MADISON -- Two seminarians from the Diocese of Madison are looking forward to ordination to the transitional diaconate on Friday, May 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison.
Both are in their third year of major theology studies. These men hope to be ordained to the priesthood in the year 2013.
In interviews, they discussed their vocation stories, their seminary experiences, and their feelings about their pending ordination.
Ordinally from Richland Center, Vince Brewer attended St. Mary School there. He started serving Mass in the fourth grade, giving him the opportunity to be around priests more often.
He was active in high school as a lector and sang in the parish choir.
Brewer served in the Navy for six years during the Iran-Iraq War. After the Navy, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, earning a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications management. He then went to work for a radio station in Dubuque, Iowa.
He wasn’t as active in his faith at that time, but started to think about the priesthood. “I thought I needed to explore it, so I talked to a priest at St. Augustine Parish in Platteville. I became more active in my faith again,” he said.
Brewer looked into religious orders and was actually accepted by the Paulist Fathers. However, he had to wait almost a year to begin his formation, so he decided not to enter the order.
In 2003 Brewer started to think about the priesthood again. He was working for TDS in Madison at that time and spoke to Msgr. Mike Burke at St. Maria Goretti Parish.
However, he was a member of the Army National Guard and was called up for duty in the U.S. Central Command in Qatar, where he served for under a year.
“Eventually the call to the priesthood emerged again. God was persistent,” Brewer said. “I applied to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Madison and was accepted.”
In 2008, Brewer was sent to study at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., which specializes in second career vocations.
“I owned a home, so I had a lot to deal with,” admitted Brewer. “I knew I had to trust in God.”
Fortunately, the seminary he attends is geared to men like him. Brewer noted that his fellow seminarians include a carpenter, insurance claims adjustors, a retired federal judge, a former IRS agent, and airline pilots, to name a few. “It’s a very diverse group of people.”
He said the seminary “understands the needs of men who have been outside of the college classroom for some time and can add life experience to their priesthood.”
Brewer had one year of pre-theology studies in philosophy before beginning his major theology studies. He noted that there are four aspects to his formation: academic, human, spiritual, and pastoral.
In the summer of 2009 he went to Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., to participate in its Institute for Priestly Formation. The program focuses on integrating personal prayer and liturgical prayer.
“This is important for a fulfilling life as a priest,” said Brewer. “It helped me to reassess how I approach prayer in my life.”
At the seminary, Brewer has had pastoral assignments at area parishes, including at St. Cecilia Parish in Ashland, where he prepared ninth and 10th graders for Confirmation and taught religious education classes, and at St. Bridget Parish in Abbington, where he made Communion calls and visited people in nursing homes and hospitals.
For the past two summers he has come home to the Madison Diocese, the first summer spent at St. Joseph Parish in Dodgeville and last summer at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison. He has had the opportunity to visit people in local hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice programs.
Visiting patients in hospice who are in a terminal condition has been one of the biggest challenges he has faced, “but it is the source of some of the most faith-filled moments,” he said.
For example, he spent time with a woman who was very sick. “I felt a prompting to pray with her. I prayed the commendation of the dying that expressess God’s mercy. Shortly after I finished, she died and accepted God’s invitation in peace. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that experience.”
Brewer said two words describe his anticipation of ordination this spring: “excitement and humility.”
“I’m excited to be ordained after years of study. But I am also humble, because this is not something I’m achieving on my own. It takes the prayers and support of the community, the Church, and God.”
Garrett Kau grew up in rural Palmyra on a small five-acre farm. Although officially from St. Mary Help of Christians Parish in Sullivan, that parish was linked at one time with St. Mary Parish in Palmyra, so both parishes “claim” him.
He attended public schools in Jefferson and Fort Atkinson, before going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology.
He was an altar server at his parish until graduation from high school. “I took pride in it and enjoyed doing it,” he said.
While at UW-Madison, Kau became involved right away at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center. “Coming from a small rural parish, I had my first experience of community with my peers and taking ownership of my faith,” he said.
In 2005, he attended World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, through the invitation of Fr. Eric Nielsen, who was pastor at St. Mary Parish in Sullivan at that time.
“It was my first encounter with diocesan seminarians,” said Kau, noting that he met seminarians such as Greg Ihm and David Carrano (who have since been ordained to the priesthood).
“I remember walking over the Rhine River and that was the first time that Father Eric (Nielsen) asked me if I had thought about being a priest.”
However, at that time Kau had other things on his mind. He would be starting his senior year of college and didn’t think the priesthood was in his future plans. “I was kind of resistant to the priesthood. I had my mind made up. I assumed marriage was what I was called to as a vocation,” said Kau.
Giving God a chance
He was active at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center, including attending Bible studies. In January of 2006 he heard about a men’s retreat being held at the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison.
He decided to attend and didn’t realize that it was primarily a vocations retreat until he got there.
At that retreat, he was impressed by a panel of priests who spoke about their vocations. Some mentioned that the commitment to the priesthood is similar to the commitment made in marriage.
Kau said, “I felt like I had not given God a chance.”
During spring break, Kau studied a packet of materials about Church vocations. Msgr. Jim Bartylla, diocesan vocation director at that time, also called him. “I met with Monsignor Jim and decided to take the plunge. I applied to the diocese and was accepted.”
In the fall of 2006, Kau was sent for a Spirituality Year to prepare for his seminary studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo.
He said he has “really enjoyed” the seminary. “There are over 12 dioceses represented there and we have had a great group of Madison seminarians over the years” (now only he and Deacon David Johannes remain in Denver).
But Kau says the Diocese of Madison is his home. “Coming home is always a joy,” he said.
Serving at parishes
During the summers he has served at parishes in Sauk City, Jefferson, Pine Bluff, Ridgeway-Barneveld, Muscoda-Boscobel, and Baraboo. This has given him an opportunity to get to know priests and priestly life as well as the people of God whom he will serve.
“It’s a sample of the charity and support for vocations we receive,” he said. “I’m impressed by the friendliness of the people. I’ve made some lasting friendships.”
He is looking forward to ordination. “After six years of preparation it’s great to have the diaconate finally on the horizon,” he said. “There’s excitement and nervousness. I’ll be out of the pew and into the sanctuary.
“I’ve seen the witness of other deacons and the joy they have to preach and serve — that is really infectious.
“At the end of the day, it is Jesus calling me. It’s good to reflect on that original call and embrace the opportunities for spiritual fatherhood. I’ve been doing my best to say ‘yes’ — now I need the grace to do what God has called me to do.”
In reflecting on influences on his vocation, Kau said he remembers taking his Confirmation seriously. He also said priests at his parishes have influenced him, including Fr. Robert Bulholzer. “He gave me an example of simplicity and humility,” he said.