I’m pretty sure I do not fit the mold of the “typical” seminarian, if there is such a thing. I mean, did you look at my picture? I was born in The Bronx, NY, in 1964, the oldest son of Robert and Betty Smith. We moved to northern Michigan when I was 5 years old, and I grew up and went to school in Kingsley, MI. We attended St. Mary of Hannah Catholic Church, where I was an altar server until the day I left for college. I graduated from DeVry Institute of Technology in Columbus, OH with a BS degree in Computer Information Systems. DeVry is where I met Sara Eppley, who I married in 1986. We were married for 30+ years and raised three children together. I’ve worked as an IT professional for 32+ years, living the last 25 years in Marion, IA. I was ordained a permanent deacon in 2003, and have served at St. Joseph in Marion, Sts. Peter and Paul in Springbrook and St. Joseph in Bellevue, and St. Patrick in Cedar Rapids. Sara died from breast cancer in June, 2016.
Where and when did your sense of call develop?
My sense of call has developed and grown over the years. I first experienced an explicit call to serve as a deacon in 1992 when I was 27 years old. It took over 11 years for that call to be fulfilled when I was ordained a permanent deacon in 2003. Since then, I have continued to experience God’s call, and it has been fulfilled in different ways, in different ministries, and in different communities. We raised our family for 18 years at St. Joseph in Marion, and I served 8 years there as a deacon. Sara and I lived in the rectory at Sts. Peter and Paul in Springbrook, IA, where I served for 2 years, as well as at St. Joseph in Bellevue. Living and serving there was a profound experience in my life. Following our time in Springbrook and Bellevue, I was assigned to St. Patrick in Cedar Rapids, and Sara was diagnosed with breast cancer. When we could see that she was not going to survive cancer, we discussed the path I might follow if she should die, and priesthood was part of that discussion. And since her death, the call to the priesthood has been strong in my mind and heart.
What do you feel the role of the priest is?
There is a recently published book of homilies from Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) entitled, “Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today”, and who am I to argue with a pope? Learning about the love that God has for us, and loving Him in return as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is what each of us were made for! Leading others to know God, love God, and serve God, and to love (all) the people of God is central to the mission of the Church and therefore of a priest.
What gifts will you bring to the priesthood?
I’ve lived most of my life as a husband and father, and holding down a job. I sure hope that provides some unique gifts that I can offer as a priest! My professional life has taught me how to collaborate and work as a team, which is also important experience for a priest. But most of all, I’ve experienced the mercy and love of God in my own life. God himself, and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ, are the greatest gifts I have ever received, and are the greatest gifts that I could ever hope to share as a priest!
What advice would you give to a man considering the priesthood/seminary?
God doesn’t have a cell phone or social media accounts, so you’re not going to get a text or a “friend request” from Him letting you know He is calling. You will experience that within in your own prayer life, and through the people that God has placed around you. So develop a prayer life, participate in the sacraments, and surround yourself with people that do the same. Have an open mind and an open heart, and expect that God will speak to you through others. But be ready! If God is calling, the question then becomes are you willing to answer?
Were you hesitant or nervous to take the first steps to enter the formation process?
My feelings were a bit of a jumble at the beginning of this process. I was trying to understand who God was calling me to be without Sara. Entering more deeply into relationship with God and in service to God and the Church was the one thing that made sense to me during those most difficult days, and even moreso today. Sure, I was nervous, as anyone would be when embarking on something new. But I was never hesitant. I have lived my life trying to follow where God is leading, and this is just the next step on that journey.