May 23, 2023 // Bishop
Funding Seminarian Education Focus of ‘Our Shepherds – Our Future’
“Whoever opens his heart to Christ will not only understand the mystery of his own existence, but also that of his own vocation; he will bear the abundant fruit of grace,” said St. John Paul II. This exclamation set the tone for the ‘Our Shepherds – Our Future’ event on Thursday, May 16, at The Lodge at Camp Red Cedar in Fort Wayne. Presented by the Catholic Community Foundation of Northeast Indiana, the evening was an opportunity to learn about the seminarian program in our diocese. It was also a fundraiser for the St. John Paul II Endowment Fund, which supports expenses for seminarian education.
The evening began with a warm welcome from Bishop Rhoades. In his greeting, he shared the importance of charitably supporting the education of seminarians. “We can’t let money get in the way of having more priests, not only an increase in numbers, but also good priests who are going to serve faithfully and devotedly.”
During the program a little later, it was noted that the key to a successful seminarian program was strong leadership. Bishop Rhoades announced Father Jonathan Norton as the new Director of Seminarians and Pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Warsaw, and Father Daniel Niezer as the new Director of Promotions of Priestly Vocations and Pastor of St. Dominic’s in Bremen and Chaplain at Marian High School in Mishawaka.
“We see all these young guys and the future of the Church in our seminarians here tonight. I think you know that a year or two years ago, we had our largest ordination class in the diocese since the 1950s,” said Bishop Rhoades. “I believe we had seven and this year we will match that with seven priestly ordinations.”
A special presentation for the oldest priest in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Father Adam Schmitt, was also given. He is 91-years-old and the evening’s event program included a photo of him with a rosary.
“You can see his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Blessed Mother, which began when he was a young child. It matured as he entered seminary formation out of the 8th grade, which was not uncommon back then. And from a young age, he felt the Lord’s draw to the priesthood, and he discerned that call and did so with great humility. His humility mirrors our Blessed Mother’s. As she said, I am a handmade of the Lord. Father Adam and all priests serve the Church with great respect, devotion, and humility as they live out that humility that Mary teaches us saying, ‘I am the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.’ Or as we read in Scripture, ‘Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.’ So, as a faithful, humble servant for many decades, Father Adam has dedicated his priesthood to Mary the mother of our Lord, our spirit, and our spiritual mother. In many of his homilies and conversations with the people, he will speak about the Blessed Mother. He actually wrote a rosary devotional prayer book that I have, and I’ve really benefited from reading it. It’s in its 4th edition, and more than 1,000 copies have been printed and distributed across the country. And actually, one was given to Pope Benedict XVI as a birthday gift. In his humility, Father Adam, when he received a sizable inheritance recently from a distant relative, immediately and unwavering decided to give a sizable portion of that to the education of our seminarians,” said Bishop Rhoades.
Bishop Rhoades continued, “Always thinking of the needs of others, Father Adam is an inspiration for us all to follow, as we seek to follow our Blessed Mother’s courageous and joyful humility. So, on behalf of the Catholic Community Foundation of Northeast Indiana, Father Adam, I am pleased and honored to present you with this statue of Jesus the Good Shepherd. You have been throughout your priestly life and ministry a good shepherd to thousands of people in our diocese. Thank you for your commitment to the Church and your commitment to supporting our seminarians in their formation to be good shepherds after the heart of Christ.”
As the program continued, Deacon Jacob Schneider and Seminarians Johnathon and Michael Hickey were guest speakers who got on stage to share their stories about discernment in religious life.
Deacon Schneider is from St. Charles and grew up in the Fort Wayne area. He is the oldest of three with a younger married sister who lives in Fort Wayne and a younger brother who is getting engaged soon.
“I’m right on the edge, right on the verge of being a priest, and it’s a really exciting time for me and my classmates, these six other guys. We get to look back on our lives and see how the Lord got us to this point and really reflect on that call right before becoming a priest. And so, as you will probably learn from all these different guys, every single one of us has a different call and a different response from the Lord. But one thing that I think really remains the same is that in our vocation stories, we’re not the main character. We’re just the side character and God is the one moving, forming, and gently calling us unto Himself in the service,” began Deacon Schneider. “And so that call for me started when I was about five years old. I’m the oldest and in the cry room because my younger brother is crying and Mom and Dad are too embarrassed to sit out in the congregation. So, we’re hidden away. And after that, I think I just looked at my parents, and I was like, I want to be a priest. And it’s really hard to explain that sense, that calling.”
Deacon Schneider went on to talk about the different times he heard the echoes, the callings to become a priest. “And I feel when we went to the Holy Land, I felt like St. Peter on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, right before he’s going to go out and do his ministry. Jesus looks at him face to face and says, ‘Do you love me?’”
