Care for my sheep

This article was posted on: August 27, 2020

The Diocese of La Crosse welcomes four new priests.

After years of discernment and study, four men of the Diocese of La Crosse were ordained by Bishop William Patrick Callahan on Saturday, June 27 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman. Father Samuel McCarty, Father Joseph Richards, Father Levi Schmitt, and Father Daniel Williams answered God’s call with Faith and joy, and begin their lives as shepherds in the Catholic Church.

The sacrament of holy orders was witnessed in person by a smaller group of the faithful due to gathering limitations imposed by COVID-19, but the excitement of the day was felt across the diocese by more than 1,700 people who watched the Mass at diolc.org/live. Visit diolc.org/priesthood to watch a recording of the ordination Mass.

Deacon McCarty, promising respect and obedience to Bishop Callahan and his successors.

Father Samuel McCarty

Growing up in Wausau, Father Samuel McCarty turned toward the priesthood at a young age, with his journey influenced by work as an altar server and witnessing the work of good priests. “It was more of a gradual thing,” says Father McCarty. “For me, it was a collection of evidence that pointed in the same direction. I was able to see with more and more clarity. I made the decision at the end of high school to go right into seminary. I went to St. John Vianney Seminary and studied philosophy.”

His focus on Catholic studies and classical languages was a highlight, while a semester studying in Rome reinforced his direction toward the priesthood. “That was formative for my vocation,” Father McCarty says. “It was a study abroad program. I was influenced by a priest over there who is involved in our community.”

Deacon McCarty, with his family, before being called forward.

Surrounded by the beauty and history of the Catholic Church in Rome was inspiring, but he found the true beauty of the Catholic Church in his interactions with the priests. “They really modeled fatherhood,” says Father McCarty.

Studying classical languages gave Father McCarty the opportunity to read Virgil and Augustine in their original languages and to read the New Testament in Greek. “I enjoyed the classical languages, although maybe not so much at the beginning,” Father McCarty says. “That was really exciting, like putting a puzzle together.”

Learning Catholic history invigorated Father McCarty’s passion for the Church. “My Catholic studies were my favorite,” he says. “One of them was a whole course on John Henry Newman. That was super interesting. Another was on St. John of the Cross. That’s something that’s really carried me through my academic studies.”

Attending Mundelein Seminary for his final four years of preparation for the priesthood ended abruptly when the seminarians were sent home in the middle of March. He finished the final five weeks of classes online. Although it was not ideal, Father McCarty found his connection with parish life to be a blessing.

Living at Mary, Mother of the Church in La Crosse provided him with community living and additional pastoral work.

“I became more involved in the parish—going to Mass and doing some preaching,” says Father McCarty. “I was very fortunate that I was well taken care of. This has been a good opportunity. I hadn’t spent much time in the city of La Crosse.”

The one-on-one time with Father Brian Konopa was another gift—for friendship and for learning the life of a parish priest. “We had dinners together almost every single night,” Father McCarty says.

Bishop Callahan prays for the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the power of priestly grace for Deacon McCarty.

The things in my imagination I am looking most forward to are the sacraments—the Eucharist and reconciliation.”

With his first assignment as associate pastor of Queen of the Apostles Parish in Tomah, Father McCarty is looking forward to his new life. “I am anticipating being surprised,” he says. “The things in my imagination I am looking most forward to are the sacraments—the Eucharist and reconciliation. How much grace there is in the sacrament of confession! I look forward to being the conduit.”

One area of ministry that calls to Father McCarty is prayer. Inspired by the writings of St. John of the Cross, which provided spiritual guidance to women religious, he hopes he can utilize the variety of spiritual paths within the Church to connect his parishioners to a deeper personal relationship with God.

“One of my big passions is teaching people about prayer,” says Father McCarty. “How can I facilitate individual relationships with the Lord?”

For those discerning how God is calling them, Father McCarty is reassuring about the freedom found in answering the call. “I think, a lot of the time, there’s a lot of worry about vocations,” he says. “Be confident in the Lord’s call and anointing in your life. Be courageous.”

Deacon Richards catches a wave from his nephew, Nolan, before the ordination Mass.

Father Joseph Richards

Father Joseph Richards was interested in the priesthood after high school and started his formal discernment at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona. Two years into his seminary education, Father Richards decided to leave seminary and finish his undergraduate studies at St. Mary’s University in Winona.

After his college graduation, he went to work as a missionary with FOCUS in Duluth for three years. “It ended up being a very good move,” says Father Richards. “It gave me time to get my head on straight.”

