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Answering God’s call for a life of service

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

By David Eck

ARCHDIOCESE — God calls men to the priesthood in many ways. Some hear the call as boys while others pursue different paths before entering the seminary.

On May 23, seven men will be ordained for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the largest group to be ordained since 2004.

Some set out to be teachers, one was in a religious order, while another had a military career. Still others bring business, computer, legal and medical backgrounds to the priesthood.

These are their stories.

Deacon Martin Bachman

Deacon Martin Bachman grew up like most Catholics — going to Mass with his family and serving his parish as an altar server until he was 21. It wasn’t until he was 17 that the seeds of a priestly vocation began to grow.

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Deacons Shawn Landenwitch; Anthony Tozzi; Martin Bachman and David Endres. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

He was at the Holy Spirit Center in Norwood when a woman approached him. “She didn’t know who I was; she said ‘One day you are going to be a priest,’” he recalls.

“I kind of put it on the back burner because I really didn’t think that was for me.”

A parishioner at St. Jude Parish in Bridgetown, Deacon Bachman, 33, studied computer programming at Cincinnati State and spent several years working in corporate information technology (IT). He jokes that he can still fix the computers at the seminary.

But during a layoff from work he re-evaluated his life and began seriously considering his call to the priesthood.

“I was out of work for a year, and I had a lot of time to think about where I was and where God wanted me to be,” he said. “I knew there had to be more than all the stuff I had, since I knew I wasn’t completely happy.”

He started attending daily Mass, and his vocation became stronger over the years.

Deacon Bachman began his seminary studies at the Pontifical College Josephinum in 2001, receiving a bachelor of arts degree and then beginning his theological studies.

During his internship at Assumption Parish in Mount he enjoyed visiting schools, serving at liturgy and ministering to the parishioners.

The internship helped him recognize his own talents and what he will bring to the priesthood.

He expects that ministry will continue to change him as a person and is looking forward to the blessings of parish life, learning from parishioners, but especially from the pastor with whom he will serve.

Deacon Bachman  the son of Vernon and Judith Bachman of Bridgetown. He has two brothers, David and Jerry Bachman, and two sisters, Julie Lockwood and Marianne Nichols. They were supportive of his decision to enter the seminary.

He will celebrate his first Mass Sunday, May 24, at 11 a.m. at St. Jude in Bridgetown.

Deacon David Endres

With an uncle who was a well-known priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a father who is the business manager at Badin High School in Hamilton, David Endres has strong family ties to the church.

Now he has followed God’s path to the priesthood.

“This is what I believe God made me for,” Deacon Endres, 29, said. “Once you have an inkling of God’s plan for you, it’s pretty hard to say ‘no.’ I truly feel God is leading (me) step by step.”

Growing up he remembers his late uncle, Father Al Lauer, telling him to be open to God’s call. He also recalled his uncle’s selflessness and dedication to the priesthood.

In Deacon Endres’ case, he set out to teach at a university, but God led him to the seminary.  “I wanted to be a college professor,” Deacon Endres said. “That was my plan. I really enjoy teaching.” He grew up as a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Fairfield, graduated from Badin High School in 1998 and earned a degree in history from Xavier University in 2002.

Deacon Endres said he thought about the priesthood as early as high school, but it wasn’t until he came to Xavier University that he started to take his faith more seriously. He began to attend daily Mass and go on retreats. 

He earned a master’s degree in theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., before entering Mount Saint Mary’s of the West to begin formation as a priest. He also holds a Ph.D. in church history from Catholic University, which he earned in 2007. He has been an adjunct professor of theology at Catholic University and an adjunct professor of history at Xavier University, experience that will be incorporated into his priestly ministry.

“In parish work an educational background is very important because of the priest’s role as teacher,” he said. “In a very basic way, every day when he’s preaching at Mass, the priest is a teacher.”

His internship at St. Antoninus Church in Cincinnati gave him an opportunity to teach, preach, perform baptisms and minister to parishioners. He ate lunch each week with students in the parish school, taught Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes and visited the sick.

“It was a great opportunity learn what priestly ministry is,” he said. He credits Father Christopher Armstrong and Father Larry J. Mick of St. Antoninus for exemplifying the life of the parish priest.

Deacon Endres is the son of Jim and Christina Endres, and has a sister, Elizabeth. His first Mass will be celebrated Sunday, May 24, at 1 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Fairfield.

Deacon Shawn Landenwitch

Deacon Shawn Landenwitch was on the path to becoming a lawyer and had even enrolled in law school at the University of Notre Dame when God’s call to the priesthood changed his plans.

“It was very sudden, and it was a strong call,” said the tall, personable deacon. “Random thoughts about the priesthood kept coming into my head. I realized it was a call to become a priest.”

