Catholic Herald staff
The call to the priesthood came abruptly for Zachary Hines, a 26-year-old Balsam Lake native, toy tractor collector and music aficionado whose path to the seminary has been long and winding.
A graduate of Unity High School, Hines grew up attending what is now Our Lady of the Lakes, formerly St. Patrick Parish and Our Lady of the Pines Parish. Fr. Tom Thompson pastored there during his youth.
When he was in high school, his family grew more active in parish life, and Hines served as a cantor, as well as in other capacities. He developed a deep love for his faith.
“I also had a real passion for music as well,” he added. “When Fr. Thompson was our parish pastor, he kind of … planted the seeds for me, as far as the priesthood.”
Hines went on seminary visits when he was a junior in high school, but his vocational interests veered.
“When it came time to figure out what I wanted to do in life, I chose music as what I wanted to get into,” he said.
Hines was accepted into UW-Eau Claire’s music department, continuing to serve as a cantor in college. For the first two years at UW-EC, he worked hard to keep up in the university’s very competitive program.
“Even though I was considered fairly talented in music … I just didn’t have what it took to continue on with music,” he explained. “All the hard work in the world just wasn’t paying off for me.”
At that point, Hines “ran out of gas” and quit the program. He also suffered a corresponding loss of faith – he stopped going to church, “stopped caring about what the church said about things.”
New major, new friends
Hines was on the hunt for a new major; his father, an auctioneer, suggested business, so Hines chose economics with a math minor.
“While I was going through that, I had the opportunity to meet a couple really good friends,” he said.
One was James Zahler, a former diocesan seminarian who’d discerned out of the program. Zahler had a friend, Tony Pistilli, who was also Hines’ classmate.
Pistilli loved going to daily Mass and praying the Liturgy of the Hours; as their friendship grew, Hines’ interest in Catholicism rekindled.
“We just became really good friends, volunteered together regularly,” he said. “He got me passionate, in some respects, about the faith again.”
Hines graduated in May 2012. Throughout his senior year, he’d been corresponding with a girl he met on CatholicMatch.com, so he accepted a summer internship in St. Louis to be near her.
“We didn’t really hit it off well once we got close to one another,” he added.
‘Give it to the Lord’
After moving back and working at Wells Fargo Bank and a credit card processing company, Hines realized he wasn’t in a good state emotionally. The breakup had taken its toll, and he wasn’t close to his family,
“I was battling with some issues,” he continued. “I just really didn’t internalize what Tony was telling me all those years – you’ve got to give it to the Lord.”
Things only went downhill from there. Hines’ position was terminated – a professional and personal blow because he was a good friend of the CEO of the company.
“I really didn’t know what to do at that point,” added Hines. “I had a really tough time finding a job.”
Even as he struggled, Hines was looking objectively at his status in life and discerning how to proceed. Entering the seminary was in the back of his mind; he was also thinking about jobs, God, and his family.
After a couple of months, he was hired as a call center employee with Allianz. He wasn’t talking about “deep things” with customers, but he was building relationships.
“It was the first time I started interacting with real people,” he said.
Call to service
There, Hines began to feel a call to service.
“At that point, I started to go to daily Mass,” he said. It was “such a blessing” for Hines; he fell in love with the Mass, began volunteering and exercising more often and “praying deeply.”
He was also “trying to be more pastoral,” sharing his faith with his friends and going to confession to work on his issues.
It was not a complete transformation, he added, “but I really started to look at things differently.”
Feeling God was calling him to the priesthood, Hines sought guidance from Fr. Thompson, who is also diocesan director of vocations. He left his job with Allianz after a few months and entered St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, this past August.
Overall, Hines figures he spent between nine and 12 months discerning whether to pursue the priesthood.
“It’s pretty abrupt, but I’ve been thinking about this,” he said of his decision.
Thus far, he’s enjoying the new challenges in his life.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “It’s a pretty quick turnaround for me – I haven’t had a whole lot of time to prepare.”
The value of brotherhood was one of his first lessons.
Seminary, he realized, “is not a race, it’s not about beating people. It’s not a competition. We’re all called to serve the Lord.”
An objective view
As a student of economics, Hines believes his clearheaded decision-making will be of service to his parishioners when, God willing, he becomes a priest.
“I bring a sense of looking at things economically,” he explained, “looking at the costs and benefits of things, and looking at things objectively.”
This year has been one of transition for Hines, whose hobbies include collecting toy tractors – a throwback to his childhood – and keeping up with technology. He also launched a tech-based company, Hinesight Video Productions, in April.
As he navigates seminary life, Hines is gaining insight and inspiration from his studies.
“Here at the seminary, we’re trying to talk about love. Love in its pure form. Love from God,” he said. “My calling to the priesthood is one of service – that I am called to serve others.”