In Your Midst

Exploring the Possibility of Priesthood

July 2003

Something unprecedented is happening this fall: St. James is sending three of its own off to the seminary. “It has been many decades since three men from this—or any other parish—began seminary studies in the same year,” says Father Ryan. “In so many ways it is a credit to our parishioners and to the vitality of their faith and witness.” Helen Oesterle, director of Religious Education, adds: “It gives me a sense of hope for the Church to know that men like these are seriously responding to God’s call to the priesthood.”

In This Issue:

CONVERSION Around the baptismal font at St. James are inscribed words that speak of vocation, the universal vocation common to all Christians: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of God who called you out of darkness into marvelous light” (1 Peter 3:9). For each of our seminarians the call to serve began with baptism and conversion of life.

Steve Linn came to the Catholic Church after a long search. “Philosophy studies in college had led me to Eastern thought, especially Buddhism.” Moving to Seattle ten years ago he was introduced to Pastor Rod Romney at First Baptist Church. His four years there reintroduced him to his Christian roots, but he was still looking for something more. “I was reading Kathleen Norris’ Cloister Walk. She’s a Protestant who spent time living in a community of Benedictines, so I ended up visiting Mount Angel Abbey—just out of curiosity. It was witnessing the power of the Eucharist during the Mass (while I was still a Baptist) that was a great encouragement to pursue and investigate Catholicism.” So, coming home, “I called St. James and got involved in RCIA.”

Steve Linn

Todd Strange was baptized as an adult at St. James Cathedral. “My religious background growing up was Methodist, though I had not been baptized.” In recent years he began to study Scripture and explore different church traditions. “Coming into the setting of Mass having already done a lot of reading of Scripture—it all just fit. I went to a Mass in Oakland and heard a homily about Baptism, and thought, ‘This is the message I’ve been waiting to hear all my life.’”

Bob Lunke was baptized in the Catholic faith as an infant, but did not come into his spiritual inheritance until recent years. He was working in banking. “I had reached a level of contentment: I was making good money, I had a house.” But none of these things was totally satisfying. “I started asking myself, ‘What do I want the rest of my life to mean? I kept looking for meaning and fulfillment in my life that wasn’t met by secular interests.” Reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions in this time of searching had a big impact. He contacted St. James’ RCIA program and began to relearn his faith. “My initial fear in coming into the Church was of losing my independence somehow. But really it’s just the opposite: you gain independence of spirit.”

THE CALL “Every high priest is taken from among men,” says the author of the letter to the Hebrews. “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when he is called by God” (Hebrews 5:4). The call to serve as a priest comes from God, and it comes in many ways—not always as dramatically as the “light from the sky” which blinded St. Paul on the road to Damascus.

Todd Strange with Agape (white) and Olga (black)

Soon after his entrance into the Church, Steve Linn participated in Cabrini Pastoral Care Ministry training at St. James. This training for lay ministers includes sessions designed to identify one’s special gifts and calling. This made him think hard about the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood. His major hesitation was his feeling that he was too old; but age turned out not to be an issue, and the call became stronger and more persistent.

Todd Strange says, “I had started thinking about priesthood even before I joined RCIA. Sister Claudette had put me in touch with Father Chirico who needed help with a variety of tasks in the mornings. I remember the first time I went to help him, before he even knew me that well, he asked me ‘Have you ever thought about priesthood?’ I said that Yes, I had. That was the first outward expression of the thought for me; up to that point it had been exclusively internalized.”

Bob Lunke also began to think about priesthood before coming back to the Church. “I understood that true happiness comes from service. I asked myself: What are the principles that will motivate my service?’ I came to realize that becoming a priest was the most important job in the world—even more important than medicine or law—or even banking!”

Bob Lunke

THE PROCESS A lot happens between the first thoughts of priesthood and being accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Seattle. There is a lengthy period of discernment: the vocations office connects each inquirer with a spiritual director whose job, says Steve, is “to guide prayer and deepen discernment and go as deeply as possible into the question.”

Bob describes this period of soul searching: “You pray, you increase your prayer life, you learn more about the Church, and you listen. You listen very closely. At first, I had some hesitations: I thought I was too old; I had a lifetime of sinning behind me; there was my lack of knowledge of the Church. It’s a leap of faith—not only in God, but in the system, that they’ll be able to turn me into a priest.”

After the year of discernment, an intensive application is completed, including writing a spiritual autobiography, personal interviews, and a psychiatric evaluation. Then comes an interview with a large review board, who, having read the candidate’s application packet and file, ask probing questions, trying to help him discern potential strengths and weaknesses. There is a certain amount of suspense involved in waiting for the final decision, which comes from Archbishop Brunett.

THE FUTURE This fall, Steve Linn will enter Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. “My undergraduate degree in philosophy turns out after all these years to be an asset!” he says. “What I most look forward to is the opportunity to study, to go to Mass every day and to be around other seminarians.” He adds: “We could not ‘rise and go’ without the prayers and support of the parish. We will certainly need their prayer throughout the formation process.”

Todd Strange will also be going to Sacred Heart Seminary. “I will miss St. James and the network of friends I’ve made here,” he says, “but I’m most dreading not having my dogs—who are like my children, my best friends.”

Bob Lunke will be going to Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon. “I’m not just excited about becoming a priest, but I’m very excited about the process,” he says. “Every once in a while I feel a little bit of anxiety, but I have no fear about the future. I have full confidence in what God has planned for me.”

Maria Laughlin is the Office Manager at St. James Cathedral.

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