When looking at the life he has led and the life yet to come, Deacon Schneider’s answer to that same question is always that he knows he loves God. He understands his new role requires him to feed and tend the sheep in his flock.
Being that the event was also a fundraiser for the St. John Paul II Endowment Fund, which supports expenses for seminarian education, Deacon Schneider talked about how he has been helped by the financial support.
“I’m on the verge of becoming a priest and it’s very beautiful. And so, with this love that we have for God, for me and my classmates, there comes that task to feed the sheep of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. And you have made it possible that we just studied for six long years so that we could focus on our study that we’ll be able to see if we can pass that on to you,” said Deacon Schneider. “So, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My classmates and I are really looking forward to serving you as priests.”
Seminarians and twins Johnathon and Michael Hickey then took the stage to talk about their discernment journeys. Seminarian Johnathon Hickey began his story by talking about a memory he shares with students when they go on high school visits.
“I always tend to begin with a memory that actually I don’t know if I told my parents about, ever really, and it’s just something that until recently I remember and I started sharing and that was when I think it was Father Daryl Rybicki when I was in kindergarten at St. John the Baptist. He was celebrating Mass, and I totally forget the context, but we came home, and I think my parents, our parents, were at the Mass and they asked Johnathan and Michael, the little kindergarteners, would you ever want to do what that priest does up there? I said no, I want to be a construction worker,” recalled Seminarian Johnathon Hickey who joked that God works with anyone’s ideas and there’s hope for everyone. “That’s my first recollection of priesthood, which is kind of fun, like coming from the parents.”
He went on to say the brothers grew up in a strong, tight-knit, Catholic family on the south side of Fort Wayne close to St. John the Baptist Church. They attended Catholic schools, some of which they could walk to, and feel blessed to be part of such a great community.
He then recalled some moments of clarity on his journey towards the priesthood. He was an active Catholic. He loved the experience of living his faith but hadn’t really thought about the notion of becoming a priest. Instead, he went on to college and waited to see where his studies would take him.
“I started doing my honorable justice studies and then this is why I think divine humor kind of just enters in, I think God has a very good sense of humor here. When I started my first year of college, Father Andrew, the Vocations Director, was sent to St. John the Baptist as Pastor. And this is where I began thinking roughly about okay, maybe priesthood. And that’s because God has put several priests in my life. It began with Father Daniel Whelan and Father Andrew, and I can see you’re very happy just being a priest. And seeing that, serving at the altar with them and seeing how happy they were when they held the Eucharist. Just moments like that. That was very attractive.”
Seminarian Johnathon Hickey continued on a path toward law enforcement in college and found himself getting more involved with discernment retreats, dinners, and prayer moments and his thoughts shifted to seeing how beautiful religious life could be and how he could join that life. Upon guidance from Father Budzinski, he filled out the application and realized he didn’t want just a job after college but a vocation of love and dedication to God. Like other seminarians, he experienced that clarity moment during the Eucharist.
“My first love, I think where I felt very clear that this is the direction that God wanted me to go was Corpus Christi in 2018. And we had a very beautiful Mass and a very beautiful procession. We come back after our procession by the Marian altar at the side altar. All the people that run the procession are right there. And we have adoration for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s really beautiful. And then all the servers are lined up on the altar, or the foot of the altar holding candles and whatnot. And the priest takes the Eucharist out of the monstrance and turns to the servers and breaks the host up into four pieces, and then he gives the Eucharist, the body of Christ and I lost it,” recalls Seminarian Johnathon Hickey. “I tell the kids at high school I was ugly crying. It was bad. I was trying to hold it back. I couldn’t. And that was a moment I said, ‘I want to do what he just did. I want to take the Eucharist outside, process with Him, and give Him to people just like father just did, I want to do that.’ So that’s kind of where it all started becoming clear that first love. So here I am today.”
Twin brother Seminarian Michael Hickey joined the conversation highlighting how like his brother he too wanted to become a police officer at a young age. The brothers watched cop shows together, imitated police officers in play, loved the cool cars and equipment, and ultimately wanted to be in a career that helped people. It was a very attractive adult world option.
“To me, it’s like you get all these cool things but then you also get to help people. It really made me feel good when I could help someone. So, I knew from a very young age, I wanted to help people in whatever that was. And reflecting on that now, it’s really amazing how you know that call to service has changed and something that a police officer would do in a call to serve people physically, to what the priest would do on a call to serve people spiritually.”
While at Bishop Luers, an aptitude test suggested he had the mindset and skill set to go into law enforcement. He went to Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne majoring in criminal justice and minoring in psychology and sociology to help him be a better police officer.
