Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 9, 2013

For many years now The Catholic Spirit has followed the custom of publishing, usually in the form of a written response to submitted questions, interviews with transitional deacons on the eve of their ordination to the priesthood for service to this archdiocese. This year again The Catholic Spirit has honored that tradition. Ten zealous and intelligent young men -- the oldest is 34; the youngest, 26 -- have given us in their response to the presented questions an edifying insight into what it was that led them to consider, and then to embrace, service to Christ in the fraternity of the priesthood, committing themselves to lifelong celibacy and to a self-effacing obedience to their bishop so that, thanks to the character imposed indelibly upon their souls through the bishop's laying on of hands with prayer to the Holy Spirit, they might be able to act in persona Christi, in the role of Christ: through repetition of the words of Christ to effect Christ's Eucharistic presence in a ritual prolongation of the Lord's Supper, conjoined with His sacrificial self-oblation on the Cross; to serve, too, as the human channel through which Christ's forgiveness and grace can flow into the soul of the repentant sinner; and to preach the Gospel with loyal adherence to the Voice of the Holy Spirit, Who speaks within and through Christ's Church.

May I share with you here the reflections of three of these men, now welcomed into the ranks of Christ's priesthood. I should have liked to reprint the responses of all ten, but to do so would tax the limits even of our parish bulletin's much-accommodating format.

Two of these three men, now priests of Christ, I have known for quite some time, viz., Father Andrew Jaspers and Father Spencer Howe. As a Jesuit novice Andy Jaspers taught catechism for a year in our parish school during my pastorate at St. Agnes parish (from 2001 to 2006). Spencer Howe received, together with his dad, the grace of conversion to the Catholic faith while attending the excellent course of instructions regularly offered by my associate at St. Agnes, Father Robert Altier. And I have recently come to know Father Brian Park, who has nothing but praise for the mentoring he received from Fathers Ubel and Moriarty during his year of service as transitional deacon -- once again -- at the Church of St. Agnes.

(Should I, in making this selection, be thought to have displayed a certain "tilting" towards, say, a certain parish -- well, by golly, aren't we all of us human?).
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Catholic Convert Desires to Make 'Real Sacrifice'
The Catholic Spirit May 23, 2013

Deacon Spencer Howe
Age: 26
Hometown: North Oaks
Home parish: St. Paul, Ham Lake
Parents: Jeffrey and Janette Howe
Education: B.A. in philosophy, Catholic Studies and classical languages from the University of St. Thomas / St. John Vianney Seminary, and bachelor's degree in sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, working on license in sacred theology at the Pontifical Lateran University with a focus on Church history
Teaching parish: I have spent extended time at St. John the Baptist parish in New Brighton and St. Stephen's in Anoka
Pastoral learning experiences: Summer 2010 service with the Missionaries of Charity in Ethiopia, visits to Regina Coeli Prison in Rome and work with students at John Cabot University in Rome
Hobbies: Landscaping and other forms of "getting my hands dirty," hiking, camping, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, reading, dabbling in poetry and Gregorian chant
Favorite book: GK Chesterton's "The Catholic Church and Conversion"
Favorite movie: Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraido"
Person you most admire and why: Bishop Paul Dudley was one of the men most radically given over to the Lord that I have ever known. [To that, I, too, will say 'Amen"]. The great fruit of the Holy Spirit with which his life was suffused was joy. I am grateful that my family and I were able to come to know him during his last years.
Thanksgiving Mass: 10:30 a.m. May 26 at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton

What led to your looking seriously into the priesthood?
     In August 2004, the summer before my senior year of high school, I was on a pilgrimage to England with the American Chesterton Society. It was one of my first extended times away from my family.
     I was particularly enamored of the  stories of the English martyrs, who became  priests to bring the sacraments back to England, knowing that they would eventually be hunted down and put to death. Their witness spoke to me across the centuries.
     It didn't hurt that the vocations director from Worcester, Mass., was along on the trip. Our conversations along the way opened my ears to the possibility of the Lord's call to the priesthood.

