Catholic Herald Staff
The call to diocesan priesthood in the Diocese of Superior was, for Minnesota native Dcn. Isaiah Schick, “a love that was kindled and that the Lord fostered.”
Dcn. Schick has deep Superior roots – his mother grew up in the diocesan seat, and her father was the maintenance man for many years at the Chancery offices. Priests frequented the Gomulak home and the transitional deacon visited his grandparents and extended family often. He remembers going to Mass at the parishes of Holy Assumption and St. William in Superior almost as much as his home parish in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.
Time spent as a Totus Tuus missionary was Schick’s first exposure to the diocese as a whole, but his exposure to city and country life growing up contributed to the sense of familiarity he discovered.
His priestly call has a direct tie to the diocese. Helping out on a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat while he was in high school, Schick remembers vividly Fr. Patrick McConnell, who served as the weekend chaplain.
“There was something about the way he prayed and his reverence for the Eucharist,” Schick recalled. “I could see he believed it.”
That experience broke open the initial thoughts of a potential call to the priesthood, and the young man noticed a growing desire for it.
Schick attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville and was part of their priestly discernment program. While it was not a seminary per se, the men shared some elements of community life and received formation. It was a “really helpful” stage and setting for further discernment, Schick said.
Clarity and conviction for a priestly call came in the spring of 2016 while Schick was studying in Austria through Steubenville’s study abroad program. Visiting Auschwitz’s labor and extermination camps, he felt an intense experience of wrestling with evil and human suffering. Those moments became an invitation from God to share in the suffering of his people and share divine light shining in those dark places.
“It was an invitation to share the message of (the) good news” and the redemption of Christ, which allows his grace to triumph over all … it was a call to invite others into the mystery of the cross, of suffering and love. To know that there’s a light and that light and love can last forever,” Schick said.
He acknowledged that the process of discernment can entail fears, admitting his first question to God was, “Why me?” That answer wasn’t as important as his process of following and trusting God more than himself and trusting in God’s continued presence and grace.
Dcn. Schick clarified that discernment is not like playing “Let’s make a deal,” where there are curtained options and if you don’t choose the right one, “you’ll get zonked.” He said there can be fear of making a wrong choice, “but it is much more a process of Jesus asking us to trust him every single day, in little ways … in this moment of temptation, in this moment of struggle.”
He affirmed there are definitely “hinge moments,” but his advice to discerners is to be less focused on asking and trusting God to answer the big questions, and more on listening and trusting God’s invitations every single day.
Discernment, he added, “is a lifelong habit.”
Our vocation isn’t just something external to us, the deacon continued. He enters our heart through the grace of baptism and so, staying close to the sacraments and developing a real relationship with God, discernment is best understood and lived as “a process of listening to his voice within you.” He acknowledged his voice acts internally and externally.
“We realize he is moving in the hearts of other people. He’s moving in the Scriptures and in the sacraments. So, sometimes it seems external, because he’s speaking through another person, because he is also in their heart.”
The ways these external and internal dynamics operate are elements of God’s providence. He saw this continually throughout his years in major seminary.
“Yes, there were many moments of significant grace,” Schick recognizes, but he zeroed in on two specific elements of seminary life.
“Seminary is designed to be a place of freedom to really cultivate a recognition of God’s voice. It is built right into the structure … Everything is structured toward forming your mind and heart – to be alone with him and to be with him in community,” he described.
He explained how the first few years are really designed to help a person learn to pay attention and notice through the structure and schedule, although it deepens through all the years.
Secondly, communal life was a significant element of his human formation. “Grace is present … but all your flaws come out” living in community, in a way that someone has likely only lived with family before.
“That’s helpful,” Schick said, “because then you see these issues, struggles and vices that you’ve never dealt with, and you can’t run away from … It’s a great grace,” he added, because of the support resources and mentoring that help form and integrate your humanity, which builds a foundation on which grace can flourish.
“Most of my moments of grace happened within those dynamics,” he added.
He admitted a lot of challenges, as well; in particular, never having a break from school. Moving from college right into major seminary required perseverance and growth in self-motivation. Schick said he loves learning and has always done well in school, but not having any real separation between stages of structured study necessitated renewing the conviction of why he was doing it.
When asked about making the transition from preparation for the priesthood to the living out of his new priestly ministry, the deacon answered, “In terms of a community of human people that you are living with in an intense way, yes, it’s a big shift.
“The logic of seminary teaches you how to engage and invest in community over time so that when you go out into a parish” you have learned the framework. How do you reach out to people? Find fraternity? Challenge yourself not to shy away from people you’re naturally challenged by?
In what Schick calls “the daily adventure,” the ins and outs and ups and downs of all aspects – big and small – of daily and community and ministerial life – are wrapped up in relationship and closeness with God.
He is confident that the structures of knowing that he is not alone, ever, in his life, have been formed in the seminary and will continue maturing over days and years to come.
“In that way, instead of being simply fearful – even though adventure has an element of the unknown – it’s also excitement.
“I simply don’t know what it’s actually going to be like to hear someone’s confession; I simply don’t know what it’s actually going to be like to say a funeral for someone’s child who passed away in a tragic accident, but that habit of being with the Lord and just trusting that no matter what comes, there is an internal regularity of knowing he is always there.”
It is essentially a deep confidence, he summarized, which allows for mistakes but knowing that you are never alone. He has seen that there has been a cultural and societal shift in this understanding and appreciation of community life even among the laity.
The importance of the priesthood as a real spiritual father is something Schick sees involves both giving and receiving a deeper sense of community.
“It’s not optional – whether you like it or not, the people sitting next to you are your brothers and sisters in a way that’s more real than your connection to biological brothers and sisters,” he expounded. “If you’re not talking to them sometimes, at least in some way, there’s something deeply wrong.”
“I most look forward to the daily adventure because I really don’t know – what any of it is going to exactly be like,” he said, adding that he is particularly excited and humbled to begin celebrating the sacraments.
“I don’t know what the Lord has planned for me, for the parish, for the diocese or for our county or our world. But what I do know is that it’s going to be good, and that God has gifts he wants to give me and to give through me,” Dcn. Schick said, “and that excites me the most.”
He is excited to live out his priestly ministry in the Diocese of Superior because he sees “a new stirring up of the Holy Spirit,” something he has seen everywhere – in Bishop James P. Powers, the priests, the people, the diocesan offices, youth events and more.
“There is the beginning of a new zeal, hunger and desire to live our identity as missionary church and family,” he stated, admitting he senses it is unique to this diocese. He feels honored to be called to the priesthood amid this historic moment and wants to encourage the laity to be docile to the Holy Spirit’s movement in these times.
Dcn. Isaiah Schick