On April 17, 2016, Catholics across the globe will celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The purpose of the day is referenced in Scripture to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38, Lk 10:2). While the Church appreciates all vocations, this particular day focuses on vocations to the ordained ministries, religious life, societies of apostolic life and the missionary life.
Today’s Catholic is featuring a two part series on several local persons who are in the midst of discerning vocations to the religious life. This week, you will learn more about the discernment and growth of three men in various stages of their journey as seminarians. Next week, we will be featuring a story on women in the novitiate with the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
What year of seminarian training are you in?
Deacon Craig Borchard: 6th year. I will be ordained a priest this summer.
Mr. Sam Lyon: 1st year
Mr. Joe Knepper: I was accepted into the seminary by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on February 22nd, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
Where is your hometown and to what parish do you belong?
Borchard: I grew up in Rochester Hills Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, but I went to the University of Notre Dame as an undergrad for 5 years. That’s how the South Bend area became home for me. When I discerned into seminary, I was actually in Philadelphia, but I felt most called to serve at home, which was the diocese that South Bend was in and in my home parish, St. Piux X.
Lyon: Technically, it’s Leo, but I consider Fort Wayne my hometown with St. Vincent de Paul as my parish. I went to Pontifical College Josephinum right after high school at Bishop Dwenger.
Knepper: My hometown is Fort Wayne and St. Vincent de Paul is my parish. I graduated from Carroll High School.
How old are you?
Borchard: 29, I will be 30 at the time of ordination.
When did you first consider becoming a priest?
Borchard: It was in high school, I had just finished a Cryos Retreat in Detroit at Brother Rice High School. It was a 4 day retreat and I had an incredible conversion-type experience. It was technically a ‘reversion’ because I was already catholic, but just going through the motions with my faith. But on this retreat, I had a really profound encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, as well as the love of God the Father and the Holy Spirit and it completely changed my life. I went from a lukewarm, psuedo-catholic, almost agnostic to full fledged participating Catholic. I really did a 180 in my life especially in my spiritual life. And all I wanted to do is give that encounter back to other people so that they could have that experience too. That was the first time that I thought of priesthood because that’s what a priest does — He brings people to Jesus, that’s his job, that’s his calling. And when I had this encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, I thought of how the priest brings people the Eucharist. That was the first time I thought about the priesthood — I was 18 years old at the time. I continued to consider it in college, but didn’t take it very seriously. It was at the Theology of the Body Institute (a catholic not-for-profit) that I worked at in Philadelphia after college that I had more beautiful encounters with Our Lord. Because of the work that I was doing and the work of the institute, I was meeting all these amazing, on fire priests and I really fell in love with the priesthood. Coupling that with my experiences in high school, I knew that the Lord was calling me to consider seminary and the priesthood.
Lyon: I am a cradle Catholic and when I was little, I would see priests up at the altar and thought that it would be pretty cool. But then I learned that priests don’t get married, so I just thought, oh, nevermind. But it became a much more serious thought when I was in high school and started taking my faith a lot more seriously. I went to a March for Life my sophomore year. We visited the chapel at Mount St. Mary’s and I had a profound moment in the chapel there while I was praying. I just thought, wow, maybe this life really is for me.
Knepper: It’s a difficult question to answer because it was only about a year and a half ago that I was first open to it. However looking back before that time, I can see how I was feeling the attraction to the priesthood, but at the time, I didn’t realize what I was being attracted to or what I was responding to.
What person was most influential in your discernment process?
Borchard: There were many! Msgr. Bill Schooler at St. Pius has been one of the most influential people in my life, even after I discerned to go into seminary. Spending 6 years at St. Pius allowed me to see his joy and the way that he ministers to all those people who entrust themselves to him in various situations; he is just a vibrant and loving priest who is also a great mentor in how to be a good priest and a loving father. It’s hard to choose just one because there were many others who impacted me as well, Father Jacob Meyer, Father Ben Muhlenkamp, Father Drew Curry and Father Bob Lengerich who helped me also.
Lyon: Father Andrew Budzinski — during high school, he was my parish priest and now basically he is my boss. Father Andrew brought a new kind of energy to the parish and was very involved in LifeTeen. He just really encouraged me through LifeTeen when I was involved and through the Melchizedek Project.
Joe Knepper: The short answer? Jesus. There were a lot of people that I encountered who influenced me: Father Andrew Budzinski, Father Daniel Scheidt, Father Jonathan Norton; but the truth is that it was Christ working through those men and helped make priestly living attractive to me.
How has your discernment process developed over time?
Borchard: Your discernment matures as you mature as a person. I was a little more dramatic as a teenager in high school and so my faith was on fire which was good in its own way. In college, I started learning more about the faith, so it wasn’t just an emotional feeling, but I learned about the faith in a more intellectual sort of way—why the church teaches what she teaches. I studied theology as well as engineering and was helping to put some intellectual meat on the bones. That process continued throughout my time at the Theology of the Body Institute to further my discernment between the vocations of marriage and priesthood, weighing both options. But really, as a person, I was growing up too — when I started I was 18 and now I’m 29, so you just grow up in years of seminarian education, you grow up in your faith with more self mastery and knowledge and having more patience for yourself and others. Your discernment grows up as you do and becomes more precise and defined and ultimately is really the process of having a deeper and deeper peace about where the Lord is calling you to serve.
Lyon: Even though I’m in my first year of seminary, this is actually my third year of discerning priesthood. So far, the biggest question that I’ve had is whether or not I should go to seminary right after high school. I had received a lot of spiritual direction from Father Jacob Meyer and the biggest thing that he did for me is that he reassured me that I wasn’t signing my life away, and to maybe just give it a chance. An important thing that I had to learn this year was that my primary vocation isn’t priesthood or married life. My primary vocation is holiness and everything else comes after that. I feel as if my discernment process is going well because I’ve stopped freaking out. I am here, investing myself fully into the Mass, the sacraments and just letting God lead me. For me, it’s about just listening to God and letting Him take charge.
Knepper: Before I understood what it meant, discernment was, for me to say to God, “Lord, I will do what You want me to do, just as long as I have a cool job, a pretty wife and a lake cottage; whatever You want me to do, as long as those conditions are met.” Now I know that discernment is not having my own agenda, but really to be open to the life that God wants for me. So my prayer is, “Lord, I will do whatever You want me to do, regardless of what I think is best.” And once I became open to that, I realized that I feel I’m being called to seminary. Discernment in my life now is more intentional and it’s not just an afterthought.
How would you describe yourself and what gifts/charisms do you think that you are going to be able to bring to the priesthood/parish?
Borchard: I’m a musician so I hope that will be useful within parish ministry. From my experiences at Theology of the Body Institute, I would love to teach about the beauty of the Church’s anthropology and what is means to be male and female. I also enjoyed working with kids, so I’m looking forward to working in school ministry.
Lyon: I’m a socially outgoing person and I like to talk and write. I love being with people and, God willing, if I make it to the parish life, I would love to let God use my social skills in building bridges with people and forming connections — therefore being able to bring God to people.
Knepper: The Lord calls different people to seminary because we need different priests to minister to so many different kinds of people that make up the Church. I have a personality that is very welcoming and approachable. As a priest, God willing, I would be able to reach a lot of people so that they know that they have a place within the Church. I’m not scared to go up to a stranger to talk to them and welcome them. Once I care about someone, I am relentless in helping them to seek what is best for them.
What is the thing that has surprised you the most about seminary?
Borchard: All of the opportunities that were gifted to me: Getting to go to World Youth Day in Madrid; I did a 10 week long program in Omaha for a priestly formation for diocesan seminarians. I got to to to Guatemala for an eight-week language immersion program. I’ve worked in schools, a prison, in parishes and March for Life. There have been an endless array of opportunities that were afforded to me. And they are ultimately gifts from people of God in this diocese who have sent me here through their generosity and their gifts. What has been surprising is that I didn’t realize how many places I would go and see as a seminarian.
Lyon: How human seminarians and priests are. It brings another dimension to the vocation and it makes the priests more relatable even though we are charged with a very serious task. What was also surprising to me is how the sacraments can change you and change your life when you participate in all of them every day. Here, we have regularly scheduled prayer and through that, it’s gratifying to actually see progress in your prayer life.
Knepper: I’ve been surprised in this process already how much joy comes from trusting God. I’ve never been one to make decisions without having a plan and knowing what the outcome will be. There are things that I’ve had to say “no” to — to say yes to something greater and that has forced me to trust God a lot more. There is an unshakable joy as a result of that.
What has been the most surprising reaction you have gotten when you told people/family/friends about your decision to become a priest? How did that make you feel? How did you react to it?
Borchard: One of my friends in college used to tease me and say “quit running away from your vocation.” Actually, it was the support of a lot of friends and the seeds that they planted that got me thinking about becoming a priest saying things like, “You would make a really good priest.” Once I arrived at seminary, you really feel the support and love from your brother seminarians. Everyone has sacrificed something to come here and they are all more supportive as a result.
