Getting to Know Fr. Steven – Part 6

My dear friends,

I will continue from where I left off in the last bulletin, sharing with you more of the journey of my life: part 6 of the song I sing to God’s merciful love.

When the Lord called me to be a priest at the age of 27, I was a tradesman, fixing copy machines for a company in St. Paul. I did not have a BA degree from college, so it was suggested by my parish priest and a friend that I get a philosophy degree before entering the seminary. I was never very academic, and after a few months of college, I found it overwhelming. After taking counsel, I decided to put college on hold for the moment. This began a long period of waiting; a time of deeper growth and maturity. When I look back on this time in hindsight, I see how much I needed that extra time. In God’s divine providence, delays always serve a good purpose, even though we don’t like them or understand what God is doing. We have our time line, but it may not be the same as God’s. I heard once that the Israelites could have made it through the desert of Sinai in six weeks, yet it took them forty years before they finally reached the Promised Land. Israel’s forty years in the desert was a necessary time of testing, a time where God was forming their hearts to trust Him and faithfully obey His will.

During this time of waiting I took several jobs in the area of social service: working with the elderly, with the mentally ill, and with young adults who had special needs. Even though I needed money to pay the bills like everyone else, this work was more like a vocation, a ministry, and, in many ways, a “school of love;” stretching and forming my heart in patience, gentleness, compassion and other virtues.

I also went back to trade school and learned how to repair mechanical clocks and watches. I especially enjoyed repairing old cuckoo clocks and pocket watches. My goal was to eventually work out of my home so I could live a more simple, contemplative life in the world, and be more available to serve the spiritual needs of my Christian community and others.

But the call to be a priest would not go away, it would not let me settle into anything I tried. Based on my previous experience of college, I did not have confidence I could survive the intense study required. But with encouragement from my parish priest I decided to give it another try; I was now 34. To my surprise, the door that God had closed earlier opened wide. Just a year before my decision, the seminary started a 6 year program for older men who did not have a BA degree, and the College of St. Thomas had launched a new degree program called “Catholic Studies,” which combined philosophy and theology together, serving as a good under-graduate preparation for the seminary.

Though these years in the seminary were certainly challenging and intense, sometimes feeling like I was drinking from a fire hose, I treasure them and all that I learned. I was able to immerse myself in Scripture and the beautiful teaching of the Church, which deeply enriched my prayer life. It was also a time of forming deep and lasting friendships with many other seminarians whom I still see and serve with today.

I took a 6 year detour while in the seminary to explore the possibility of religious life with a community of brothers and sisters from France, called the Congregation of St. John. Most of my time with them was spent in Laredo Texas, where they had a monastery and retreat center. Though I would eventually return to the archdiocese, the grace of this stage of the journey was the discovery and growth of certain gifts from the Lord, indicating specific ways I was to serve the Him and give Him glory. When I returned to the archdiocese years later to finish my formation as a priest, I was ordained by Archbishop Flynn on December 8, 2007, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The message from Mary was clear: I was to be her priest, and she wanted to be, and always will be, the Mother of my priesthood.

How beautiful the mercy of God, and how diverse the paths He leads us. They say that God can write straight with crooked lines. I believe this, for it certainly is true in my case. I hope this little sharing has been helpful. Together let us praise the wonders of God’s love.

God love you

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