By Celine Klosterman
MUSCATINE — This fall, Andrew Rauenbuehler will go from living down the street from his home parish to living 5,000 miles away.
The 18-year-old will move to Rome in September to enter the novitiate for the Family of Mary, an international missionary order based in Italy. He hopes to be ordained a priest in the order eight years later, thus answering what he says has been a lifelong calling.
“I always thought, ‘This is what I’ll do when I get older,’” the Ss. Mary & Mathias parishioner recalls of playing Mass with siblings as a first- and second-grader. He says that call matured as he grew and, now, “I know this is how I’ll be happiest, living my life for God.”
The Family of Mary drew Rauenbuehler because of its devotion to Mary and the Eucharist. Two of his cousins — a Brother and a Sister — belong to the order and helped him discern his vocation, but “it’s not like they were trying to recruit me,” he laughs.
Father Paul Maria Sigl, head of the Family of Mary, also offered Rauenbuehler guidance while the priest was in Muscatine in February for a Lenten retreat. A few months earlier, the young adult’s hesitancy about moving across the globe had prompted him to apply to enter the seminary for the Davenport Diocese. “But later I thought, was this just me being selfish in wanting to stay close to home? Was this really God’s will?”
Fr. Sigl helped him sort out his thoughts and stressed Rauenbuehler’s freedom. A week after their conversation, Rauenbuehler withdrew his application to the diocese.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” he says. “I know our diocese really needs priests, and I felt bad about leading on the bishop and Father Marty (Goetz, the diocese’s vocations director).”
But Rauenbuehler also felt relief. And he says the two clergymen responded with kindness and understanding. “I told them I’ll always keep the diocese and vocations in my prayers,” he says.
He wants to keep ties to the diocese whose priests inspired and guided him. He cites Fr. Goetz as well as Father Jason Crossen, his pastor, and Father Paul Appel, former parochial vicar for Ss. Mary & Mathias, both of whom are in their 30s.
“I’ve been able to see these young priests who love their vocation. They really attracted me to liturgy” and have supported eucharistic adoration, says Rauenbuehler. “They’re very reverent, very devoted to the church.”
Fr. Crossen notes Rauenbuehler’s devotion, too. “He’s very generous with his time for the people and the parish,” the priest says. The young adult serves at 7 a.m. Mass weekdays at St. Mathias Church, has taught religious education and started the Muscatine chapter of Right to Life. “He has good leadership skills and is a congenial, very sharp young man.”
Rauenbuehler nods to his family’s influence; his parents, Mark and Sharon, and four siblings pray the rosary nightly, and his grandma Mary Miller prayed often for vocations among her relatives. After seeing him play Mass as a child, his grandma Mary Ann Rauenbuehler made him a cassock that his family later displayed at his high-school graduation party.
Sharon Rauenbuehler says she and her husband are very proud of Andrew, but it will be difficult to see their second-oldest child leave for Rome. “I have been praying very hard for the enlightenment from the Holy Spirit to give me, his siblings and father a peace knowing this is where God wants Andrew,” she says.
He won’t have summer breaks while in Italy, but will return home in June for a sister’s wedding. Until then, he and family plan to keep in touch through Skype, which allows users to make video calls online, phone and e-mail. He won’t be entirely separated from family; his cousin who’s a Brother in the Family of Mary lives down the hill from the novitiate where Andrew will spend three years before moving on to the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“Some people might wonder why someone would want to do this just out of high school,” he says. But he sees explaining his decision as a way to witness.
He looks forward to witnessing as a priest, helping Catholics with their problems through the sacrament of reconciliation and, of course, celebrating Mass. “I can’t imagine anything more exciting.”
And he’s confident the Lord will guide him and his family through coming years. “God will help us. He’ll always be there.”