Father Schwab chooses contemplative Carmelite life as a way to live call

| June 9, 2017 | 0 Comments

Father Elijah Schwab looks forward to a life of solitude and prayer as a member of the Carmelite order in Lake Elmo. Dave Hrbacek/
The Catholic Spirit

Most folks try hard to find time to pray. For some, 15 minutes a day is an accomplishment.

For Carmelite Father Elijah Schwab, prayer is a lifestyle. He spends almost as many hours in prayer every day as most people spend at their full-time jobs.

“I figured it out once,” said Father Schwab, 30, who moved to the Twin Cities in 1998 with his parents, Kenneth and Elizabeth, and sister, and who attended
St. Agnes in St. Paul. “It’s probably like seven and a half hours of scheduled prayer time, between Divine Office and holy hours and rosary and Mass.”

In other words, he is living the life of a Carmelite hermit. He joined the order in 2009, living at the monastery in Lake Elmo and becoming a brother nine months after joining. His journey culminated in being ordained a priest May 25 at the adjacent Carmelite sisters’ monastery by Bishop Andrew Cozzens. He studied at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity with the other members of this year’s ordination class.

“We do have a focus on solitude, so we spend a good amount of our day in solitude,” said Father Schwab, who was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. “We each have our own separate hermitage where we spend all of our time, and we each have our own little yard. So, we have our own little space that we can go to for our silence and for our prayer.”

Father Schwab met the Carmelites during his teenage years when a family friend, Father John Bauer, left his summer job at the monastery to enter the seminary. Father Schwab applied for and got the job. He worked there every summer and Fridays throughout the year until joining the order.

He continues doing the same chores.

“I love to be outside, I love to do real physical activity like cut down trees,” he said. “Some of our hermitages have wood stoves, so I split the firewood for those so we have that for heat in the winter. I cut the grass every week and any outdoor stuff that needs to be done.”

He also likes taking walks around the monastery’s 30 acres of land. Much of it is wooded, and seeing wildlife like deer and turkeys is a regular part of his experience.

Though most of Father Schwab’s time is spent in his hermitage, members of the order do some ministry, mainly to the 13 Carmelite sisters who also live on the grounds. Of the seven Carmelite men, three are priests, and they say Mass for the sisters and hear their confessions. Occasionally, they also go off campus to preach at retreats at religious convents across the country.

Father Schwab said his journey to the priesthood began in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. During the 10 years his family lived there, his parents encountered a priest who helped them return to the faith. Their conversion and the priest who sparked it made a big impression on their young son, who was 7 at the time.

“It was through that experience, mostly through the priest that was helping my parents return to the faith — just seeing his example — [that] really woke that seed in me, like that’s what I want to do,” he recalled. “Pretty much from then on, I always knew I was supposed to be a priest, felt that vocation to be a priest.”

He said his favorite part of being a priest will be celebrating Mass, which he will do regularly in the monastery’s chapel. He also looks forward to living out the Carmelite spirituality, which he has been drawn to since his first summer working at the monastery.

“It’s just a total focus on giving your entire life to God in a very interior way through prayer,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t called to active ministry. I couldn’t find anything peaceful in that for me. Even though that’s a genuine way of serving God, I found the most attraction in just being in the hidden life, being quiet and in prayer. So, the Carmelites fit that perfectly, and especially this community, because it’s one of the few communities that tries to retain the traditional [contemplative] methods of the Carmelites.”

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