A life of service in Christ: New leadership core at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary has a passion for vocations and formation

Father James Mason, president-rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, processed into the chapel for Mass.

Two have law degrees, and the third is a one-time pre-med student with an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry.

From a purely secular viewpoint, their backgrounds portend to successful careers in law or medicine. The accoutrements of success awaited.

Except in the cases of James Mason, Paul Hoesing and Mark Kramer, big houses and fancy cars held no appeal as the be-all, end-all. Each found something lacking in his life on the road to inevitable success and financial bliss.

God.

Though part of their lives through Catholic education in grade school, high school and college, God desired to encompass the entirety of their lives, to permeate the deepest fibers of their beings, to draw them into a life of service in Christ.

"I had this sense that there was something else," said Father Mason, who like Father Hoesing and Father Kramer, found that something else with a calling to the priesthood.

Father Mason has been a priest for the longest time among the three, ordained 14 years ago in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D. Father Hoesing was ordained 13 years ago in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb. Father Kramer joined clerical life 10 years ago, ordained with the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. 

Father Paul Hoesing is the new dean of seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon-Seminary. He talked with Taylor Leffler in the halls after a theology seminar. 

Father Mark Kramer, SJ, is the new director of spiritual formation. He talked with seminarian Padraic Stack about Pope Francis and the upcomming year of Mercy. 

But their callings didn't end at ordination; they were just beginning, unleashing a passion within each for vocations and formation, helping young men and women discern the call. This passion has brought them together in this time and place -- at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury.

This triumvirate is part of the new leadership core at Kenrick-Glennon -- Father Mason as the president-rector, Father Hoesing as the dean of seminarians and Father Kramer as the director of spiritual formation. Father Mason was to be installed by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson in a Mass on Sept. 10. Msgr. Gregory Mikesh remains vice-rector.

With great humility, each accepted the call of Archbishop Carlson to apply their passions to men studying for the priesthood at Kenrick-Glennon, "helping them to forget themselves," as Father Kramer put their selflessness. He described his new role as being "a great privilege to be in spiritual direction with the men who have great and holy desires, who come here wanting to follow Christ."

Father Mason and Father Hoesing echoed the sentiment. 

Father James Mason, new President-Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminiary, talked with seminarians in the school's auditorium. 

Counselor becomes priest

Father Mason found his passion for vocations as a priest in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, both for nine years as parish pastor and one as the diocese's vocation director.

"There's an excitement in helping young men and young women discern their call," said Father Mason, who figures that he helped about a half-dozen women enter religious life in addition to the young men as vocation director. "That was based on being a parish priest; young women came to me for spiritual direction."

This serves as a teaching moment for parish priests, as the men at Kenrick-Glennon are in formation to be.

"When I speak to parish priests, I let them know that they're really the first vocation directors of the diocese," Father Mason said. "If you're open to it, young people will come to you for direction. There's excitement in it to help father a vocation."

Under his watch as vocation director, the Diocese of Sioux Falls had 33 seminarians and ordained eight; big numbers for a small diocese of 140,000 Catholics, giving them the top ratio in the United States at the time. This year, there are 29.

"They've stayed really healthy," said Father Mason, adding that vocations are "something I've always been interested in."

As a priest, yes, but as a teenager and young man, not so much. The vocation of priesthood "wasn't on my radar in grade school and high school," said Father Mason, who was born in Philadelphia and raised in Minnesota with a stint in Milan, Italy, when his dad was transferred there.

At one point, he seemed destined to the vocation of marriage, though he had that sense that something was missing.

"So, I did what any young, confused person does at that point: goes to law school," he said, with a laugh.

Father James Mason, right, is the President Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. He laughed with 2-year-old Maria Chronister at the lunch table at the seminary. She is with her father, Andrew Chronister, who teaches Greek at the Seminary.

While attending the University of Minnesota for his law degree, he was accepted into the Jesuits and also rented a basement apartment at then-Auxiliary Bishop Carlson's residence, serving as a caretaker with another grad student when Bishop Carlson traveled. His prayer life grew but he discerned the Jesuits weren't for him.