What were you doing before you entered the seminary?
    I entered seminary right out of high school. I was able to attend the University of St. Thomas for my senior year of high school through the PSEO program. In large part it was meeting the St. John Vianney seminarians on campus that drew me in. I was deeply inspired by their strength of fraternity and common sense of mission. I wanted to be a part of it.

Were there any reasons why you had not considered the priesthood earlier in your life?
     I grew up going to North Heights Evangelical Lutheran Church, but began to experience a steady tug to learn about Catholicism. My maternal grandmother was a very devoted Catholic and my mother had rediscovered her own Catholic roots in 1999. I, too, wanted to know what the Church was all about. In 2001, I decided to attend a series of classes on the fundamentals of the faith taught by Father Robert Altier [at the Church of St. Agnes]. A few weeks in I knew there was no turning back. My dad and I were received into the Catholic Church and received our first Holy Communion and confirmation together on December 13, 2001.

When was the first time you thought about the priesthood?
     During my years growing up I was never drawn to become a Protestant minister.  And, yet I can remember as a brand new Catholic recognizing that a Catholic priest was somehow different. He was a marked man; he spoke and acted in the person of Christ in the sacraments. The priesthood had an appeal because there was real sacrifice -- Christ's sacrifice on the altar, and the priest's sacrifice in laying down his life for the flock.

What people and/or experiences were instrumental in identifying and developing your vocation?
     I would point in a special way to women religious in my life. My mother was serving as a nurse in the infirmary of the Good Shepherd Sisters, whose convent was near our home. I used to stop by the convent to visit my mom and I began to get to know  the elderly sisters, reading them poetry and listening to their stories.
     They really prayed me through the seminary and showed me through the witness of their lives that fidelity to Christ's call is possible by saying "yes" one day at a time.
     Over the years, I have seen many of these dear sisters go to meet the Lord. I am forever grateful that I have been able to come to know them and many other religious sisters in the archdiocese and abroad.

What excites you most about becoming a priest?
     To exist for the service of families. I love family life, and I praise God that as a priest I will be called to share in the joys and sorrows of so many families. I think all of my classmates could agree about how much we have come to appreciate marriage and family life. Our commitment to live chaste celibacy sets us apart to love with the breadth and generosity of the heart of Christ.

How would you like to answer the call to evangelization in your priestly ministry?
     I am eager to encourage Catholics to explore the depths and riches of the heritage of the faith which is ours. I remember what it was like not to have the holy Eucharist and the sacrament of penance. I hungered for such a concrete encounter with Christ. My hope is that I can help people to realize the true gifts that these are for us. I believe the priest's mission extends in a special way to those who have fallen away from the practice of the faith.

What encouragement and/or advice do you have for young men who may be considering the priesthood?
     My encouragement is to be patient with the Lord's call and with yourself. He wants your happiness more than anything. Desire holiness, but realize that it must be sought over a lifetime. Be willing to set aside your hopes for your own life in order to honestly consider (even for a moment) his plans for you. Be prepared to be surprised.

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Deacon Andrew Jaspers
Age: 34
Hometown: Lake Crystal
Home parish: Cathedral of St. Paul
Parents: Dr. Anthony and Mary Jaspers
Education: Honors B.A. in philosophy, Marquette University; M.A. in philosophy, Fordham University; MAT and masters of divinity, St. Paul Seminary
Teaching parish: Epiphany, Coon Rapids
Pastoral learning experiences: Spiritual direction, giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola on silent retreats, and crisis pregnancy counseling
Hobbies: Foreign languages, traveling, writing philosophy
Favorite book: After the Bible, G.K. Chesterton's, "The Everlasting Man"
Favorite movie: "Into Great Silence"
Person you most admire and why: After the persons of the Holy Trinity, Mary and the saints, the recent popes, my archbishop and my seminary rector. They have led me to holiness and have shown me a joy that the world cannot give.
Thanksgiving Mass: 10 a.m. May 26 at the Cathedral of St. Paul

What led to your looking seriously into the priesthood?
     As an altar boy, I experienced a joy and deep peace unlike anything outside of Mass. I knew my life had to be based on nearness to the Eucharist in a consecrated way. As people at daily Mass would ask if I ever considered priesthood, I replied, "I'd love to be a priest, and I will seek this as soon as I can." These questions kept the desire fresh in my mind.

