Deacon Stephen Pontzer has spent the past six years studying at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, PA. This past summer he served at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. He is scheduied to be ordained a priest in June 2007.
When did you feel the calling to the priesthood?
Before entering the seminary I enjoyed a career as a forester in Georgia for sixteen years. In 1999 the company he was working for was bought out by another company. Through this event, I began to look at other career opportunities. After interviewing with several companies and the University of GA, I just didn’t feel that any of those jobs were right for me. Around that time, Fr. Mark Ross asked me: “Have you ever thought about becoming a Priest?” Thus began my discernment to the priesthood.
At what point in your life did you decide to answer that call?
The demands of the new company made it difficult to dedicate enough time to discernment. I also found that whenever he was involved in retreats or Diocesan functions, I was filled with a deep sense of peace. I feel this was God’s way of revealing his will for me. I loved forestry, but it always bothered me that I never felt truly content in my situation. I began to realize that I was experiencing the contentment I had longed for in my life as a forester when I was involved in activities with vocations, especially Vocatio Dei. I realized that if I truly wanted to be happy, I had to let go of what ‘I thought’ would make me happy and trust what God wanted for me. I began to realize that God could truly be calling to the priesthood. I went before the Blessed Sacrament and told God: “I will do anything you want me to do, just reveal your will to me.” My heart was filled with the answer: ‘priest!’ After a year of serious discernment, I knew I had to make a leap of faith.
Who or what influenced you to study for the priesthood?
My father has always talked about wanting one of his sons to become a priest, but he also encouraged us to follow our dreams. After my first year in seminary at age 35, my Mom told me that he had been praying that I would become a priest since before I was born. I have always admired my great Uncle Paulinus Selle, O.S.B. He has been a priest at the Saint Vincent Archabbey for almost seventy years. Fr. Brett Brannen, the previous D.O.V., also had a big influence on me. I never really thought I could be a priest until I began working with him in the discernment process.
What careers goals or ambitions did you sacrifice to discern a possible vocation to the priesthood?
I had a good career in forestry, but as I was forced to explore other career opportunities, I realized how many possibilities there were for me. I began to realize that I could do anything I wanted. I found the perceived opportunity costs of going to seminary were difficult to pass up. My dream has always been to own my own forestland and manage it for timber and wildlife at a sustainable level. I feel an important assignments we have from God is the stewardship of the natural resources. That is a real cost of the cross for me.
What was the reaction of those closest to you when you entered the seminary?
Some people were a little surprised, but my family was very supportive. Some of my friends that had known me knew me thought it was just a phase that I would grow out of, but overall they were very positive. I think it challenged some of the people who knew me and with whom I shared a similar lifestyle. It was difficult for them to see me give up the very things that had always been so important to us as we grew up together.
Tell us about a typical day at the seminary.
Most days begin with Eucharistic adoration. Morning prayer is usually at seven-thirty, followed by breakfast. Classes follow, depending upon the day, from 8:30 AM until 3:30 PM. Midday prayer is prayed in private, and morning and evening prayer is prayed in common. Evening prayer is at 4:30 PM followed by Mass at 5:00. We have a formation conference Monday nights and some classes are scheduled in the evenings.
Do you see much of your family and friends outside the seminary?
We get to see family and friends about two weeks at Christmas, one week at Easter and one week at the beginning and end of our summer assignments.
What are you most looking forward to about being a priest?
Being able to celebrate the Sacraments for the people, especially reconciliation. I also love Baptism and preaching, which I am able to do as a Deacon.
What scares you about becoming a priest?
My biggest fear is my personal weakness. This is also my greatest source of strength, because in my weakness, the power of God reaches perfection. I pray everyday that I willnever lead anyone astray and I also pray for the wisdom to know the truth and the strength to persevere in God’s will.
What would you say to other young men who may be wondering if they have a vocation to the priesthood?
God will never be outdone in generosity. If you think God may be calling you, make that leap of faith and pursue the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood. The seminary provides a great atmosphere for discernment, meditation and prayer. Even if you eventually discern you are not called to the priesthood, as some men in the seminary do, your life will forever be changed for the better, and will bless you for your willingness to do his will. The most important thing in life is to seek God’s will in your life and take that leap of faith. If you’re living in God’s will, you life will be an echo of the word’s ofthe Apostle Peter when he said “Master, to whom shallwe go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)
Article from SavannahPriest.com