By Celine Klosterman
For the powerful intercession of holy hours for vocations, Ray Powell said he’s forever grateful.
Prayers during the monthly hours at St. Mary Church in Iowa City were a blessing as he discerned his vocation to the priesthood, said the seminarian for the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn.
After joining the Catholic Church through St. Mary’s in 2005, the longtime computer programmer tried to attend each monthly holy hour. Just before one of them, Patti McTaggart, the parish’s youth minister, felt prompted to ask him if he’d ever considered the priesthood.
“His face went ashen white,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I’ve been praying about this for a long time.’”
Her question “had a major impact on my discernment,” Powell said. Not long afterward, the University of Iowa graduate moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., to be closer to family and applied to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Knoxville. He’s now in his second year at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis., and anticipates being ordained a priest in 2015.
He’s one of eight Catholics with connections to St. Mary Parish whom the parish identifies as having discerned or begun a religious vocation since 2004, when St. Mary’s began designating its monthly holy hours of prayer for vocations. In the eight years before 2004, the 1,700-family parish recalls one vocation — that of Father Patrick Lumsden, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport who was ordained at St. Mary’s in 1996.
Samantha Bastian, Deacon Corey Close, Sister Sarah Martz, Powell, Sister Maria Catherine (Kate) Rethwisch, Michael Rossmann, Bill Roush and Sister Mary Colleen Schwarz belonged to St. Mary’s before taking steps to become a Sister or priest. Deacon Close and Roush are seminarians for the Diocese of Davenport, and Sr. Martz belongs to the Clinton-based Sisters of St. Francis. Rossmann is a Jesuit scholastic at Loyola University Chicago. Sr. Rethwisch is a member of the Nashville-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, and Sr. Schwarz belongs to the Benedictine Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs, Colo. Bastian plans to enter the Order of Discalced Carmelites of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, Neb.
The power of prayer
McTaggart believes the eight Catholics’ pursuit of a religious calling shows that the Lord hears prayers for vocations.
“The key is patience and perseverance,” said Father Ken Kuntz. He was St. Mary’s pastor from 1994 to 2010 and now serves as pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. He started holy hours at St. Mary’s in 1996 to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament. Later, he considered giving the hours a particular focus, and vocations came to mind.
“At times, attendance was sparse, but every month, 100+-year-old Marguerite Kuebrich came through the doors,” Fr. Kuntz recalled. “I thought, ‘How can I stop this when Marguerite is here?’ Her prayers are probably the reason so many vocations emerged!”
Rossmann believes Marguerite prayed for him to become a priest ever since she stood in as his “grand friend” during Grandparents Day in second grade. She’s among Catholics with ties to his home parish who’ve played a role in his discernment process, which he said seriously began when he was a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame in fall 2004. “While this initially seemed very new, I grew to realize that the wheels had been turning for a very long time, and St. Mary’s was a big part of this.” It was a spiritual home, a place where it was normal to talk about and pray for vocations, he said.
He recalled visiting St. Mary’s for weekday Mass while mulling his future and hearing Father Jeff Belger, then parochial vicar, seemingly change directions mid-homily to talk about vocations. “I felt as if he were speaking right to me,” Rossmann said.
He said the parish has been immensely supportive of him since he joined the Jesuits. Fr. Kuntz, Fr. Belger and McTaggart witnessed him take perpetual vows in 2009. Rossmann expects to be ordained a priest in about six years.
Called since childhood
Bastian also appreciated the support of St. Mary’s, including Catholics who prayed for her during holy hours for vocations. She began discerning her calling to the Carmelites around 2009 as a University of Iowa student, years after first thinking of religious life. As a sophomore, she began more deeply exploring her faith and read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, a founder of the Discalced Carmelites.
Doing so helped inspire her to visit the Discalced Carmelites of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, Neb., about an hour from her family’s home in Omaha. “Something clicked there,” she said. “When I talked to the Sisters, I knew it was the right place to be.”
Bastian applied and was accepted into the community. With the help of the Laboure Society, she’s now working to pay off student loans from her studies in vocal performance and performing arts entrepreneurship. She expects to enter the Valparaiso community as a postulant on June 29.
