The six men to be ordained to the priesthood June 2 will form one of the largest ordination classes ever for the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
Archive records show that six were ordained in 1944, 1954, 1956 and 2001. In 1957, 1962 and 1976, seven were ordained. In some of these years, not all of the ordinations occurred at the same time.
Who are the six to be ordained for service in the Diocese of Sioux Falls this year? In their own words, please meet them.
Rev. Mr. Brian Eckrich
“What do you want to do with your life?” At the heart of this question is the assumption that each one of us knows what will ultimately bring us happiness. This is what I believed. I arrived at South Dakota State University in the fall of 2006 with the intention of earning a doctorate in chemistry. I had a wonderful part-time job on campus; I studied hard and received good grades.
Yet, I was restless. Then one Sunday morning after Mass at Pius XII Newman Center, I was asked to join a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) bible study. Slowly, I began to enter into a life of prayer. Through daily Mass, silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and FOCUS, I personally encountered Jesus Christ; and my life was changed. I realized that true happiness is found in Him alone. In the words of St. Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ.”
With this realization, I accepted the cross of the Christian life and began to follow Him, and I did not follow Him alone. At the Newman Center, I was blessed to have the company of so many men and women who were striving to live for Christ along with me. We challenged one another to holiness, we held each other accountable, we enjoyed authentic leisure, we built lasting friendships rooted in virtue and truth.
Rooted in the life of Christ, the question then became, “what do you want me to do Lord?” Through much prayer, the Lord called me to enter the St. Paul Seminary (in St. Paul, Minnesota), where I began to encounter Christ in a new way. With the assistance of some excellent professors and friends at the seminary, my study of the intellectual treasury of the Catholic faith, manifested through the writings of numerous popes, fathers, doctors, and saints, brought me to greater love of Christ and His Church.
Jesus tells his Apostles, “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) St. Augustine, commenting on these words of Christ states that “If the knowledge of God is eternal life, the more that we advance in this knowledge, the more do we advance in eternal life.” Thus, it has been my desire to know Christ and His Church more perfectly so that I may love Him more perfectly. The hope for my priesthood is that I may help the good people of this diocese to know and love Christ and His Church more perfectly so that each of us may enter into the bliss of eternal life.
Rev. Mr. Timothy Smith
Ten years ago I worked a stressful business job for a big banking corporation. My days were filled working with clients over the phone and I was tied to a computer all day long. Even though I was good at my position and I enjoyed helping clients resolve their problems, I began to feel the emptiness that comes from living life only for one’s self. I had become so greedy and selfish in my competition with a co-worker, that I seriously hurt his feelings through my words and actions. I apologized after this incident but I was horrified at the person I had become. I realized that my daily actions were transforming me into a different person and that it was time for a serious change.
I prayed to God to help me become a different person, so that I would become a man who could make decisions to love, respect, and serve others. I needed the mercy of Jesus Christ. Shortly afterwards God gave me the opportunity to work at the St. Francis House, a homeless ministry in Sioux Falls that was founded and supported by the Church. The building is a former convent that was converted to a shelter to offer the corporal works of mercy. The St. Francis House offers homeless men and women a place to stay while they find a job and get enough money to make a fresh start. The house also provides emergency meals for those in need along with employment and health services. God gave me the chance to live my life for others and to see the work he was doing in our local Church.
I went from volunteering at the shelter for a month to working overnights during my weekends. I loved the work we were doing and I met so many amazing people. I cooked meals for 60 guests each morning; made sack lunches for people on the street, and lead the community and families in prayer. I even started asking the people on the street who received sack lunches if they wanted to pray before their meal with me. I would usually sneak in the prayer a reminder about how much God loves them, no matter how far down the scale they have gone – His Mercy Endures Forever! (Psalm 136) I had awareness that the late Bishop Paul Dudley who used to work at the St. Francis House was accompanying me on my journey.
