Six new priests ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Louis

New priests 2014

It probably goes without saying that sacramental ministry — celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, presiding at baptisms and weddings — is the highlight of any priest’s life. And for six young men who were ordained for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of St. Louis May 24, it was all they could talk about.

“One of the things I am looking forward to most in the priesthood, besides being so intimately united with the Eucharist in offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass, is hearing confessions and bringing Christ’s mercy and love to people in such a way that they can actually be forgiven of their sins and release that burden,” said Rev. Mr. Thomas Vordtriede.

That latter part — releasing the pain and the burden — comes to the forefront of his mind as he thinks of the moments of suffering he’s experienced since the death of his mother when he was just 16 months old. “I want to do what I can as a priest to lessen that burden on people, and especially bring Christ to them in the sacraments.”

These six men — Revs. Mr. Andrew Burkemper, Paul Hamilton, David Hogan, Conor Sullivan, Thomas Vordtriede and Ryan Weber — were ordained to the priesthood at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 24, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson  conferred the sacred Sacrament of Holy Orders.

In their calling to the priesthood, five of the six men decided to enter Kenrick-Glennon Seminary right after high school. Their ages range from 24 to 29. Their personal lives are filled with interesting stories — including a once-aspiring hockey player, someone who attended public schools all his life, another who was introduced to the seminary after procrastinating on his high school service hours, and one who was nicknamed “Little Father” after acing trivia during religion class in school.

Run to Mary

Tom Vordtriede’s vocation story started when he was just a toddler, but he didn’t realize he was called to the priesthood until high school.

Vordtriede, 26, lost his mother when he was just 16 months old. While he doesn’t have any real memories of his mom, he does remember watching his dad grow through the loss. “He still took us to church,” said Vordtriede. “There was always just a sense of faith and hope in my father, so I always felt really close to Jesus.”

For high school, Vordtriede attended St. Louis University High School. School was challenging, he admitted. So he started visiting the school chapel to “vent” to God. “I didn’t understand geometry and chemistry and all that stuff, and I would just be complaining to God,” he said. “But what I realized slowly but surely over time … that I was actually enjoying going to the chapel and talking to God.”

It was also there that he developed his devotion to the Blessed Mother, especially Our Lady of Perpetual Help. “I guess I have this connection with her because I lost my own mother,” he said. “I would always be told as a child to run to her, that I would always still have a mother.”

The idea of giving his life to Christ was starting to take root. He also was influenced by major Catholic figures, including then-Archbishop Raymond Burke, whom Vordtriede admired for “standing up for the truth.” By junior year, he was becoming proficient in defending his faith, thanks to the lessons he was learning in school. “I got really into pro-life (issues) and all these things that made me learn about my faith and make it my own,” he said.

That same year, his home parish, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in Oakville, received a visit from Msgr. Timothy Cronin, who once served as rector of Cardinal Glennon College Seminary. The priest heard Vordtriede lector at Mass and was impressed. “He basically just got right to the point and said, ‘Have you ever thought about the priesthood? Well, you can’t say no to Msgr. Cronin.”

Vordtriede later was invited to a Come and See weekend at the seminary. He said, “I saw that these other guys wanted what I wanted: to be joyfully giving my life to God. (The seminary) was everything I expected and nothing like I expected. Prayer was crucial and a part (of everything) but these guys were so integrated — they were normal.

As a seminarian, “I never wanted to leave — well, I want to leave, but I want to be a priest,” he added with a laugh.

Public schooled

Ryan Weber grew up in a faithful household, so much so that even as a kindergartner, his mom said he announced he wanted to be a priest someday. Weber, 26, attended public schools all his life, so one of his biggest connections to the faith — aside from his family and parish life at Immaculate Conception in Arnold — was Life Teen. Eucharistic adoration, a major focus within Life Teen programming, was a special draw for Weber.

Being around other teens who were serious about their faith and having the support of adult leaders turned out to be a major reason why he enjoys helping with youth ministry. During his seminary years, he helped with the former JeffCo Life Teen, a group in Festus called Twin City Youth, St. Gerard Majella’s youth group and another group at St. Francis Borgia called Mass and More.