Lyon: My twin sister and I announced our decisions to enter into the priesthood and religious life about the same time and our family—they all took it surprisingly well. Not all of my siblings are practicing Catholics, but their response was, “I don’t necessarily agree with Catholic faith, but this is for you and your journey, so I support you.” As much as we have our differences on things- we are very supportive of each other’s decisions. I was worried that they would react negatively and it would cause a huge rift, but they have all been respectful. A powerful experience for me telling others that I was going to enter the seminary was when I walked on the trail in the Camino de Santiago going to Spain last summer. I walked over 200 miles in this 600 mile trail and got to experience this incredible inter-faith dialogue with other peoples who were on the trail. During one portion of it, I met 20 seminarians from Naples, Italy and when I told them of my decision to become a seminarian, it was like they just adopted me right there in this international fraternity. Even after knowing them for half of a day, they opened up their hearts to me—it was amazing how loving and powerful that response was.
Knepper: I’ve been surprised by the number of my friend, particularly my non-Catholic friends who weren’t surprised at my decision at all. A couple of years ago, becoming a priest is not something that I would’ve ever imagined for my future, so for other people to recognize it, often before I did, surprises me. However, it makes me feel affirmed in my decision.
What is the thing that you like the best (or your favorite part) about serving the parish when you are home for break? How is that different from before you left?
Borchard: This (serving the parish) is where it’s at! I am looking forward to being a priest, not a seminarian for the rest of my life, so going home to the diocese is always a breath of fresh air and a cool drink of water to be with the people. Being rooted within the local diocese, to have those moments at home when you get to minister to your parish and serve them, because, at the end of the day- that’s where you will be, it’s just awesome. Serving your parish helps you remember who you are doing this work for.
Lyon: At seminary, because we tend to be intellectual and analytical in our discussions on God. But when you come back to the diocese and parish, the feeling just makes you want to be a priest 1,000 times more — to be able to help bring God to the people, it was just amazing. The beauty is in the simplicity, the people who make you humble again because they haven’t had all of the theology teachings you have had and yet, in some ways of faith, they are wiser than you— that is refreshing. I like being able to serve Mass for my parish because it is giving back to something that has given so much to me.
Knepper: I am looking forward to continuing service to the parish when I’m home. I love spending a lot of time at helping at the parish and I get a lot of joy from that. Whether it’s LifeTeen, RCIA, random projects around the parish that they need with, that was all life-giving to me. It also was a huge contributor and key moment in my discernment. To be able to continue that when I’m home on breaks will be great.
What kinds of things does the average Catholic not realize about this journey to becoming a priest? What do you want them to know?
Borchard: We are still human and the seminary is a very human place. When we get to seminary, we don’t suddenly become these stoic priests who have it all figured out. The seminary is a place to discern a call to the priesthood and is also a place for the growing up experience that you have to go through as you move towards becoming a priest. Many people may think that at seminary, you are either on your knees or at your desk- that’s not what it’s like. Yes, we study, yes we pray, but we also are regular people who play music, sports, board games and enjoy the help that we often receive from the diocese. We don’t cease to be normal people when we get here.
Lyon: Some people may not know that the journey to become a priest is 8 years long or that as soon as you sign up for the seminary, you will automatically become a priest—it’s a constant discernment process. Our journey is “God willing, I will be a priest in 8 years.” Also, discerning that priesthood is not for you is not a failure story. it’s a success story because you found your vocation. Also, people tend to think that all we learn is “how to do Mass.” We don’t even take classes on that until almost our final year, it’s a lot more than that— it’s theology, philosophy, history, it’s everything.
Knepper: It’s important for the average catholic to understand that the choice to attend seminary is not a 100% commitment to become a priest—it’s a deepening in faith and discernment to see if that’s the correct vocation for you. There are still things about the spiritual life and faith that can be intimidating for seminarians and they still have vices that they are trying to overcome.
What is the biggest thing that you (or your brother seminarians) need prayers for?
Borchard: For peace and clarity in discernment. There can be a lot of difficulty to be overcome. And let’s be honest— the devil doesn’t want us to priests, nor does he want those of us not called to priesthood to be good husbands and fathers. There can be a lot of spiritual difficulties, doubts or fears. So, prayers for peace and clarity so that we can see what God sees in us and why He has called us to this place and where He wants us to go.
Lyon: For perseverance in our vocation, that we may be able to listen to what God is telling us and not be swayed by our emotions.
Knepper: Prayers for confidence in God’s will. People are always welcome to pray for me—I need them!
Do you have a patron saint or special devotion that has helped you?
Borchard: Our Lady of Lourdes, who is the Mary at Notre Dame’s grotto as well as at Mount St. Mary’s. We also went to Lourdes at World Youth Day, Our Lady of Lourdes has always been part of my Marian devotion. I also didn’t have a devotion to St. John Vianney & St. Philomela until they teamed up on me when I got to Philadelphia. They kept popping up and their efforts together really influenced me to get into the seminary.