For Sr. Rethwisch, St. Mary’s was a place to live out the strong faith she received from her family members. Thanks largely to them, she said, religious life entered her mind in some way by second grade. Years later she enrolled at the University of Nebraska to study music and chemistry, but felt the Lord was asking more.
A Catholic student retreat helped inspire her to make a visit in May 2005 to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. There she witnessed the Sisters’ joy and love for Christ, which motivated her to enter their community a few months later. She’s currently teaching fourth grade at a Dominican school and expects to make final vows this summer.
During a weeklong visit to Iowa City each year, Sr. Rethwisch attends “beautifully celebrated” Masses at St. Mary’s and St. Wenceslaus Parish. A St. Wenceslaus parishioner, Sister Theresa Kruml, OSU, offered support to Sr. Rethwisch and Bastian on their vocational journeys, the women said.
As Sr. Schwarz discerned her vocation, she found a mentor in a Benedictine Sister from Colorado Springs who became a coworker at Mercy Iowa City in the 1990s. Manager of intensive care at the hospital, Schwarz was inspired by the Sister’s gentleness and fidelity to the Gospel. The prayer life Schwarz had deepened as president of the Legion of Mary at St. Mary’s helped her recognize God’s call to religious life, she said.
But satisfied with her nursing career, Schwarz was initially reluctant to answer that call. She prayed with Fr. Kuntz as she discerned, and appreciated being able to turn to him or Sister Agnes Giblin, BVM, pastoral associate at St. Mary’s, with any questions.
Eventually, Schwarz visited the Benedictine community in Colorado Springs. “I fell in love with the Sisters, their radical hospitality and living out of the Gospel,” she said. She entered the novitiate at Benet Hill Monastery and professed final vows in 2008. She’s now vocations director at the monastery, a teacher in the Benedictine Spiritual Formation Program and a certified spiritual director.
Like Sr. Schwarz, Roush didn’t always see a religious vocation in his future. But after his wife died in 1997 and his youngest daughter left for college in 2008, his “empty nest” prompted him to re-evaluate his role in life. A longtime member of St. Mary’s, he spoke to Fr. Kuntz, who asked if he’d ever considered the seminary.
“An awesome feeling came over me,” Roush said. Christian Experience Weekends and Catholics who were involved in stewardship and evangelization in Iowa City, including Sister Laura Goedken, OP, also impacted his discernment process. He’s now in his first year of theology at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis., living just down the hall from his friend Powell.
A great peace
Another seminarian, Deacon Close, said he felt St. Mary’s was influential as he discerned a calling to the priesthood. A native of Northbrook, Ill., he joined the parish after enrolling at the University of Iowa in 2002 to study computer science. “I think St. Mary’s played a huge, behind-the-scenes role in thawing the part of my heart that was resistant to the priesthood.” He said it moves him to think that Catholics he didn’t know were praying for him during holy hours for vocations. And Fr. Kuntz’ love of Christ and the priesthood made an impact, too. “I believe that, without even knowing it at the time, I sensed in him someone who had great peace, something which I yearned for.”
Thus, Deacon Close considers St. Mary’s his home parish and has requested to celebrate his first Mass there. He’s currently in his final year as a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and expects to be ordained a priest June 23.
While he was considering the seminary, fellow parishioner Martz was discerning her vocation. She joined St. Mary’s when hired as office administrator for the parish, where she worked from 2003-05 following a longtime membership at St. Wenceslaus.
At age 10, she first thought of religious life. In the late 1990s, she grew familiar with the Sisters of St. Francis while studying art in Clinton at Mount St. Clare College, which the Sisters founded. A period of volunteer work with a Franciscan Sister in Kentucky six years ago solidified her calling to the Franciscans.
She became a candidate in the Clinton community in 2006, professed first vows in 2010 and will be able to profess final vows in 2013. Sr. Martz now works with inner-city youths in Chicago through Port Ministries.
McTaggart smiles when she thinks of the vocations of the eight Catholics. The youth minister encourages all parishes to consider holding a regular holy hour for vocations, which she noted lay people can lead in the absence of a priest. “If we continue having these throughout the diocese, can you imagine the results? It would be phenomenal.”
Parishes wanting to host a holy hour for vocations should contact Father Thom Hennen, diocesan director of vocations, at (563) 888-4255 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fr. Hennen is happy to come to any parish to lead the holy hour.