After dedicating my time to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy for over a year I began to realize that Jesus was calling me to quench spiritual hunger and thirst by leading people toward eternal life in heaven. One afternoon while stacking can goods in the food pantry with my friend Clare, I admitted for the first time that God was calling me to the priesthood. I discovered my vocation while feeding the hungry and following Jesus teaching; Blessed are the Merciful (Matt 5:7)
Rev. Mr. Tyler Mattson
I was a freshman at the University of South Dakota when I realized that I would not be at peace if I did not follow God’s call to discern the priesthood in seminary. I first felt the call in my heart when I was at O’Gorman High School, “Be a priest”. Again, at USD that same pull on my heart came to me, “Be a priest.” I entered St. John Vianney Seminary as a sophomore in college. It tested me in amazing ways and allowed me to fall more deeply in love with God.
While I was studying in Rome for a semester as a senior in college, I had an experience in prayer in which I knew I would not be truly happy unless I belonged completely to Jesus. For me, this was an event that confirmed my call to the celibate life. Celibacy has brought so much freedom to my heart, freedom to love, freedom to live a life of profound joy.
I am so looking forward to ordination this June. The deepest desire in my heart is to be a priest; this is a desire that has made itself felt more and more strongly in my heart over my years of seminary formation. All people are called to be saints, and to be a saint, to be holy, means to be perfect in love. I know that God is calling me to be holy and perfect in love precisely through the priesthood. The beautiful thing is that a priest is ordained to help others be saints. So, I get to be a saint by helping others become saints! I cannot think of a better life.
I also cannot think of a better place to serve as a priest than the Diocese of Sioux Falls. The people of this diocese have already been so abundantly generous with their support and prayers during my time in seminary that I could not possibly repay them. I have had formative summers in the diocese where I have been able to meet a small fraction of the faithful. My encounters with the people of the Diocese of Sioux Falls have encouraged me to be a good priest for such good people.
God is never out done in generosity. That is one of the primary lessons I will take into my priesthood from my time in seminary. Just when I think that the Father could not possibly have anything else to give me, He gives me even more. I hope I can share some of the “even more” of the Father’s love as a priest for the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
Rev. Mr. Thomas Hartman
Looking back over these past 5 years of formation I remember coming here to Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, CT. The east coast was high traffic, lots of people, enclosed in trees, and the seminary had an 8’x10’ cell awaiting me. Coming from the wide open spaces of SD, the slower pace, my own home, and people who loved me, I think the first 6 weeks felt like a prison.
Six weeks into my formation, coinciding with my consecration to Our Lady, I was at a local parish prayer group where I had an ordinary experience that made an extraordinary difference. In the course of the time for prayer, it was as if the Lord revealed to me in my heart, “What I have given you in this tiny spot (Holy Apostles Campus) on this great big earth contains more than what the rest of the world has to offer.” In that moment, I knew God had given me an incredible opportunity to enter into seminary formation and what we receive here is a privilege.
It’s an opportunity to really grow in relationship with the Lord and to be configured more intimately to Christ the Priest. Each day, we are able to enter into Holy Mass, have time of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, have the sacrament of reconciliation readily available to us, priests guiding us in our spiritual life, and to enter into studies in order to come to see the richness and beauty of our Catholic faith. As I sat there reflecting on these and so many other things God gives us in this time of formation, suddenly the weight of those other things seemed so light and I went back to the seminary that evening experiencing formation with a greater joy.
This time of formation is so privileged and blessed and could not be done without the generous support of so many people. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews talks about ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ and when I think of this although the invisible realities of the saints and angels come to mind, it also makes me think of all the people across our diocese whom I don’t see but the graces of their prayers/support overshadow us.
Part of the joy comes knowing the family I am part of in the Catholic Church but in particular the great Diocese of Sioux Falls. This journey would be missing a special joy without you. Although I have come to love my time here in Connecticut and have met many special people, my heart belongs to Diocese of Sioux Falls and I can’t wait to be back in the wide open spaces and with the people who love me and whom I love.