What were you doing before you entered the seminary?
     I was a teacher at Creighton University in Omaha. I also wrote philosophical articles for the New Catholic Encyclopedia and various Catholic ethical journals. I thought that I had a vocation to the Jesuits and I spent 10 years as one. But the Lord ultimately showed me that I could be led to greater humility through diocesan priesthood.

Were there any reasons why you had not considered the priesthood earlier in your life?
     No. I was considering it from the first moment that thoughts of a profession and vocation came up.

When was the first time you thought about the priesthood?
     It was on my heart at a very early age because of my service as an altar boy. But, when I was about 10 years old, my mother told me that I would have supernatural powers if I became a priest. I was highly interested in this, and always kept it in mind as I grew up.

What people and/or experiences were instrumental in identifying and developing your vocation?
     Three women in my life: My grandmother, who gave me "The Imitation of Christ" and St. Augustine's "Confessions"; my mother, as stated above; and my high school girlfriend, who when I asked if she thought we would marry replied, "No, you're going to be a priest." Also, almost every priest I met drew me closer to the priesthood.

What excites you most about becoming a priest?
     The sheer number of souls that I can teach to pray, offer the sacraments, and grow in charity towards. I also am looking forward to entering more deeply into redemptive suffering. Through joining people in their suffering and joys, I draw nearer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the love of my life.

How would you like to answer the call to evangelization in your priestly ministry?
     I would like to lead couples and families to discover their baptismal call and help them gather many others into communion with the Catholic Church, hopefully including door-knocking. I would like to unlock the resources of our faith through Bible studies and education about our saving doctrines in order to strengthen the evangelizers in their faith.

What encouragement and/or advice do you have for young men who may be considering the priesthood?
     A young man should give at least a half hour to the Lord IN SILENCE every day. One cannot hear the Lord speak if one is always busy and assertive. A young man has to imitate Mary at the Annunciation, and wait for the great news that God will give him about his plan for his life. Then, he should resolve to try the call that God gives him, as he is only called to try and not necessarily to succeed.

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Texan Says, 'The Holy Spirit Lassoed My Heart'
Deacon Brian Park
Age: 32
Hometown: Ft. Worth, Texas / West St. Paul
Home parish: St. Joseph, West St. Paul
Parents: Paul and Mary Kay Park
Education: B.A. in history from Texas A&M University
Teaching parish: St. Agnes in St. Paul
Pastoral learning experiences: NET Ministries (2003-07); Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Neb. (summer 2009); CPE at the V.A. Medical Center in Minneapolis (summer 2010); Spanish immersion in Guadalajara, Mexico (summer 2011); deacon summer assignment at Divine Mercy in Faribault (summer 2012)
Hobbies: College football (especially Texas A&M football!), watching movies
Favorite book: "Life of Christ" by Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Favorite movie: "Braveheart"
Person you most admire and why: St. Paul, because of his great love for Jesus Christ and his tremendous zeal for souls and for spreading the Gospel
Thanksgiving Mass: 9 a.m. May 26 at St. Joseph in West St. Paul

