This is the first in a series of articles introducing you to the seven men who will be ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee this year. Ordination for six of them will take place on Saturday, May 19, while the seventh will be ordained later in the year.
For most Catholic families, having a son called to the priesthood is a time for celebration; but, for Jerry and Bernadette Strand, when their son Jacob announced God’s call, they were thrice blessed. Ordained a transitional deacon on Oct. 6, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Deacon Strand, 26, is the third of their three sons to answer the call to the priesthood.
“My oldest brother is Fr. Luke Strand, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, (associate pastor of Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac) and my next oldest brother is Vincent Strand, S.J., a Jesuit of the Wisconsin Province, who is completing his regency,” he said. “I also have a beautiful sister, Theresa, who was married last summer.”
Raised in Dousman, Deacon Strand attended St. Bruno School through eighth grade and graduated from Kettle Moraine High School. For two years, he attended the University of Wisconsin La Crosse before entering St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University in Chicago.
Brothers are role models
As a child and young teen, Deacon Strand didn’t have a plan for his future. By the end of his senior year of high school, however, he felt God might be calling him to the priesthood.
“I was very frightened by this, and so I didn’t take any decisive steps toward entering the seminary,” he admitted. “Over two and a half years later, I finally decided to enter the seminary. To most of my family and friends, this was a great surprise. I think this reaction is typically to be expected because God’s will always supersedes our expectations. However, with time, people began to sense that I was very joyful and fulfilled in the seminary, and because of this, they began to trust that this was my vocation.”
Fr. Strand, who was at the time studying to be a priest, remembers feeling happy for his younger brother when he shared his plans. “He was a student at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse and he and my brother Vince and I were on a hike up on the bluffs and it was at that point that he told us that he was kind of thinking about it,” Fr. Strand told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview.
|Following Deacon Strand’s
ordination, May 19, he will serve as the temporary associate pastor of St. Charles Parish in Hartland for the summer. Following this
assignment, he will study one
additional year to complete his
License in Theology in Rome before returning for a longer assignment in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
He described his little brother as a “very intense man who has a real desire for the truth,” which showed through even in his high school days when Deacon Strand, quarterback at Kettle Moraine High School, would stop at church on Friday football game days before school to pray for about 15 minutes.
“And he would bring other football players with him,” Fr. Strand said of the little brother he knew as athletic, smart, and an avid hunter and fisherman growing up. “And I think it really just showed his devotion to his life of faith.”
Does ‘goofy’ things to surprise family
Fr. Strand also knew Deacon Strand, whom he described as a very “holy” man, as the little brother who was always doing “goofy” things and surprising the family.
“He just never did what was expected,” Fr. Strand said. “I recently, in one of my homilies, compared him to John the Baptist who ran around in camel’s hair in the desert, because Jacob would run around with deer hides on and other funny (things) … it was like the real, avid outdoorsman,” he laughed, noting that he’s excited for Deacon Strand and feels “so blessed that he’s my brother.”
Deacon Strand credits his brothers for the gift of a great example.
“When they began to respond to their vocations, I was always impressed by how fulfilling their lives seemed,” he said. “My sister has also offered a great example of hope in helping me to trust in St. Paul’s words that ‘love never fails.’”
While Deacon Strand can’t pinpoint an exact moment that he heard God’s call, he said God had been quietly working in his life for many years, molding and nudging him along until it was the appropriate time.
Driven to succeed
An intense drive to succeed seemed to be ingrained in Deacon Strand’s spirit through much of his life; and he worked hard playing football, basketball and baseball at Kettle Moraine High School to become the best athlete he could, in order to win the praise of others.
His approach to schoolwork was similar, and many times while attending UW-La Crosse, he remembers being up all night studying biology trying for a top test score.
Despite his desire for acclaim and accolades, an unwelcome emptiness remained that sports and school were unable to fill.
“In my attempts to succeed and win the praise of others, I would often experience the utter futility of relying upon my own resources and the vanity of others’ approval,” he explained. “After being humbled in this way, the Lord would show me that without him, I could truly do nothing. By embracing this state of total dependence upon him, he began to touch me personally with the depths of his love.”
After a while, Deacon Strand recognized that his successes and the admiration others held for him paled in comparison to God’s love for him. It became so overwhelming, that in order to receive his love constantly, it was worth giving up everything.
“At the same time, I could not help but desire everyone to encounter this freeing love and enter into real communion with God,” he said. “I think the Lord used this desire to lead me to the priesthood.”
Family nourished vocations
His faith-filled family nourished his openness to God’s call, as evidenced by the three religious vocations. Whether it was praying grace before meals, attending Mass together or volunteering at St. Bruno Parish, the family did it together and integrated their Catholic faith into everyday life.
“My parents consistently offered us four children unconditional, parental love,” Deacon Strand said. “I think that this struck us as a beautiful way to live and so we naturally tried to reciprocate this love. This formed a very close, caring family that was open to the One who is Love. In this way, the grace of God was hidden within the very fabric of our family. Family life offered me a great experience of true communion.”
During his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome,
Deacon Strand has offered free tours of St. Peter’s Basilica to English-speaking pilgrims, assisted at the St. Thomas University Campus in Rome, assisted as deacon at the U.S Navy Base in Naples Italy, and performed various jobs in the seminary.
While home in the summer, he has interned at St. Charles Parish in Hartland, and in his spare time enjoys fishing and hunting.
“Those are two things I miss greatly while in Rome,” he said. “I also appreciate being able to exercise by biking, lifting weights and playing some sports. Of course, after studying philosophy and theology for six years, I am always working on a few books too.”
Takes comfort in St. Paul’s words
As he looks forward to his ordination next month, Deacon Strand takes comfort in St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
“God never calls anyone to be an independently strong priest,” he said. “Instead, he calls priests to be weak so that his grace may flow through them. Therefore, the priesthood is not so much about individual men as it is about the love of God flowing into the church through the priest, so as to transform human hearts. So, whenever I am feeling especially unworthy, I try to remember that this is probably a grace in itself.”
Deacon Strand said his greatest challenge as a priest will be the challenge of faith. “This is why we all need to pray for the gift of faith daily,” he said. “I am most looking forward to experiencing the ways in which God will use me as an instrument of his grace to help people encounter the deep, transforming love of the heart of Jesus. I think that witnessing this encounter will be especially powerful while celebrating the Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick, praying with people, teaching the faith and simply discussing the wonders of God’s love. Nothing is more exciting that seeing the grace of God work in the world. The priest gets to see this often.”
In the beginning of his journey, Deacon Strand was inspired by the life of Blessed John Paul II to enter the seminary. Since entering, the example Pope Benedict XVI has guided him along the right path.
“I could not be more grateful to have been taught by two such holy and wise popes,” he said, adding, “The priests who most influenced my decision to enter the seminary were those who were joyful and full of love for Jesus. Growing up, I was consistently impressed by the spiritual fatherhood of my pastor, Fr. John Schreiter. I also have an aunt, Mother Miriam (member of the Poor Clare Sisters in Kokomo, Ind.), who lives a hidden monastic life of prayer and penance. She has always shown me that being a friend of Jesus is so great, that nothing else is necessary. She has also certainly been a powerful intercessor and has greatly helped me respond to God’s call.”
While Deacon Strand admits he has a normal fear of giving everything to Jesus, he reflects on the words of Pope Benedict XVI.
“Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life,” he said.
“In the past six years, I have returned to these words countless times in prayer and have always received the faith to trust that the pope is right,” said Deacon Strand.