Career as teacher opened Riehle to answer the call
By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph
The Holy Sprit started working on Deacon James J. Riehle’s vocation to the priesthood early.
As early as first grade at St. Columban Deacon Riehle, now 40 and scheduled for ordination May 17, was interested in the priesthood, but he also wanted to be a teacher or veterinarian. As it went, Deacon Riehle became a teacher after graduating from Moeller High School and later from Bowling Green State University.
“Even in grade school and all through high school my thought was always that I’d be a teacher,” Riehle said. “That’s why I went to Bowling Green and got a teaching degree. It wasn’t until I was teaching that the call was reborn, you could say. It was there off and on in the background, but I didn’t take it seriously.”
Deacon Riehle was a teacher for more than a decade. During his time teaching religion at St. Therese in the Diocese of Covington, the pastor was talking to the students about vocations.
“Through teaching religion and talking to my students it started weighting more on me,” Deacon Riehle said. “The priest I worked for used to teach the kids about really asking God ‘What do you want me to do?’ When I started to do that, He answered.
Deacon Riehle is completing his studies at The Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.
Deacon Riehle’s parents, Bill and Eileen, as well as his two sisters and two brothers were supportive of his decision to enter the seminary.
Deacon Riehle’s teaching experience is something he hopes will assist him in his priestly ministry.
“When I engage people in those settings — in an RCIA class or just when someone comes and asks — it feels kind of natural,” he said. “I think most of the (seminarians) have a natural disposition to teach. It is a part of the call, I think. Jesus is called teacher more than anything else in the New Testament.”
Deacon Riehle said he doesn’t worry about the added responsibility he and his classmates will face as the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and nation continue to see a shortage of men being ordained to the priesthood.
“Nobody, no matter what era, has had an ideal parish setting,” he said. “Everyone is going to have challenges to face and (previous generations) had different ones than we’ll face. I recognize the reality of the situation but it doesn’t really concern me too much because I think people are prepared for that reality.”
Deacon Riehle said he’s looking forward to life post ordination, namely to daily parish life, and getting out of the classroom.
“The daily life of a parish appeals to me,” he said. “All of those moments in the life of a parish and spending time in the lives of the people and the ups and downs and celebrating daily Mass and just being with them.”
At 40, Deacon Riehle is the second oldest seminarian in the current class behind John Ettinger, who will be ordained in the Diocese of Youngstown. While there is an age disparity between him and many incoming seminarians, he said the difference has been a blessing.
“I’m older than most of them, and the house keeps getting younger,” he said. “It amazes me how zealous, eager and mature a lot of these guys can be at 23. They average 24-25 years old and they have the maturity and passion for the faith and they’re so very exited about bringing the faith to people. That has helped me in my own formation.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.