In discerning his call to the priesthood, Weber mysteriously received some information — he has no idea how he got on the mailing list — on a Come and See Weekend at the seminary, which he attended. He also credited serving the Mass in grade and middle school.

Weber is obviously looking forward to bringing Christ to others, especially through the sacraments. “I’m really looking forward to hearing confessions,” he said. “That’s something I’m really nervous about … I know people are going to come to me with some pretty big things sometimes, and I hope I’ll have the words to help them. I know Christ will be with me at that moment. Besides the Mass, it’s the greatest thing a priest can do.”

“A deep gut check”

David Hogan was raised in a faithful Catholic family — you know, Mass on Sundays, the whole bit. But Hogan, 29, also had a second love — hockey. He played for 13 years as a youth growing up in Colorado, but a couple of serious concussions and reconstructive foot surgery made him realize that playing wasn’t going to be an option anymore.

So Hogan, not sure of what he wanted to do next, started searching. A youth minister and a high school teacher suggested he look into NET Ministries, a Minnesota-based organization of teams of young adults (called National Evangelization Teams) who travel the country and share the Gospel message with young people and their families.

“I wanted to take a step back,” said Hogan. “I didn’t want to go to college right away.”

Stepping back in time, Hogan realized his vocation had developed in phases. At 13, his father died. “That was a really strong, pivotal point in my vocational discernment,” he said. “It really hit home, what do I want to do with my life? Life is not superficial … and in some ways, that was how I was looking at it with hockey and just wanting to go the route of what everybody else thinks would be good for me to do. I really had a deep gut check.”

His father, he realized, played a pivotal role in his understanding of what it means to be a Catholic and a Christian gentleman. “He brought us to First Communion classes and would be a lector at Mass. He taught me so much about … what it means to be a man of God.”

Hogan went on to study for a degree in communication at Franciscan University of Steubenville, but he realized that, too, wasn’t what he desired. During his time with NET Ministries, Hogan met then-Bishop Robert Carlson in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., (Archbishop Carlson was president of the organization’s board and now serves on its episcopal advisory board.), who later, as archbishop of St. Louis, served as a connection that led him to consider Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Beyond the sacramental ministry, Hogan, who now calls Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield home, said he looks forward to a new identity as a spiritual father. In that, he said he will always remember his father’s example, “being a man that stood for his principles. His actions spoke for his words.”

“Little Father Burkemper”

As a kid, Andrew Burkemper was good at Catholic trivia. Back then, Father Rickey Valleroy would visit Burkemper and his classmates during religion class at St. Joseph School in Manchester and pepper them with questions about the faith. But Burkemper wasn’t necessarily motivated by being the first one to answer — he was after the handful of Tootsie Rolls Father Valleroy used to reward correct answers. (Father Valleroy, now pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Farmington, will be vesting Burkemper at this weekend’s ordination.)

“My parents were talkers, so after Mass, they would stand around and talk and us kids would run around the courtyard and pick up these bean pods and throw them at each other and stuff,” Burkemper, 24, recalled. Father Valleroy “would call me ‘Little Father Burkemper.’ He was just joking, but the more I think about it, the more I think that was crucial, because it planted a seed in my mind that it could be me one day.”

Burkemper remained active in his Catholic faith growing up. He was involved in high school youth group, went on retreats and was involved in Christpower, which was held at the seminary. Those times he visited the seminary, Burkemper had what he called “a great sense of joy and great sense of peace.”

The summer before his junior year, he went to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, with a small group from his parish. He spent some of the time hanging out with Kenrick-Glennon seminarians, who also went on the trip. “Again, I got to thinking that (priesthood) is something I think I could do.”

Considering his options toward the end of high school, Burkemper thought about being an engineer, like his father, or possibly a doctor. “But the more I would think about that, I thought that might be fun for a while, but I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life. It became more and more clear to me there wasn’t any single thing at that time I could ever see myself doing … except the priesthood.”

“I think we’d all agree … offering Mass, hearing confessions — the sacramental ministry (is) the greatest thing that we do with the greatest privilege,” he said. “I continue to love to learn new things, and I love to communicate the faith. I love to teach. It brings me such joy to teach others about this great faith that I feel very privileged to have grown up in and to know and to believe.”