Father Richards giving his first blessing to Bishop Callahan.

The call to the priesthood never stopped, and Father Richards kept listening. “For me, a big part of it was in my three years as a FOCUS missionary,” he says. “It set me up to be interested in the ministry. The priest I was with loved his priesthood and was fruitful in his ministry. As soon as I gave God permission to explore that route, everything just came together. It was game over.”

The next step was whether to serve as a diocesan priest or a priest in a religious order. “Community living was a big draw,” Father Richards says of his consideration to be part of a religious order.

He wondered if it would be challenging to live alone while working as a diocesan priest. “I prayed about it earnestly and gave God the chance to calm me down,” he says.

I’m very interested in helping people woh are suffering, I feel very drawn to a healing ministry.

It became clear God was calling him to be a priest for the Diocese of La Crosse. Father Richards then continued his studies at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago.

Living and learning with the other men in seminary was a great blessing for Father Richards. Study of the liturgy and sacraments was inspiring. The class “Gender and Identity Politics” during his last three semesters provided insightful preparation for responses to the secular challenges to the Faith.

Living at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Onalaska the months leading up to ordination gave Father Richards the time to prepare for the sacrament of holy orders in a way he did not experience with his diaconate ordination last year. “This parish has been huge for getting me ready,” he says. “I felt like I had time to prepare for it and to pray the rite of ordination.

Photo by Brian Kusek. Father Joseph Richards celebrating his first Mass with his uncle, Father Gregory Richards, right, and Monsignor Steven Kachel, far right.

“Looking forward, my work with FOCUS taught me to recognize when people are ready to advance their Faith life,” says Father Richards. Empowering the Faith of others and having them bring their gifts to benefit their parish will be part of his goal working as associate pastor of St. Michael Parish and Church of the Resurrection Parish in Wausau.

Father Richards recognizes this is exactly what Jesus did with the apostles, who in turn followed the same model as they began to evangelize. He believes it is important to empower the faithful. “Other people can sometimes do the work better than I can,” he says.

In his future work, Father Richards knows his direction. “I’m very interested in helping people who are suffering,” he says. “I feel very drawn to a healing ministry. I don’t know what it will look like, but I’m very interested in engaging with people in the context of their suffering.”

For those considering life as a priest or religious, Father Richards believes the question doesn’t have to be answered immediately. “There is a lot of freedom to recognize this is a long process,” he says. “There’s no shame exploring the possibility of the priesthood and there’s no shame leaving in the middle of the process. Take your time and don’t feel like saying ‘yes to the possibility’ is the same as saying ‘yes to signing on the dotted line for the rest of your life.’”

Bishop Callahan wraps Father Schmitt’s hands with the manutergium, to be presented later to Father Schmitt’s mother.

Father Levi Schmitt

When he was young, Father Levi Schmitt was given the book Sixty Saints for Boys by Joan Windam as a gift. He was inspired by the messages of the saints to think about how he could follow their example.

“A main thread was how incredibly joyful they were living their lives with the Lord,” Father Schmitt says. “The priesthood was the first thing that came to my mind. The call was reinforced by the homeschool curriculum my family set up.”

Serving at the altar for Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Elmwood was a pleasure for Father Schmitt and reinforced his thoughts of the priesthood.

As a high school student, other academics and working moved to the forefront of his life. Still, he spent an hour in adoration each week, staying centered and continuing to reflect on God’s call.

“Through high school, I continued to pray. There was a closeness I felt with the Eucharist,” says Father Schmitt. “I would go on vocation retreats put on by the diocesan Office for Vocations and that promoted my vocation. Throughout each stage of my life, the call seemed to come in a new way each time.

In his senior year of high school, Father Schmitt felt pulled to several colleges. “I went into prayer one night and asked God which college he wanted me to go to,” he says. “I came out of the prayer knowing I needed to go to seminary.”

I heard the call of Christ and it echoed with me. I had to leave everything to follow His call.”

Attending St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Father Schmitt continued to discern God’s call for him. “When I first went in, I still had it locked in my mind I was going to seminary and was going to be a priest. There wasn’t a personal attraction I had to the priesthood. It was just something I had to do,” Father Schmitt says. “That started shifting my junior year of college. I was on the fence between priesthood and marriage. I was attracted to both. Through my junior year of college and my senior year of college, it seemed like I would flip flop between which one I was most called to.