Please pray that as I approach ordination, God will mold me into a simple holy priest. God bless our diocese and thanks for your support.
Rev. Mr. Joseph Scholten
It was a November evening in my senior year at O’Gorman when I decided to apply for seminary. Standing on a sidewalk in downtown Sioux Falls, I looked up and saw the spires of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph lit up against the evening sky. Hope seemed to well up within me.
I was blessed to be raised by Catholic parents, and from the beginning my family supported my vocation, though it came as a bit of a surprise. I went through a slow conversion in high school. Jesus had been reaching out to me through Discipleship camp and through our new parish priest, Fr. Justin Wachs. The rosary had just recently replaced rap music as I made my rounds with the watering hose while working at St. Michael Cemetery.
Fr. Jim Mason guided me through the application process, and I was sent to St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. The time I spent there, along with the past four years I’ve spent at the Pontifical North American College, have proven more formative than I could have imagined. The priests on faculty at both seminaries have shown me spiritual fatherhood. My classmates have become brothers and the closest friends I have ever known. And our studies in philosophy and theology have equipped me to speak to our weary world the life-giving truth of Christ.
My summers back in our diocese, spent under some of our veteran pastors, have also proven irreplaceable. I’ll never forget Fr. Terry Anderson’s patience in training altar servers, or Fr. John Helmueller’s charity in reaching out to brother priests. Likewise, I learned much from Fr. Joe Forcelle as he prepared couples for marriage. How could I not want to share in Fr. Wach’s joy as he brought new children of God to life in baptism? Most of all, how could I not humbly admire the love that moved Fr. Jim Friedrich to pass the first and last hours of every day in front of the tabernacle, and every hour in between in service to his people? We are blessed with terrific priests in our diocese, and I am humbled and excited to be joining their ranks.
One summer that will reside forever in my memory was the summer of 2015, when with several of my classmates I had the privilege of making a thirty-day silent retreat at Broom Tree Retreat Center. There, in the depths of silence and prayer, I met the same Lord who had first called me to serve as His priest, filling me with joy as I stood gazing up at the spires of our cathedral. Now, some years later, I am eager to return to that same cathedral and to respond “Present!” when my name is called on ordination day.
Rev. Mr. Andrew Thuringer
I was in my freshman year of college and was trying as hard as I could not to hear my call to the priesthood. I was studying theater; in fact I was in a play and loved everything about it. The previous summer I had traveled the state teaching and evangelizing with the Totus Tuus youth program. That summer was a truly graced time in my life. I met so many beautiful families, learned from so many of my fellow teachers who were on fire for the faith, and most of all, I fell in love with Jesus. It was during this summer that I first heard God call somewhere deep in my heart, “Andy, come be my priest.”
Then the summer ended. I went off to college to study acting. It turned out I wasn’t half bad. I was cast in a couple of plays, and before I knew it, I was also in love with acting. It was deeply satisfying to get on stage and tell someone’s story. But somewhere deep in my heart I could still hear God’s call, and it was getting harder to ignore.
The last character I played in school was the father of a loving but troubled family. He was the wise, Leave it to Beaver sort of father that you don’t see on TV anymore. Backstage one night, the man who played my son confided in me. He said he didn’t know his father, but that he loved this show because he got to experience a good father through me. I was speechless. I had no right to be this man’s father. I was just some kid doing my best, and I was actually younger than him. That’s when it hit me: That’s the priesthood!
I have no right to be a priest. It is a complete and total gift from God, and it leaves me speechless. Yet God has called me, has cast me in this role if you will, to stand in the place of Jesus and make the Father’s great love for his people known.
After that fateful conversation backstage, I went back to my quiet dorm room and with newly opened ears I listened to God’s call. That call led me away from acting. It also led me to a time of study and prayer in the seminary. It was often rewarding and usually difficult, but it was always worth it. Now I look forward with a hopeful heart to the priesthood, to standing at the altar and telling the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s love for his Church.