Lyon: I love St. Therese of Liseux and St. Maria Goretti and my confirmation saint, St. John the Baptist—those three are my kind of people.
Knepper: I was confirmed as an older adult and my confirmation saint was St. Peter. While at the beginning, people kept suggesting St. Peter, I was adamantly opposed to because it just seemed like an obvious choice, which I thought was lazy. I wanted it to mean more and really wanted a saint that I could relate to. I really researching and praying about it. One night, I was praying with Scripture and there was an encounter when Christ first calls Peter and I just saw Peter as a man who felt like he could do life without Jesus- but Jesus just inserted himself anyways. On the day that I got the call for my meeting with Bishop Rhoades to determine whether I would enter the seminary or not, I immediately went to look up the feast of the day, and I had to laugh when I saw the feast of the day was the Chair of St. Peter. Also, I found out that same day that Father Andrew assigns new seminarians an apostle when they are accepted and he has a list that he just works through it and it just happened that mine was St. Peter. So, Peter and I have an interesting relationship. There is a book on St. Peter with a subtitle, “flawed, forgiven and faithful.” In that regard, I feel like I can relate well to him. Peter wants to respond to Jesus even when it doesn’t make sense to anyone else and that’s definitely me.
You ask a young man if they’ve ever thought about becoming a priest and they respond, “I don’t know, maybe.” What do you say next?
Borchard: I always prefer to develop a relationship or start a conversation with the guy to get to know them a little better and see what they are interested in. Maybe they like sports, so I will say, there are a lot of athletes who need a someone to minister to them. Maybe God is calling you to be a priest to minister to those athletes because maybe you could speak to them in a way that I or someone else couldn’t. God is always using those things that we are interested in to call that young man to himself. I would ask that young man to simply consider it. Discern more seriously. The seminary is a place where you are really going to grow as a person and if you are not called to be a priest, it’s a good place to learn that too.
Lyon: One of the good things that really got my attention when I was on the fence thinking about seminary was one particular Mass at the Cathedral where all the priests are walking in a procession out of the church. This older priest in particular, I couldn’t even tell you his name, grabs my shoulder as he walks past and says to me, “this could be you!” and just kept walking. I would tell the guy to be open to it. This journey is a rollercoaster, but it’s the greatest ride ever. Just abandoning yourself to God’s will it’s not easy and sometimes not fun, but it’s totally rewarding.
Knepper: I tell them that, no matter what they are being called to— to stay close to Christ in prayer- stay close to the sacraments, because no matter how flawed they deem themselves to be, the Lord doesn’t view them in that way. And whatever the Lord offers them in saying yes to their vocation in life will offer more joy than they could ever dream of.
What is something that any Catholic could do to help increase vocations?
Borchard: Prayer. We have to trust in the power of prayer, and as people of faith, that has to be the first and primary thing. When you look at our number of seminarians, we have to trust that God is hearing our prayers. We have to thank God and praise God for that. Another thing is to simply be joyful Catholics and not be ashamed to live our faith and go to Mass, go to Confession — just do the things that Catholics do. That was such a witness to me — just to see people who just love being Catholic and priests who love being priests and are living out their faith despite their circumstances.
Lyon: Prayer, prayer and prayer. Pray for vocations and pray for the family. And as far as vocations are concerned, the biggest thing is the family because it all starts there. Many people simply default to marriage, which is fine because it is the vocation for most people, but we also need great priests. People need to pray and have the vocation discussion with their kids. Neither is better than the other, both are honorable, but parent have to inform their children that this another option and pray with them about it.
Knepper: I am very fortunate to come from a parish where it’s normal for people to start talking about discerning their vocation as catholics. As catholics, wherever we are in the world, we need to make it a normal thing to talk about and to let people know that there is no default vocation. Also, if someone expresses an interest- it’s important to not shut it down and just as important to not put pressure on them. Ultimately, we want people to do what God wants them to do.
Any words of wisdom to young men or women who are considering a vocation to the Church?
Borchard: Well, to quote Our Lord — Be not afraid! It’s cliche, but the Lord doesn’t call the qualified, but he qualifies the called. If you wait for the perfect moment to enter seminary or enter a religious order or to ask that girl to marry you, you will find that there never is a perfect moment. At some point, you have to make a leap of faith into the unknown because you can’t let fear hold you back. The Lord will be there to catch you and to guide you.
Lyon: Continue to pray about it! There are a ton of men, women and religious orders who are praying for you right now. Don’t let your decision be swayed by the emotion you feel that day, just know that whatever you choose- God wants you to be happy and will make the best out of whatever decision you make.
Knepper: Pray and take advantage of the sacraments. Don’t be scared to talk about it with priests, family, friends or other faithful Catholic people that you can trust.
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