As he had with other life questions, Father Schmitt found his answer when he asked God the question. In February of his senior year during the Holy Hour preparation for Saturday Mass, he opened the Gospel of Luke and read the calling of Levi, the tax collector. “I was struck by the very simple words Jesus spoke to Levi, ‘Follow me.’ I heard the call of Christ and it echoed with me,” says Father Schmitt. “I realized He had called me and I had to leave everything to follow His call, and what I had to leave behind was the possibility of married life.”

Father Schmitt gives his blessing after his first Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Elmwood.

Sure of his calling, Father Schmitt attended major seminary at St. Francis de Sales in Milwaukee. The balance between classes and pastoral care was a blessing for Father Schmitt and his fellow seminarians, preparing them for spiritual fatherhood and his assignment as associate pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in Wisconsin Rapids and chaplain at Assumption Middle and High schools in Wisconsin Rapids.

“There’s a lot more to preparing for priesthood than classwork,” Father Schmitt says. “It’s difficult to grow spiritually or concentrate on human formation in a seminary setting. It requires stepping out of the seminary rush into the regency setting to concentrate on that relationship.”

For those discerning how God is calling them, Father Schmitt has a simple recommendation. “It’s really important today, in the busyness of our lives, to find time for silence,” he says. “You can only respond to a call if you hear it. Own the vocation. After you hear the vocation you are called to, respond. For me, it was a very joyful invitation. The Lord has been with me through it all. I have grown into a deeper trust and reliance on Christ.”

Father Williams at his home parish Ss. Peter and Paul in Independence.

Father Daniel Williams

Growing up in North Carolina, the words of Monsignor James Jones had a profound effect on Father Daniel Williams. “He always talked about when I became a priest, not if I became a priest,” says Father Williams. “That was something that remained and grew within me. My sophomore year, I went on a visit to St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul. I was very much attracted to it and really thought about jumping in somehow.”

A growing interest in politics in high school competed with Father Williams’ interest in the priesthood. He put the question before God. “In adoration, I was very frustrated in not knowing what to do. I told the Lord if he wanted me to go to seminary, I would go,” says Father Williams.

We must look through the lens of Jesus to see where the Lord is calling us.

The answer was clear. He attended St. John Vianney Seminary after graduation. “I was able to deepen my prayer life and discover what good friendships with good Catholic men were like,” Father Williams says.

After college seminary, Father Williams did a pastoral year at Mary, Mother of the Church in La Crosse. “That year was one of the best seminary years I had,” he says. “It was just a tremendous experience.”

Father Williams with his parents, Daniel and Christine.

Everyday parish life showed him the beauty of what God was calling him to do. Still, Father Williams wondered whether he should consider the life of marriage and family.

“In my second year of college seminary, I received my definitive call to the priesthood,” says Father Williams. “It happened at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse. The Lord introduced me to this young Catholic family. It was through recalling that family in prayer I realized the Lord was calling me not to family life but to the priesthood. The Lord is always waiting for us to approach him with our questions and concerns and our love.”

Bishop Calllahan lays his hands upon the head of Deacon Williams, thus ordaining him a priest for Jesus Christ.

Father Williams spent his last few months living and working at Notre Dame Church in Chippewa Falls. The taste of parish life was filled with great moments and prepared him for his assignment as associate pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Marshfield and chaplain at Columbus Middle School in Marshfield.

The ordinary daily life in a parish is something Father Williams has looked forward to for a long time. The pandemic offered a different view of the life of a priest.

“I’ve been struck in this time of private Masses how the Mass really anchors the daily life of the priest,” he says. “It’s the highlight of the day. Every day, I look forward to celebrating Mass with the people of God and making Mass the center of my day. I look forward to celebrating the sacrament of confession. I hope Christ’s power will radiate through me.”

Father Williams sees Catholic education being an ongoing focus for his ministry. Attending Catholic school was a blessing for him and he wants to share that blessing with other families.

“Catholic education fostered my vocation to the priesthood, so I really am energetic about doing what I can to help support the mission of Catholic education,” says Father Williams.

For those discerning where to go next in life, Father Williams believes the answer should always include God and the understanding that power and money will not bring fulfillment.

“Consider that the trajectory of the world today does not match the pursuit of happiness or holiness the Lord is calling us to,” Father Williams says. “We must look through the lens of Jesus to see where the Lord is calling us. I encourage young people to seek what is above.”

Story by Mary Kay McPartlin
Photography by Michael Lieurance
Published September/October 2020 Catholic Life Issue

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