Deacon Landenwitch, 26, had 15 days to make a decision: either go to law school or enroll in the seminary. He cancelled his enrollment at Notre Dame and went to Franciscan University at Steubenville to study philosophy before entering the seminary.

He also had to determine whether he would join a religious order or whether he was better suited to becoming a diocesan priest. “I made that decision after I knew I was going to be a priest,” he said. “I looked at a few different orders, but I felt a strong desire to serve as a parish priest.”

Deacon Landenwitch was baptized at Our Lady of the Visitation Parish in Cincinnati, and he later went to grade school in Columbus. He graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in Virginia, and earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce with a specialization in finance from the University of Virginia.

His parents, David and Jeanette Landenwitch, were “shocked” at their son’s decision. It was not the life they envisioned for him. His father worried that the priesthood is a lonely life.

“They’ve grown considerably since then,” Deacon Landenwitch said. “They’ve come to a deep appreciation for what I’m doing.”

During his internship at St. Charles Borremeo Parish in Kettering, he helped train alter servers, preached at children’s Masses, visited nursing homes and went on sick calls with the priests.

“It was great to actually put real faces and real families behind everything we were doing at the seminary,” he said. “It was really when I got to the parish that I said ‘Here are the people I will be serving.’ I wanted to become a better priest for their sake.”

In addition to his parents, Deacon Landenwitch has a brother, Adam. His first Mass will be celebrated on Sunday, May 24, at 12:15 p.m. at Our Lady of the Visitation Parish.

Deacon Matthew Lee

Growing up with little faith formation as a child, Deacon Matthew Lee, 40, can trace his path to Catholicism and the priesthood to an unlikely source: his mother’s crafting hobby. Jennifer Lee and a neighbor were crafters who one day ventured into a Catholic store looking for crafting supplies. They began visiting the store regularly and Deacon Lee, then 16, accompanied them. He started talking to the shop owner about the church. That led to an introduction to the late Father Earl Metz, who was pastor at St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Russells Point. It was the nearest church to the Lees’ home in Huntsville in the northern area of the archdiocese.

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Deacons Barry Stechschulte, Matthew Lee and Robert Hadden. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

“You just never know how God is going to enter your life,” Deacon Lee said. Soon he, his mother, his father, Murray, and his brother, David were meeting with Father Metz, studying to join the church. They all were baptized.

He graduated from high school in 1987, studied computer programming for a year and then joined the United States Air Force, beginning a military career. Through it all, he kept going to Mass — no matter where he was stationed — and was active in the parishes.

Eventually, people started asking him if had ever thought about the priesthood. From the earliest time in his Catholic life and throughout his military career, pastors, parishioners and people in different faith formation groups all asked the same question, he said. He heard it dozens of times.

“Maybe all these people [were] seeing something I [was] choosing to ignore,” he said. “That’s when I began praying [about it.] I started making more holy hours and having more serious discussions with priests.”

The call came on a Thursday during Eucharistic Adoration. Deacon Lee asked God if he should be a priest.

“I got a ‘yes,’” he said.

The next day, on a U.S. Air Force base in Germany, he met with a priest and decided to enter the seminary after his Air Force tour — which still had several years left — was over. But the following day he was badly hurt in a car crash, which effectively ended his military career. He was discharged from the Air Force eight months later and enrolled in the seminary shortly thereafter. The crash helped confirm his decision to pursue the priesthood.

“It certainly didn’t dissuade me,” he said. “It’s either the hand of God or curious coincidence that I would make a concrete step toward the priesthood…and two days later I was in a car crash that ended my career.”

The leadership skills, structure and dependability he honed in the military will help him in the priesthood, he said.

“I bring a deep faith and enthusiasm for the sacraments,” he said. “What I’m looking forward to the most at this point is hearing confession. That’s such an awesome sacrament. I’m humbled to be God’s instrument in the sacrament of reconciliation.”

Deacon Lee also has a sister, Donna. His first Mass will be celebrated Sunday, May 24, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Mary of the Woods Church in Russells Point.

Deacon Barry Stechschulte

Deacon Barry Stechschulte, 44, was working as business manager at Royalmont Academy in Mason when in the fall of 2003 he had lunch with Father Mark Watkins. Although the lunch was about a different topic, Father Watkins, then the archdiocesan vocations director, asked him a simple question: “What do you think about becoming a parish priest?”

“I was very happy with my job and was trying to live out my Catholic faith,” said Deacon Stechschulte, “I wasn’t exactly thinking about the priesthood at that time, but I was open,” he said. “It was definitely God’s initiative.”

Raised in Minster, a small town in the northern area of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Deacon Stechschulte grew up with his eight brothers and sisters in a house one block from the twin spires of St. Augustine Church.

He remained an active Catholic throughout his years as a student at the then-General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, Mich., where he earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. During college he began to feel God calling.

After graduating in 1988, he entered the religious congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in Connecticut.

“I was attracted to the Legionaries, because they had a strong sense of the mission to help spread Christ’s Kingdom in society,” he said, “I really wanted to do something great for God.”

But God had other plans for Deacon Stechschulte’s vocation. In late 1997 while studying in Rome, he suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm. As a result he left religious life in 2000 and returned home to Ohio.

“I’ve been in formation for a long time, but my vocation is in God’s time, not mine,” he said. “In these past few years everything really has fallen into place.”

His desire to become a priest was strengthened during his year interning at Guardian Angels Parish in Cincinnati.

“I found out what it’s like to do the day-to-day work as a parish priest, and I found I could do it,” Deacon Stechschulte said. “And I liked doing it, too!”

Among the duties of a parish priest, Deacon Stechschulte said he will most enjoy working with families and young people. “I want to help people love Christ more and live their Catholic faith more fully,” he said. “I want them to discover the treasures of our faith.”

Deacon Stechschulte is the son of Jim and Evonne Stechschulte of Minster, and the brother of John, Ken and Lisa Stechschulte, Jean Bazeley, Julie Trushaw, Ann Gruber, Carolyn Trauth and Marie Fightmaster.

He will celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving on Sunday, May 24, at noon at Guardian Angels Parish;  Sunday, May 31, 11 a.m. at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Morrow; and Sunday, June 7, at 11:30 a.m. at St. Augustine Parish in Minster.

Deacon Anthony Tozzi

In 1999 Anthony Tozzi was taking classes at the University of Cincinnati’s Raymond Walters campus and thinking of becoming a teacher when God called him to have a stronger impact on people’s lives.

Deacon Tozzi didn’t realize it at the time, but he was being called to the priesthood.

“I was pushing God away,” Deacon Tozzi. 29, said. “I came to an understanding through my own of life, that is what I want to do.” He denied the call at first, but felt restless until he pursued it.

“It sounded crazy in my own mind,” he said. “But God, in a sense, didn’t leave me alone.”

A member of St. Gabriel Parish in Glendale, Deacon Tozzi graduated from Princeton High School in 1998 and attended Raymond Walters for two years with the intention of transferring to the UC campus.

“College is where things took off. I had a lot of support from the pastor of St. Gabriel Parish, Father David Fay. Without a doubt, he’s been my biggest supporter over the past 10 years.”

He finished college at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus in 2004 and entered Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary. He said he found a sense of peace once he got to the Pontifical College Josephinum.

“I felt that’s where God wanted me to be, and there’s peace when you do God’s will,” Deacon Tozzi said. “I think I was very blessed. God led me on a path, and I didn’t fully understand it, but I know now that’s where I wanted to be.”

As a priest he is looking forward to celebrating Mass and conveying the sacraments in parishioners’ lives. He is looking forward to a life of helping others. Visiting the sick will be an important part of his ministry.

Deacon Tozzi is the son of Franco Tozzi of Sharonville. His mom, Susan, died last November. He also has an older brother, Peter.

His first Mass will be celebrated Sunday, May 24, 11:30 a.m. at St. Gabriel Parish in Glendale.

Deacon Robert Hadden

As a student at Wright State University, Deacon Robert Hadden was planning out a career as a high school teacher. A trip to Rome for the 2000 World Youth Day celebration, however, changed his career path.

The trip ignited a call to the priesthood.

“From then it was just a feeling,” he said. “It was a sense of awe of being there.”

A native of Greenville, Deacon Hadden was active in St. Mary Parish working with a youth group. The group was given an opportunity to travel to World Youth Day in affiliation with Franciscan University in Steubenville.

After returning from Rome, Deacon Hadden spent about a year discerning a call to the priesthood and eventually met with Father Mark Watkins, former archdiocesan vocations director.

After investigating the process and meeting with seminary officials, he knew the only way to fully explore the call was attend the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus to complete his undergraduate degree. He earned a bachelor’s in philosophy from the Josephinum and entered Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

The years at the seminary have affirmed his vocation, he said, and his faith is stronger. Being ordained to the diaconate last year “was tough,” he said, because it’s truly the time when men commit to the vocation, but he placed himself in God’s hands.

During his internship at St. Margaret of York Parish in Loveland he found support from then-pastor Father Thomas Kreidler.

“He and the parishioners were very good and are still very good to me,” he said. “I learned so much from them on how to be a priest. You start to see value in the things you are learning. To put into practice what we have learned in the classroom adds value to it and makes it a bit more real.”

His parents, Richard and Margaret, were happy with his decision — pleased and proud, he said. In addition to his parents, Deacon Hadden, who is 30, has three brothers, Richard, David and Daniel.

His first Mass will be celebrated Sunday, May 24, at 3 p.m. at St. Mary Church in Greenville.

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