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September 27, 2009

Hear from them why they are priests

Mundelein Seminary has published the second volume of “Priesthood: So That Others May Serve/Vocation Stories,” featuring the first-person stories of several priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The booklets are intended to inspire other men to consider whether they are called to a priestly vocation.

A limited quantity of the books was distributed to parishes in advance of Seminary Sunday, Sept. 27. If you can’t find one at yours and you would like a copy, please call Mark Teresi at Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake at (847) 970-4817.

Following is Father Brian Welter’s story from the book:

My vocation kind of came out of the blue. I had been away from the church during and after college. At some point in my mid- 20s, I started going back to church.

One day, walking home to my apartment from Sunday Mass, I just had this overwhelming thought — almost a voice inside me that asked very gently, “Why don’t you become a priest?”

I was 27 and working as a carpenter when I first started thinking about the priesthood. I kept it under my hat for a while, but my mom could sense something. I mentioned what I was thinking and she was mildly excited. I would say my dad was a little more cautious, in the beginning. It was a little bit out of left field. Now, they are both supportive and committed.

There was a little bit of a lifestyle adjustment in seminary. Going from a very physical and active outside job was a switch. When you’re working outside all the time, there are good and bad aspects.

On nice days, it’s gorgeous — on snowy and cold days, it’s not so great. But going back to studying was a little bit tough, because being a student never came naturally to me.

Prayer is not just for priests. I think everyone should find time to pray. In the quietness and calm, you can really hear the Lord speaking to you, and you can meet him in a very deep way and relate the things that are in your heart to him.

For me, a priest only four years, it’s still a work in progress. I find that preparing to preach is one of the most challenging things. It’s not an exact science, at least in my life. It requires reflecting on the Gospel text and the passages frequently during the week. I then look during the week for where God may be leading me. Obedience is surrendering yourself to the most needful thing.

Obedience is being more selfless and willing to offer your life for the service of others. I’m sure at different points in life that will weigh more heavily, but I think there’s a freedom in knowing I’ve promised to put myself at the service of other people and to be taken up into the service of Christ for others.

Celibacy is something I thought clearly about during seminary. I was, in a sense, offering myself back to God. I knew very clearly the choice I was making here. It didn’t make it easy.

There’s a little bit of loneliness. But it’s important to recognize that and not run away from it.

Certainly, I always want to pray about that, but I also cultivate good friendships, like with my fellow priests and with married couples. Being friends with married couples is life-giving, and, in a way, marriage and celibacy are both related in that they are rooted in faithful love.

I love the variety of parish life. Once in a while, we have a baptism, funeral and maybe a wedding on the same day, but I don’t do it all on my own. We’ve got a large parish staff here. We’ve got a pastoral associate who helps out with a lot of funeral planning. Our parish staff works as a team. Gone are the days where it is just the priest who does everything himself.

I may be part of the picture, but there are so many other people who are involved in working, serving and living in this Christian community, this Catholic community.

For guys who are feeling called to the priesthood, talk to someone about it. Talk to your pastor. Talk to a family member or friends, just talk to people about it. I can only offer this from my perspective since I really never thought about being a priest when I was younger and I didn’t go to Catholic school.

Visiting family is something I try to do on my day off. I get together with them, or some friends and go out to dinner. Sometimes I read or go to the library for a couple hours. It’s a mix of reading, relaxing and then visiting people later on in the day.

I also play guitar. We just started a teen band at our parish, so that’s been kind of fun.

We go on mission trips with our teen group in the summer and there’s always an opportunity to pick up my old tool belt, hammer and saw to rebuild a porch or remodel part of a home or the rectory!

Welter was ordained in 2005 after graduating from Mundelein Seminary. He is associate pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills.