It’s not all serious study for Diocese of Superior seminarians, pictured with Fr. Patrick McConnell during a recent weekend visit. Frs. David Neuschwander and Andrew Ricci also spent time with the six men discerning the diocesan priesthood. (Submitted photo)
Catholic Herald Staff
Bishop James P. Powers has acknowledged that Called North – the online presence for the Diocese of Superior Vocations Office – has been a proactive initiative and an encouraging accessible presence of support and resources for men open to a call to the diocesan priesthood.
Fr. David Neuschwander, a member of the vocations team, recently shared updates on the fruits of those efforts.
The Vocations Rosary challenge, which was started at the beginning of 2021 with a goal of 1,200 rosaries, is going “very well.” Given the positive response and participation, a new goal was set at the end of the summer of 12,000 rosaries.
He was pleased to report that the diocese’s response is “far exceeding that goal.”
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Fr. Neuschwander continued, “that in this 10th year of the diocesan vocations prayer – as we’re praying all these rosaries for seminarians – we have four new men in the seminary process.”
He mentioned the rosary challenge came about as an initiative to continue promoting vocations as well as trusting and acknowledging how those prayers are being answered.
Fr. Neuschwander added that the class of four incoming seminarians – all college graduates and beyond, studying at St. Francis de Sales graduate seminary in Milwaukee – is the largest in 15 years.
According to the registry of ordinations on the diocesan website, since Bishop James Powers was ordained in 1990, there were 10 men ordained before the turn of the century, one of whom is retired.
After five years with no ordination, the late Fr. Eugene Hornung was ordained in 2003. Of the 17 active priests ordained through 2020, two are deceased and five retired. Two are on leave, and another, Fr. Samuel Schneider, is currently serving as a military chaplain in the U.S. Navy.
Fr. Neuschwander also pointed out, as he shares over and over, that the seminary is itself part of the process of discernment. Likening the seminary to dating is another frequent commentary of his – the purpose of dating is to get to know someone and discern if they are “the one.” You do not, in fact cannot, effectively discern without spending time and getting to know each other.
Of his own vocational journey, Fr. Neuschwander acknowledged, “I felt a tug and a call, but I went to seminary to indeed find out if that call was the priesthood.”
Fr. Neuschwander addressed statistics of men entering and leaving the seminary.
Of college seminarians, about 33 percent will move through to ordination, he stated. Referencing a priest from his college seminary days, he added that “a sign of a good seminary is when a lot of guys are joining and a lot of guys are leaving.”
With two-thirds of men going in coming out, Fr. Neuschwander affirmed the formation and growth in the faith they receive.
He said, “So many of my classmates are now off doing other things, but they’re good, strong, holy men who are thankful for their experience and glad to have clearer direction in life and God’s call.”
At the major or graduate seminary level, the national average is that 60 percent of those entering move on to ordination. Fr. Neuschwander noted one factor explaining that higher percentage is that, many in their early- and mid-20s, the men are deeper in their faith, matured by experience and farther along in life with more certainty of their direction.
“We rejoice when guys join,” he said. “We rejoice when they have a clear path and direction from God, and follow God’s will – even if that’s not to be a priest. We want people to hear God’s will and follow it, whatever he is calling them to,” Fr. Neuschwander stated.
Besides the St. Andrew dinners at which young men and their parents have an evening of prayer, witness and fellowship within the diocese and online initiatives, members of the vocations team accompany men to Come and See seminary visits.
Three men are visiting Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary and St. Mary’s College in Winona in early November.
Fr. Neuschwander said, “All of the men really enjoy the opportunity to grow in prayer, gain tools for discernment, be inspired by other young men thinking about the priesthood.”
He shared about one visitor who has been open to a priestly vocation and has visited the seminary, although he doesn’t directly feel called. From this young man’s experience, he was able to speak up among friends questioning the priesthood and share his positive experience.
“It’s cool even for those who aren’t called to experience,” Fr. Neuschwander said adding that normalizing the visits and encounters with seminarians can itself be inspiring for young men who might need a nudge of openness.
The visits include time of prayer, talks by priests, witnesses of seminarians and a college visit joining in with classes. It is, as Fr. Neuschwander attested, a gathering of men engaged in “living out their faith and seeking to discover and follow God’s call, whatever that is.”
Addressing parents of young men, the young priest acknowledged the important role of faith at home and the support of parents. He spoke specifically of the importance of including a strong Catholic community an element of discovery when looking at college options.
“College is becoming such an influential time in the lives of our young people,” he said. “The Catholic community on campus is becoming a more and more and more important” element of a young person’s faith formation.
He continued, “In my estimation, the most important part of the college experience is not whether or not the college is Catholic … but whether or not the college has a strong Catholic community on campus – that Catholic community will be what forms and feeds and grows the faith at a very pivotal time in life. That sets direction for the rest of their life.”
Fr. Neuschwander asserted that even some “worldly campuses” can have some of the best Catholic campus communities and that it is “extremely important for how young people live out their faith” and what their personal growth and experience is during the college years.
More about Called North can be found at callednorth.org, at Facebook as well as on Instagram and YouTube.