It’s not so much the practical elements of the job that attracted Kyle Gase to the priesthood. A self-described introvert, he’s spent his years in seminary, in small part, overcoming an aversion to the sort of public speaking that’s a pretty routine part of the vocation.
For he and others who commit themselves in this way to the Roman Catholic Church, it’s often a different consideration that takes precedence: Is God calling me to be a priest?
“This thought of the priesthood wasn’t going away,” said Deacon Gase, who said he felt he had his answer by his early 20s. “In fact, it was getting stronger.”
Kyle Gase, left, Bishop Daniel E. Thomas, Scott Perry and Andrew Wellmann, in Rosary Cathedral.
Deacon Gase, 32, of Fostoria, Scott Perry, 30, of Tiffin, and Andrew Wellmann, 27, of Delphos, Ohio, are set to be ordained at 10 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Blvd. The latest class of men to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders in the Diocese of Toledo, which counts 17 seminarians working toward priestly ordination, the men anticipate placements as parochial vicars, or associate pastors, in the 19-county diocese.
The Rev. Philip Smith, director of the office of diocesan priestly vocations, said the diocese has averaged just over two ordinations each year in the last decade.
The Catholic Church has or is preparing to ordain 430 men in the United States this year, a drop from last year’s 590, according to the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. This is less than half of the 994 who were ordained in 1965.
Ordination culminates a lengthy seven or more years in seminary for Mr. Gase, Mr. Perry, and Mr. Wellmann, each of whom was ordained as a deacon last year and graduated Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary of the West in Cincinnati with a Master of Divinity earlier this month.
Mr. Perry and Mr. Wellmann each graduated with a master’s degree in theology too; Mr. Gase and Mr. Wellmann spent additional years in seminary at Pontifical College Josephinum, either earning or completing undergraduate degrees in philosophy.
“It’s a very intensive process, and during that entire time, they are discerning if they are supposed to become a priest, if they want to become a priest, if this is their calling in life,” Father Smith said. “Then the church is also evaluating them. There’s an extensive screening process by church representatives and outside individuals and experts in different fields to make sure we have qualified candidates who are prepared for ministry.”
Each ordinand described years spent mulling — and praying — over a call to the priesthood.
“Every person is called according to the movement of the Holy Spirit, so each person’s vocation story will be unique,” said Bishop Daniel Thomas, who will ordain the men on Saturday.
The bishop’s own path began when he was about 7 years old, he said, recalling the first time he felt a stirring in his heart and began to think that perhaps he could do what his parish priest was doing. Before he would apply to the seminary as a high school senior, he would go on to consider being a firefighter, a tennis player, English teacher, and veterinarian.
“But, of course,” he said, “all the time with that, was the thought that I could also, possibly, be a priest.”
Deacon Gase was a high school sophomore when the possibility of a life as a priest presented itself. It was around the time that his family went through a conversion of sorts, he said, committing themselves anew to their Catholic faith and beginning to attend Mass regularly.
“Through prayer, just becoming more involved in my church, I started learning more about my faith and developing a deeper relationship with God,” he said.
The thought of the priesthood stayed with him after graduating high school, when he was otherwise navigating life as a “regular 18-, 20-something-year-old guy” with a girlfriend and a full-time job at a medical supplies warehouse. At 23, he heeded that call and through the diocese was accepted as a seminarian at Pontifical College Josephinum.
His discernment included considering the sacrifices that the priesthood requires: “a wife, a kid, the quote-unquote American life.” But, he and others said, these are balanced by the rich opportunities that a priest has to share in the moments — high and low — of their parishioners’ lives.
“The biggest moments of people’s lives are when the priest is present,” he said.
Catholic seminaries blend academics with spiritual formation, equipping students with degrees that both reflect long hours in the classroom as well as the spiritual maturity that is necessary in serving a congregation. Seminarians also leave with significant experience in parishes, through summer ministry assignments and a year-long pastoral internship that invites them to engage with diverse aspects of the ministry of a parish priest.
Deacon Gase, whose home parish is St. Wendelin Catholic Community in Fostoria, connected with Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Toledo for his pastoral internship.
“The year that I spent at Blessed Sacrament was kind of the year that sealed the deal, in a way, as far as this is what I’m getting myself into into in being a parish priest,” he said. “I think I’m really, really going to enjoy it.”
For Deacon Perry, whose home parish is St. Joseph Catholic Church in Tiffin, an eighth-grade teacher at the parish school planted the seed that germinated into a vocation.
“She said in our religion class that being the person that God wants you to be and doing what He wants you to do in your life will bring you the most peace and joy and fulfillment,” he recalled. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Maybe I would be happy as a priest.’ ”
It was a passing thought, he said, but one that would pop back up more than once over the years. In his sophomore year at Ohio State University, when he particularly felt his spiritual life deepening, he began to consider anew whether he might be being called to the priesthood.
“I thought about all the sacrifices, you know, not getting married, not having a family. So I decided to not pursue the priesthood,” he said. “But the more I resisted the call, the less peace I had, the less sense of fulfillment, thinking back to that comment my eighth-grade teacher made.”
Deacon Perry was accepted as a seminarian in his last quarter at OSU, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He completed his pastoral internship at Christ the King Roman Catholic Parish in Toledo.
“Once I decided to look into the seminary, there was this deep sense of peace. It’s really something that’s never left,” he said. “So it’s kind of confirmation that I was on the right path, doing God’s will.”
Deacon Wellmann first heard the call to priesthood as an elementary school student at St. John Catholic School in Delphos, where he described growing up with positive role models of faith and vocation. Looking back, he said, it’s likely that others saw it more clearly than he did.
“Especially many of the teachers I had, they would come up and say, ‘You would make a good priest, Have you thought about being a priest?’ ” he recalled. “I would think, ‘Well, OK, maybe. I’m just worried about my algebra exam, I’m just worried about my test coming up.’ ”
The idea stuck with Deacon Wellmann, who said he prayed on it and even connected with the diocese about the possibility throughout his high school years. Upon graduation, though, he still wasn’t quite sure; he opted to enroll at Ohio Northern University, but the priesthood was still the career path that was easier to envision than any other.
“That’s kind of remained the constant as other things have become more appealing or less appealing,” he said. “There wasn’t a major other alternative.”
He enrolled in seminary through the diocese after his freshman year at ONU. His home parish is St. John the Evangelist Church in Delphos, and he completed his pastoral internship at St. Peter Parish in Mansfield.
Like Deacon Gase and Deacon Perry, he said he’s excited to approach ordination.
“It’s quite amazing to be on the doorstep of priestly ordination,” he said. “I look simply with great gratitude, thanking God for all that He’s done, for his constant presence and guidance in my life, and I look forward with great joy to serving our diocese as a priest.”
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