By Michael Rossmann, S.J.
I just turned 25 years old, and I have promised that for the rest of my life I will be poor, celibate and not able to make many life decisions. It sounds crazy, but let me explain.
On Aug. 15, I professed vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. After growing up in Iowa City and attending Regina, I attended the University of Notre Dame and started seriously discerning a vocation to the priesthood and religious life during my sophomore year of college. Michael Rossmann, a priest? Are you serious?
I never really thought about the priesthood until one November night in the basement of the library, while writing in my journal when “the question” hit me. But, initially, I tried to dismiss it; I told myself that this was ridiculous, that this was completely reactionary. I had recently stopped dating a young woman for whom I still had feelings and could not help but think that the thought of the priesthood would soon pass. It didn’t. I couldn’t shake it.
I have heard “vocation” (in the broad sense of the term) described as the “happy inability to think of anything else,” and after the question emerged, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The journey that led me to join the Jesuits less than three years later was in fact happy, exciting and beautiful, albeit confusing at times.
When I reflected on what I wanted to do with my life, I knew that I wanted to commit myself to something important. I am firmly convinced that we all have a desire to live a meaningful life, and I wanted to commit my life to my faith and living that faith out in the world through service. I was raised in a strong Catholic family and always went to Mass on Sundays, though at Notre Dame I started going more frequently until it became part of my daily routine. Moreover, I was deeply inspired by the example of many of the priests on campus, some of whom became good friends.
My father’s death when I was very young also led to a desire to be with people during significant moments in their lives, something I saw priests doing with great regularity. Finally, I wanted to live my life for Jesus. When I reflected on what made me come alive and what brought me deep joy, I recognized that it was all there. I, happily, couldn’t think of anything else.
I say that I started thinking of becoming a priest during my sophomore year of college, though the foundation was laid far before that time, and St. Mary’s and Regina in Iowa City were significant parts of this. I was a normal kid with all sorts of ideas of what I wanted to do in the future, none of which included being a priest.
And yet, I was raised in a family that emphasized our faith, Catholic education, relationships and service. I was an altar server and usher. I got involved with Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreats that were deeply significant for my personal relationship with Jesus. I then went to Notre Dame, which was a place that formed me immensely. And, my vocation has to be due in part to the prayers of Marguerite Kuebrich, a now 100-year-old parishioner who served as my “grand-friend” in second grade when my grandmothers could not make it to Grandparents’ Day at school.
I am now a Jesuit “scholastic,” or seminarian, studying philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago. As a way of connecting with the diocese that formed me and in order to provide a young person’s perspective on issues of faith in our world today, I plan to write for The Catholic Messenger once a month. Know of my deep gratitude for the many people who have prayed for and supported my vocation.
And, to all young people who want to live a meaningful life and happily follow Jesus, I would encourage you in your discernment to consider the possibility of being a priest or Sister.
(Rossmann can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)