What led to your looking seriously into the priesthood?
     I first began sensing a possible call from the Lord to be a priest when I was 19 years old (sophomore in college). The year before, when I was 18 and a freshman in college, I had a powerful conversion experience one Sunday at Mass at my home parish in Ft. Worth, Texas.
     At the time, I was not doing a very good job of living out my faith, but that Sunday, the Lord really broke through to me in a powerful way. I experienced the Lord and his love for me and his desire to be in relationship with me in a way that I had never experienced before.
     After that Mass was over, all I knew was that I wanted to follow Jesus, and come to know Him more and more. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that this newfound desire to follow Jesus would lead me one day to become a priest in the Twin Cities (I don't think I even knew what the term "Twin Cities" meant nor did I know where they were located when I was 18!).
     After this powerful encounter with the Lord, I began to get active in my faith and strove to leave sinful behaviors behind. I joined a Christian fraternity, I began going to daily Mass on occasion, I started praying daily and began to read and study the Scriptures, I read books on Catholic apologetics and theology, I frequently went to confession, and I did my best to share my faith with other students on campus.
     I can't remember a specific day or a specific conversation that helped me first think about becoming a priest. All I can say is that somewhere around this time in my life, the Holy Spirit "lassoed" my heart and slowly began to pull me in the direction toward priesthood.
     During my time in college, I received a lot of great advice and help from the priests at St. Mary's in College Station, Texas (the campus ministry parish for Texas A&M University, where I went to school) about life as a seminarian and as a priest.
     I was greatly blessed to be at a campus parish that was (and still is) very active and did a lot (and still does) to promote vocations to the priesthood. By the time I was a senior at Texas A&M (2002-03), 1 was pretty sure the Lord was calling me to go to seminary and study for priesthood. However, I knew that I wanted to take a year off from school to do some mission work before I started seminary for my home diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas.
     So, during my senior year, I applied to serve with NET Ministries and was accepted for the 2003-04 year. Before I came to Minnesota to begin my training with NET in August 2003, I began the application process to become a seminarian for my home diocese of Ft. Worth with the intent that after my year of service with NET was over, I would start seminary in the fall of 2004. However, the Lord had a different plan.
     During my year of service with NET, which was an incredible year of traveling around the nation with 10 other young Catholics and putting on evangelistic retreats for Catholic teenagers, the Lord made it quite clear to me that I needed to stay with NET longer. So, toward the end of my year on the road with NET, I applied to be a team supervisor for NET, and I was accepted.
     In June 2004, I officially moved from Texas to West St. Paul to begin working full-time at NET's headquarters. I had the great privilege of working for NET as a team supervisor for three years (2004-07). It was during these three years, living in the Twin Cities, when the Lord made it clear that he wanted me to stay in Minnesota and apply to become a seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
     In the fall of 2007, I entered the pre-theology program at the St. Paul Seminary, and I have never regretted it!

Were there any reasons why you had not considered the priesthood earlier in your life?
     When I was growing up, I never heard anyone talk about it, and if they were, I sure was not listening. Also, I can't remember anyone ever telling me that I should be a priest, or even encouraging me to think about the possibility. It was not until I had really met Jesus, and encountered his love in a personal way, and began to learn about the beauty of the Church that I ever considered becoming a priest.

What people and/or experiences were instrumental in identifying and developing your vocation?
     My conversion experience; being around a great campus ministry and great priests at Texas A&M; my four years with NET Ministries and the thousands of young people I encountered on retreats, the members of my NET team, the people with whom I served on NET staff, and NET volunteers I served as a team supervisor; my parents; and many wonderful priests along the way.

What excites you most about becoming a priest?
     The idea that my whole life will be dedicated to helping people come to know and love Jesus Christ and his Church; celebrating the sacraments; and preaching.

How would you like to answer the call to evangelization in your priestly ministry?
     By looking at everything I do as a priest -- whether sacramental celebrations or preaching or administration or counseling -- as an opportunity to help people come to know and love Jesus Christ and his Church. The essence of my mission as a priest is to evangelize -- to bring people to the Eucharist, to bring back Catholics who have fallen away, to help all men and women know of the great love that our Father in heaven has for us all.

What encouragement and/or advice do you have for young men who may be considering the priesthood?
     "If some of you hear the call to follow Christ more closely, to dedicate your entire life to him, be generous, do not  be afraid; the prize that awaits you is God himself. Young people who are listening to me now, always say yes to God."
                                                                                                                                                -- Blessed John Paul II

     You have nothing to fear in giving your whole life to Christ. He takes nothing away from us, only our sin. To follow Jesus Christ as one of his priests is a tremendous gift. Open your hearts to the possibility that the Lord might be calling you.
     Trust in Him, He will never lead you astray.
     If you start to sense in your heart a possible call to the priesthood, tell someone about it - a priest, your parents, a trusted friend - and then do something about it. Pick up an application, go visit a seminary, talk to your vocations director, etc.
     God cannot steer a parked car. You have to cooperate with Him.
Just start moving; He will guide your steps.

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