MADISON -- For Diocese of Madison seminarians Chad Droessler and John Putzer, the next several months will be busy. They will be ordained as transitional deacons on Friday, Oct. 15, in Belgium and soon after that, on Friday, Dec. 10, they will be ordained to the priesthood at St. Maria Goretti Church in Madison.
Droessler and Putzer have completed their S.T. B. (Bachelor of Sacred Theology) degrees at the American College of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic university in Louvain, Belgium. They will be working on their S.T.L. (Licentiate in Sacred Theology) degrees, Droessler starting his and Putzer close to finishing this graduate degree.
Bishop Robert C. Morlino will ordain them deacons in Belgium along with another seminarian from Milwaukee. The bishop decided that since they had completed their academic formation earlier than the expected four years, he would ordain them to the priesthood earlier than expected, too.
“John and Chad will both receive parish assignments for the new year, and this will help us significantly to address the priest-power problems that we face day-in and day-out,” said Bishop Morlino.
In an interview this summer while they were back home, the two men talked about their backgrounds and what led them to respond to the call to priesthood.
The son of Jane and Greg Droessler, Chad Droessler was born in Dubuque, Iowa, but raised in the country between Hazel Green and Cuba City, Wis. He attended St. Rose Elementary School and Cuba City High School.
After high school, Droessler entered the University of Dubuque aviation program. “I always wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “I took flying lessons starting in eighth grade. I flew before I drove a car.”
Droessler obtained his private pilot’s license. “The license is good for life,” he said. “I hope to continue flying after ordination.”
Besides flying, Droessler had also considered the priesthood off and on as he was growing up. “When I was a kid, people would say, ‘Have you thought of being a priest?’ I shrugged it off,” he said.
Droessler’s father is one of 10 children, so he has over 40 first cousins. “My grandparents always hoped one of their grandchildren would become a priest or Sister,” he said.
He was especially close to his maternal grandmother. She was diagnosed with cancer and was given a few weeks to live.
“I had intimate conversations with her before she died,” Droessler recalls. “For me, it was very transformative. God was molding my heart to consider a vocation to the priesthood. Flying no longer had the same allure.”
Droessler transferred to Loras College in Dubuque to study philosophy in the seminary program there. “I figure the only way to know something is to try it, to take a leap of faith.”
After he transferred to Loras, he talked with Msgr. Jim Bartylla, who was the director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison at that time. They agreed that Droessler could finish his seminary education at Loras. “I appreciated being closer to home,” said Droessler.
Little did he know then that he would be far from home for his major theology studies. Bishop Morlino asked him to study in Louvain, Belgium, after his graduation from Loras.
Droessler admits it was quite an adjustment. “Something in prayer told me to stay,” he said. “God knows what he’s doing. I’m grateful for trusting God.
“For the most part it’s been the best experience on the human and spiritual levels,” he said of his four years in Louvain.
He has especially enjoyed a class in icons taught by Fr. Paul Czerwonka, a priest from the Diocese of La Crosse who is an iconographer. Each of the seminarians was commissioned to create an icon of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the college. Droessler has made two icons, spending over 100 hours on each of them.
He has also enjoyed the opportunity to travel in Europe. “I have a cousin in London, so she has invited me to get together with her family at Christmas.”
Droessler has also visited Italy, Poland, France, Austria, and Germany. He has done pastoral assignments in Germany every other weekend at U.S. military bases and a NATO base, ministering to American service people and their families.
“We work with the chaplains, helping with liturgies and teaching religious education. It’s been a good experience.”
Droessler has come home in the summers and has served at parishes in Madison, Platteville, and Waunakee. “I’ve had wonderful priest-mentors,” he said. “Everyone in the parishes is so friendly.”
This summer he also enjoyed working in hospital ministry. “People are so open to talking about their faith. They tell very touching stories,” he said.
Droessler is excited about being a priest. “I can’t wait,” he said. “Being in parish assignments has affirmed my interest in parish life,” he said. “I’m thankful for the prayers and support of the people in our diocese.”