"I didn't have a reason, but I knew I wasn't being called to enter," said Father Mason, who worked as a prosecutor and in private practice after earning his law degree. "I enjoyed the work; it was interesting, but I was unfulfilled."

Eventually, Archbihsop Carlson, then the Bishop of Sioux Falls, invited him to be legal counsel for the diocese, head of Catholic Charities and a lobbyist for the Church.

"I thought that was the answer, but after two years of doing that, it wasn't the answer," Father Mason said. "I prayed about it, 'Your will be done,' slowly began to accept it and finally, just saying, 'yes' and entering the seminary."

Father Mason studied in Rome through the Pontifical North American College, with Father Hoesing a year behind him in studies. Together again, they have the honor of fulfilling God's work.

"It's a pretty basic goal: to form healthy, holy and joy-filled parish priests," Father Mason said. "Healthy because the human formation is grace built on nature, the human level. Then holy is the spiritual level and joy-filled is that they're attractive -- following Jesus Christ is attractive -- and drawing people to Christ in this Church." 

Father Paul Hoesing is the new dean of seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. He talked with Sister Mary Cora Uryase, RSM, who is the executive assistant to the president-rector and board of trustees at the seminary. 

The vocation director

Father Hoesing grew up in northeast Nebraska, where he had strong role models in his father, Duane, and the five priests who taught him at Cedar Catholic Jr. & Sr. High School in Hartington, Neb. His dad also taught at the high school -- shop and vocational agriculture -- and also ran the family farm.

"I had the experience in high school of being taught by the priests, and my father was teaching, too," said Father Hoesing, 38, the oldest of three boys of Duane and the late Judy Hoesing. "I had these two examples of fatherhood in my life and that's what really moved me into the direction of my discernment to the priesthood -- fatherhood."

Father Hoesing entered seminary as a college student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where his major was biology and chemistry. He studied in Rome and was ordained in the Omaha archdiocese.

After ordination, he served in two parishes, urban and rural, and taught at high schools in both places. Seven years ago, he became vocation director and added campus ministry a year later at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where his service to the Church grew in attracting and forming missionary disciples.

His time at Nebraska-Omaha started without a Newman Center but ended in the midst of a multi-million-dollar project to build a Newman Center with a 160-bed dorm, meeting rooms and rectory. Vocations grew by leaps and bounds under his watch, and the plan was to shepherd the new Newman Center. But the Holy Spirit had other ideas, and Father Hoesing is the dean for seminarians he helped discern -- 16 men at Kenrick-Glennon are from Omaha -- and also their contemporaries, disciplines of brother priests he got to know through the years as vocation director.

"It's a delight to jump into that," Father Hoesing said. 

Father Mark Kramer, SJ, right, is the new director of spiritual formation. He laughed with seminarian Padraic Stack. 

Lawyer of formation

Father Kramer, a St. Louisan, encountered Vincentians, Marianists and Holy Cross priests and brothers through three stops of his academic career -- St. Catherine Laboure, St. John Vianney High School and the University of Notre Dame -- but entered the Jesuits, based on a mentor he first met at Notre Dame and knew later while earning a law degree at Georgetown.

He used his law skills for only one year with the Jesuits, working in international ministries and refugee services in New York City, and found his passion for vocations and formation while teaching as Kansas City Rockhurst High School and Kansas City Rockhurst College. Along the way, he met Jesuit Father John Horn, the former president-rector at Kenrick-Glennon, and worked with young priests at the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton. Father Horn was the founder of that program.

He called being back in St. Louis "a gift" with his parents, Helmut and Mary Rose, five siblings and 16 nieces and newphews. But mostly he's excited about being at Kenrick-Glennon.

"There's a great spirit in the house," he said just a few weeks into the start of the semester and his new role. "It's very edifying because there's a real thoroughness in having a center of formation like this -- the intellectual, human, pastoral and spiritual, all working together as a team. It's great to see.

"I'm excited for the men who have this opportunity to be formed." 

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