Fr. Samuel Schneider explains evening prayer from the priests’ breviary to young men and parents in the sanctuary at Immaculate Conception Church in New Richmond before praying to conclude the regional vocations event. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Twenty-five young men and many of their parents gathered with priests from the Diocese of Superior for a casual come-and-see evening centered on discernment of the priesthood. The St. Andrew dinner vocational event was hosted at Immaculate Conception Church in New Richmond on May 30.
Fr. John Anderson, New Richmond native and Immaculate Conception’s pastor celebrating his 25th year as a priest, welcomed participants, saying it was a success just to have a group of that size come together to grow in faith.

Different paths

Bishop James P. Powers gave his vocational testimony to the entire group. Sharing that he dropped out of the seminary after his first year and “ran from the vocation” for as long as he could, he was grateful for the happy years he spent farming and selling insurance. He said the most important thing is “listening to God,” and added, “I cannot imagine any place being any happier than I have been for the 28 years I’ve been ordained, and that includes the better than two years as a bishop.”

Fr. Adam Laski continued an open forum with the young men and other priests present, while parents were invited to hear the testimony of one of the young priests and his parents.

First to share his story was Fr. Joseph (Jojappa) Madanu, serving in the Grantsburg and Frederic parishes. He spoke of the Eucharist and the role his mother played in his vocation, her encouragement while he attended high school seminary, where he experienced God’s personal call.

Following a very different path, diocesan vocations director Fr. Thomas Thompson did a discernment year in college and ended up spending 12 years in the Navy. Originally from Stillwater and assigned to the Cumberland cluster, he also experienced the influence and encouragement of his parents.

“No two days are ever alike, but the Eucharist stays the same,” he said.

Broaching the subject of marriage, Fr. Samual Schneider, ordained in 2017, said that society has young people on “autopilot” directed toward marriage.

Fr. Adam Laski, who ministers in Superior, joked, “Seminarians start to discern marriage just before finals week.” He added, “As human beings, we’re always lured by the green grass.”

Fr. Laski was speaking from experience. Before entering the seminary, he had a girlfriend, a “beautiful relationship.” They challenged each other to live chastely and authentically, but he felt the “tug of priesthood.” He said while he had seen the beauty of marriage through family members, he saw priesthood as God’s “invitation for greater intimacy with Him.”

“Spiritual life is foundational to hear God’s call, whatever it is,” he continued. Acknowledging marriage as the natural vocation, the young priest said that “God speaks in peace, not vegging on the couch, not overloading on pleasures.

“Joy and peace are experienced when you open your heart to God’s will and hear Him calling,” he said.
Assuring the young men that God will reveal himself and that discernment continues throughout seminary, Fr. Laski challenged, “We don’t want perpetual discerners – we want men who can make a decision.”

Fr. Laski himself wasn’t 100-percent sure of his calling upon entering the seminary. He was “predominantly peaceful” until his ordination as a deacon. It was then he experienced “so much joy and peace.”

After breaking into small groups for discussion on silence and prayer, Frs. Laski and Schneider helped summarize conclusions: the need for intentional moments of silence, seeking out time for prayer and the courage and motivation to take the first steps.

“Shoot low but consistently,” was the advice Fr. Samuel Schneider gave; he said even five minutes a day was better than nothing and to build from there.

“Silence isn’t just the absence of noise,” he said to start his own testimony. Although he didn’t have a cell phone in high school or other technology distractions, he didn’t pray. It wasn’t ever something talked about amongst his friends either.

Fr. Schneider didn’t have any specific career goals; just to make money, retire early and have a few kids. While at the Naval Academy, through roundabout circumstances, he came to personally appreciate Mass and the Eucharist.

It was during a mission trip with Franciscan Friars of the Renewal – whose “totally poor, totally happy” lives struck him – that he began considering a life of the evangelical virtues. He saw “priests aren’t freaks of nature that couldn’t get a girlfriend; they don’t become priests because they have no other options.”

That trip gave him a strong experience that God does exist. He couldn’t help but ask himself, “and what are you gonna do about it?”

Parents’ perspective

Fr. David Neuschwander and his parents, Lee and Mary Jo, shared their own story with parents present and offered a time for questions and answers.

The Neuschwanders’ son experienced a conversion in his faith during high school, a process in which they joined him. Even though the thought of a vocation was foreign, the mother confessed her misconception that the seminary was itself a commitment to the priesthood.

With the St. John Vianney College Seminary at St. Thomas University near their home in Hudson, David and his parents were able to experience the seminary through the monthly Vianney nights and come-and-see weekend events.

“I didn’t realize the discernment process and how wonderful the seminaries are in that respect,” Mary Jo said. “I knew that if God was not calling him, he would not be a priest.”

Fr. David shared that in his seminary experience, only one-third of college seminarians go on to major seminary; even then, some still discern out. He had been unsure himself of moving on, having entered the seminary right after high school.

His parents’ advice was, “Go for it – we love you and will support you in whatever decision you make, and we know you’ll make the right one.” With some effort, he saw the wisdom in their encouragement to make his own personal decision without external pressure.

Fr. Neuschwander has stayed in touch with fellow classmates who did not go on to be ordained. He affirmed they, and their wives, would say they were better men for it.

One parent asked about how seminary studies are financed. The Neuschwanders received support with scholarships, as well as the efforts of CCW groups and Knights of Columbus for basic needs. Chris Newkirk, a lay member of the vocations team, offered specific information about the breakdown of college and major seminary costs and what portion the diocese covers.

Newkirk also commented on “the beauty” of how Bishop Powers has set up the vocations team. A younger priest is partnered with a seasoned priest in each region. The vocations office plans to launch an online portal to facilitate communication and offer resource links for youths and parents.

Other points of discussion with the group of parents included the importance of getting to know different priests as “real people;” Eucharistic adoration; how seminary studies can be used by a young man who does discern out of seminary; as well as the usefulness of varying college degrees in the priesthood for men who enter seminary later on.

“The best thing for discernment,” the young priest advised, “is just getting a guy closer to God –
knowing the Lord, praying, living out his faith. The more that happens, the more he’ll be able to hear where God is leading him.”

Fr. Neuschwander said how grateful he is to his parents, for their marriage and dedication to each other; and added he is glad that his brother has given them grandchildren.

“They gave up so much for my brother and I and went to amazing lengths to do as much as they could to help us, whatever that meant,” he said.

“(They are an) amazing example of love and giving your life away,” he continued, “a huge inspiration for me in the priesthood to give my life away.”