He also said his parents are very supportive. “They’re proud and very happy for me to be a priest.” His parents, other family members, and friends plan to come to Belgium for his ordination to the diaconate, along with some priests and Deacons Jorge Miramontes and Tim Renz.
The son of Mary and David Putzer, John Putzer grew up in Oshkosh, Wis. He attended St. Vincent de Paul and Unified Catholic Schools of Oshkosh and Lourdes High School. After high school graduation, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years, majoring in chemical engineering.
“In my second year at UW-Madison, I spent time thinking and praying with Msgr. Jim Bartylla as my spiritual director,” said Putzer. “I decided to apply for the seminary and spent two years at Seton Hall (college seminary in South Orange, N.J.), where I got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.”
Putzer was then sent to the American College in Louvain, Belgium. “It’s a really neat opportunity to experience the Church outside the United States,” he said.
One of the most striking things Putzer has noticed is that although Belgium has been 95 percent Catholic, in recent years the country has been experiencing a process of secularization. “Now only about 12 to 14 percent of the people go to church in Belgium,” said Putzer.
“Everything from buildings to artwork to music in Belgium has been pervaded by Catholicity, but now it’s much less appreciated in a religious context — it’s more of a social context. It doesn’t speak to them on a religious, personal level. In the United States, our faith is more integrated into our lives,” he observed.
Putzer did admit that some Belgians have a “vibrant, lively faith.” He pointed to Sant’egidio, “a group of lay professionals who want to bring faith into their personal and professional lives and reach out to the poor and homeless.”
One of the members of the college staff, the admissions director, is a member of the group. “I’ve been to their prayer services,” said Putzer. “It’s refreshing to see such a lively faith.”
Putzer has enjoyed the seminary in Louvain. “It’s a small seminary. I thrive in a close, intimate setting where you really get to know the people. You are among others who are discerning a call to the priesthood and you see everyone dealing with the daily struggles and joys. You have to work through the difficulties. There’s no place to hide!”
Like Droessler, Putzer has appreciated the opportunity to travel. He has visited England, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and Italy.
He has also served at military bases in Germany and one in Belgium and has enjoyed the pastoral experiences there.
Creating icons for him has also been “an unbelievable opportunity and a very profound, moving experience.”
He noted that writing an icon is “a prayer from beginning to end. I’m not a talented artist, but it’s amazing to see how the Holy Spirit can work in you.”
His summers have been spent teaching English in the Ukraine, as an intern in the diocesan Vocation Office, and at parishes in Sun Prairie, Dodgeville, and Watertown. “It’s been wonderful to come back home to Wisconsin and reconnect with the diocese and have time to get to know people in the parishes. It refocuses me on what I’m doing all this for.”
Of his vocation, Putzer said he doesn’t remember wanting to be a priest when he was growing up, but “I felt a sense of duty to say ‘yes’ to what God wanted.”
When he attended UW-Madison, he began to see priesthood as a real possibility. He went to daily Mass and spent time before the Blessed Sacrament at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center. “I developed an appreciation for the Eucharist and the priesthood because they’re intimately connected,” observed Putzer.
“My experiences at St. Paul’s helped me grow in holiness. It was a wonderful opportunity,” he said.
He is excited to be ordained to the diaconate and then the priesthood. “It’s always the goal you’re living toward. Now I feel the immediacy of ordination.”
Being at Fr. Greg Ihm and Fr. David Carrano’s ordination this summer made him realize how “real and profound it is.”
Putzer added, “The seriousness of the responsibility has been impressed on me. I am in awe to a certain extent of ordination — of how big a life commitment it is and the effect it has on the people I’m called to serve. It’s a great joy and I’m looking forward to it.”
Putzer said his family has always been very supportive of his call to the priesthood. He is the third of four children. His two brothers are engaged to be married, so his family will be busy during the coming 12 months.
“I’ve had wonderful support from priest friends, seminarians, and other friends,” he said.