“My junior and senior year of college I interned with the Indiana state parole office working with parolees as they worked to reenter the community. I loved it. To see these people that really mess up but hey we mess up too and so we still show that dignity and respect. We tried to help with pride and service, and I loved doing that. In my senior year, I applied to the IPFW police department. I was a ride along and I responded to calls for service with the other officers. I loved responding to these people that I called my classmates helping them in their time of need. So, around our senior year of college, right around 2020, the year to remember, that was the COVID year, John was preparing his application to seminary, and up until this point in our life, we’ve done everything together, right? I mean, growing up, you know, we dress the same, we go through everything the same,” said Seminarian Michael Hickey.
He said that John pulled the trigger, applied to seminary, and was off on his next journey. He said that he was thinking about the priesthood but still discerning religious life. With a degree in hand, he pursued a career working as a civilian officer with Parkview Hospital on one of the busier shifts.
“That’s when God really invited me to consider the priesthood as a vocation. And I have two moments. The first one was at my home parish of St. John’s. I was inside the Mother Guerin Chapel. There was adoration and I was off to the side and I was in there by myself and this lady walked in. I heard a knock and she just cracked the door a little bit and she said, ‘I’m lost.’ Okay, you’re fine. We welcome visitors here. The church is across the drive and adoration is down the hall. She’s like, ‘No, I’m lost.’ I thought okay, this is more serious,” recalls Seminarian Michael Hickey.
“So, I invited her in, and it turns out she was lost spiritually. She was fighting many demons as she put it. She had a lot of issues we just talked about. She was in a very dark time spiritually. So, she wasn’t Catholic, but we got to talking and I’m looking at my watch, and like John said, we both serve all the time at the altar and I’m like, ‘Hey, I got to serve, I got to go. Why don’t you come to Mass with us?’ She accepted the invitation. I told her we’d take her to Mass and then she can see the priest afterward. I just walked her over to the back of the church, told her to sit there and just watch when to stand up and sit down. I told her then I’ll come back and talk to you after Mass. I cannot tell you what the homily was about if it was good, if it was bad, I cannot focus on anything in the Mass except for one thing — inviting this woman to come home.”
He said having that conversation, being part of that woman’s transformation, and calling her home was an impactful moment in his life. The notion of being part of something so inspirational and aspirational felt like a dream that could become a reality.
The second moment he felt God’s invitation was while on duty at Parkview Hospital. “We had a woman come in one time and she was also having some dark times. She was having a psychotic break, so she came in and she had a little service dog with her. She got very scared and she started to squeeze the dog tighter and tighter and tighter. So, they call us officers to come in and deal with the situation. And that’s what we did,” said Seminarian Michael Hickey. “We are trained to focus on the situation and to control it and bring it back to order and that’s what we’re doing. We’re not focusing on her. We’re not focusing on her needs. So, she was screaming, and rightly so because she was scared. All these people come up trying to grab the dog, trying to get her to release the dog and everything and she was screaming, and she was screaming will you pray with me? Will you pray with me? You don’t hear that a lot. I mean, if you go to the ER, you might hear people screaming but you don’t hear them screaming will you pray with me? She looked at me and asked will you pray with me and I’m like sure if you stop squeezing the dog. She wanted to pray the Our Father, so we prayed the Our Father and she started to calm down to pray and released the dog. We brought her to the back, and she started to act up a little bit more so I’m like prayer worked so we’re going to do that. So, I’m holding her hand walking through the busy ER saying the Our Father out loud.”
He continued, “I looked at these two moments and I see a lot of parallels between that of a police officer and that of a priest. Both are called to serve and to serve in many ways, but which one do I feel called to?”
He went on to open conversations with Father Budzinski and started the process of entering the priesthood.
“It’s amazing to see how God works,” said Seminarian Michael Hickey. “I thank God every day for giving me the possibility of becoming a priest to serve at this diocese and at the seminary thanks to you. We don’t have to focus on how to pay for it or how we’re going to cover it or anything like that. We can just take a deep dive into our prayer formation to better serve you. We are called to serve, and I thank you. I thank the Catholic Community Foundation and I thank you all for those donations to the St. John Paul II fund. It’s been truly a blessing to be at the seminary.”
The program continued with Father Budzinski holding a Question-and-Answer session with the seminarians present. He then asked everyone in attendance to think about the young men in their parishes and whether they could see any of them being a good priest. He shared a significant statistic that a young man is twice as likely to fill out an application to the seminary if he is asked by one person to consider the priestly vocation and five times as likely if he is asked by three people. He then encouraged everyone to offer the invitation to consider the priesthood, saying, “You might be Christ walking the shore of the Sea of Galilee for that young man.”
At the end of the evening, Catholic Community Foundation of Northeast Indiana CEO Michael Shade explained ways of making donations to the St. John Paul II Endowment Fund to support expenses for seminarian education today and in the future. To donate or to get more information, call 260-399-1436 or visit ccfnei.org.
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