs, and here they were doing good stuff,” Patrice remembers from that day in 2012.
After being discharged from the Navy in 2012 as a lieutenant, Deacon Linn entered Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and began studying for the priesthood.
To Patrice, this wasn’t a surprise to the family at all.
“He was always very serious, very mature,” she said. “I always thought this was a possibility.”
Patrice said her oldest child would sometimes act like the “junior parent,” always looking out for the younger members of the family.
For his sister, Teresa, a senior at Divine Savior Holy Angels, this seemed like the “natural” thing for her older brother to do.
“He’s always been very faithful and religious,” Teresa said. “It’s definitely what he’s supposed to do.”
Teresa said her brother has grown from being the a babysitter to a friend that helps her “grow in my faith.”
“He always offers to come to Mass with me and if we’re in the car we’ll pray a rosary,” she said. “He always offers to pray with us.”
When he’s not studying, Deacon Linn enjoys spending time with his family.
“We play board games. We play basketball. I love to watch the (Green Bay) Packers with my family,” he said. “There’s something about watching (the Packer game) with my family that’s different than watching it by yourself or with a group of other people. It reminds me of the security of childhood.”
‘Doctor for souls’
Deacon Linn said he’s looking forward to a becoming a priest but he knows there is a lot of responsibility that goes with the vocation. He calls being a priest a “doctor for souls.”
“A little screw up really matters,” he said. “That little screw up could be a short reaction to some incident, an impatient reaction, it could be an inconsiderate look, it could be absentminded forgetfulness. It could be any number of little things that are not intentional (but) that could really hurt someone.”
The part of priesthood that worries him, and excites him, the most is confession.
“Even the firmest priests who have been my confessors, I have felt through them tremendous mercy,” he said. “I’m a sinner. I go to confession frequently and I feel in those words of absolution the love and mercy of God.”