Parish provides good ground for priest vocation

| Susan Klemond | January 2, 2014 | 0 Comments

As a high school freshman, Andrew Zipp first heard a call to priesthood while praying in his parish youth group. Zipp, who grew up attending St. Michael parish in St. Michael, is now a junior at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul and is seriously considering priesthood.

He’s not the only one from his parish and youth group at the seminary.

Two other men from St. Michael — Tyler Ferry and Josh Solonek — along with Nick Welter from neighboring St. Albert in Albertville, attend SJV.

And another St. Michael native, Deacon Paul Shovelain, is at St. Paul Seminary preparing to be ordained a priest in May. All participated in the combined youth group at St. Michael and St. Albert.

Andrew Zipp

Andrew Zipp

“. . . having these guys from St. Michael — having all of them there this whole time — has been a real grace for me just because I’ve known them for so long and they’re someone I can still turn to.”                

– Andrew Zipp, SJV seminarian and St. Michael parishioner

Since the St. Michael parish’s inception in 1856, 30 priests and 100 nuns have come from it, and more young men and women are currently discerning priesthood or consecrated life, according to the pastor, Father Peter Richards.

Strong Catholic families, priests who give a positive image of the priesthood, and an active faith-centered youth group are reasons cited for why these young men are at the seminary.

The seminarians also say they’ve been encouraged by friendships with each other and Deacon Shovelain’s leadership.

Tyler Ferry

Tyler Ferry

“Being able to see their example of just giving their entire lives to be priests of Jesus Christ, it’s really been a big influence on me in my time discerning priesthood.”

– Tyler Ferry, SJV seminarian, speaking about parish priests

“The confluence of elements of Catholic culture . . . all together inspiring love for Jesus, love for Mary and the saints, and then in that, God has given grace to young people to answer the vocation,” said SJV rector and previous St. Michael pastor Father Michael Becker.

Father Richards emphasized the role of families. “All of those guys come from very strong families that are open to God’s call for them,” he said. “I think that’s where it all starts first. The families there are all along.”

Nurturing a call

Ferry, who transferred to SJV this fall after two years at Winona State University in Winona, said while he didn’t realize it at the time, the foundation for his discernment was laid at the parish.

“I don’t think I was ever really open to the priesthood in my time at home and part of St. Michael parish. But there were so many things that led up to that, that were built at St. Michael,” he said.

Paul Shovelain

Paul Shovelain

“Seminary is difficult, and so I try to give them encouragement and help when I can.”

– Paul Shovelain, St. Paul Seminary deacon and St. Michael parishioner

In reflecting on a possible call, Ferry said he thought of the parish priests. “Being able to see their example of just giving their entire lives to be priests of Jesus Christ, it’s really been a big influence on me in my time discerning priesthood,” he said.

One Saturday a month, Father Richards and St. Michael’s assistant priest, Father Nathan LaLiberte, invite the parish’s young men to dinner for prayer, fellowship and to learn about their life. About 10 boys and at least one of their dads often show up at the dinners, which are provided by parish families.

“The main thing is for them to get a taste for the priesthood,” Father Richards said.

Men 18 and older who want to learn more about the life of a priest can stay in the rectory basement for a summer or school break.

Father Richards said he hopes to do more to encourage young women at St. Michael to consider religious life, including bringing religious sisters to the parish.

Seeking Christ together

The seminarians said the St. Michael-St. Albert youth group, which is co-led by John O’Sullivan and Cassandra Olson, has been another part of their vocational discernment.

Composed of about 160 junior and senior high school students from both parishes, the youth group helps kids be faithful to the Church through prayer, the sacraments, study and service, said O’Sullivan, who has been a youth minister at the parish for eight years.

“Our goal is to help these teens seek Christ with all their hearts, minds and souls,” O’Sullivan said. “We definitely don’t push vocations, but rather [encourage them] to get closer to Christ, to seek his face, and [we] come alongside them to help them on their journey.”

While at St. Paul Seminary, Deacon Shovelain has often met the men from the youth group studying at SJV for lunch to talk about their experiences.

“Seminary is difficult, and so I try to give them encouragement and help when I can,” he said.

These meetings help build brotherhood, Zipp said. “It’s been really cool to have that. We’ve grown up together pretty much, so that helps.”

Their friendships have helped the St. Michael men at SJV, although Father Becker said they mix with all the 132 seminarians.

“The fraternity is very strong, the prayer life is very strong,” he said. “The message to invest yourself to grow in virtue is inculcated, and the young men are growing up in an environment where they — if they go on to become a husband and father — they will be a wonderful husband and father. If they go on to be a priest, they will be one who seeks to be a holy priest.”

While not all SJV seminarians ultimately become priests, Zipp said he is “fairly certain” God is calling him to priesthood, and he appreciates the support of all the seminarians, including his friends from the youth group.

“Just having all these men striving for holiness has been such a blessing for me, and having these guys from St. Michael — having all of them there this whole time — has been a real grace for me just because I’ve known them for so long and they’re someone I can still turn to,” he said.

 

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Category: Vocations