Procrastination pays off

In his childhood, Conor Sullivan’s great-grandmother told him he would be a priest someday. His family imparted to him a strong sense of faith, but as he got older, he became interested in other things. In high school, Sullivan, whose home parish is Our Lady of Lourdes in Washington, took a special interest in his uncle’s practice as an eye doctor. He visited his uncle’s office and learned how to use some of the equipment.

Sullivan, 25, who attended Kenrick-Glennon Days as a sixth grader, wasn’t really re-introduced to the seminary until his junior year in high school. “I was way behind on my Christian service hours (a requirement for school), and Kenrick-Glennon Days, volunteering as a junior counselor is a good way to get your Christian service hours pretty much taken care of in one fell swoop,” he said. “It was a less-than-noble motive, but it got me here.”

Dropping him off at the seminary, his mom told him she bet he’d be interested in the priesthood after the experience. “I thought she was crazy,” he joked. “But I found myself getting to know other seminarians. Just seeing young men my age who were interested in the same things I was interested in, living the life I wanted to live. Having discussions about theology and philosophy, but also being able to goof off and play capture the flag. It was an amazing balance and an amazing peace that came over me when I came here. I can see the hand of God pulling me without my ever knowing it.”

Two more Come and See weekends and a retreat with the archbishop resulted in an application to the seminary in his hands. “I remember driving here to pick up my application,” he said. “Driving down the drive and seeing the big tower, thinking, ‘What am I getting myself into?’ There were times when I thought I might leave … and there were times when I thought this is definitely for me.”

In his seminary experience, he’s enjoyed teaching others about the faith, and it’s an opportunity to see how “as a person becomes more and more involved in the faith,Ii see elements of my own conversion in the lives of others. I used to think the way this person thought, and to see grace operate in their lives.”

Why did God create the world?

Paul Hamilton understood what faith meant to his family. As a youngster, he considered the priesthood. He recalled a time as a 4-year-old getting in trouble with his mother, and in her exasperation, she pointed to a crucifix on the wall and told him, “You know, He died for your sins.”

“So basically, cut it out was what she was saying,” recalled Hamilton, 28. “I remember looking at the cross and thinking, ‘I don’t know what that means, but that’s really important. It always stuck in my mind. The faith meant so much to my family.”

In the seventh and eighth grade, questions about the faith started to arise. “There was a question that I asked in the eighth grade, and I never really found the answer to it for a very long time. It was, ‘Why did God create the world?’ It didn’t make much sense because I saw the suffering that was in the world around us. The only thing I could think of at the time, and it wasn’t a very good answer, is that maybe He’s an egotistical God. I loved my faith, but there was some central piece that hadn’t fallen into place yet.”

As a youth, Hamilton, whose home parish is St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville, attended Kenrick-Glennon Days. In high school, he continued to have questions about the faith, which sometimes would come up in his studies. One summer, as he helped out at Kenrick-Glennon Days, he asked a priest some of the questions he had about the faith. The next day, that priest, Father Brian Fischer, shared his vocation story with the campers and told them, “If you want to know what your vocation is and you’re ready for it, God’s going to give you a sign. But be careful, it’s going to hit you like a ton of bricks,” Hamilton recalled.

One night as Hamilton walked past the seminary chapel, something inside told him to stop and visit. Inside, he saw another seminarian praying and thought he would wait around and ask him what he thought about why God created the world.” As he sat and waited, Hamilton had a handful of materials with him to make rosaries. He contemplated making them for other people — friends and family — out of his love for them. It was then that it hit him like a ton of bricks.

“The reason that God created the world was not because he had a big ego. It was because he created the world out of love and wanted to spread that love to the rest of us. It was like a seed had been planted in my mind, and it grew in my mind so much that I lost track of all time.” It also was the push for him to pick up an application to the seminary.

“The seminary was so important,” he said. “It taught me a lot of things, learning how to pray, starting to think with the mind of the Church. I want to be with people in their times of suffering, to pray for others. That’s making that call (to priesthood) so real.”

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