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Friday, May 9, 2008

"Three are called to serve through priestly ordination"

From The Catholic Telegraph - Cincinnati
By Lew Moores
Deacon Ed Pratt, Deacon Ryan Ruiz and Deacon Jason Bedel

There are almost 20 years separating in age the three men to be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati this year. But none ever strayed far from their religious roots, even as they reached points in their lives when they placed their vocations — in their words — on the "back burner."

All three had thoughts of the priesthood at a young age, as early as when they were in grade school. But two of them had already embarked on other careers, and both owned homes. The third, the youngest, had decided on entering the seminary by the time he had graduated from college.
All three will be ordained to the priesthood on May 17 at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains in downtown Cincinnati. They will join the 187 active priests ministering in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

As one of the seminarians at Mount St. Mary Seminary at the Athenaeum of Ohio pointed out, the years almost evenly divide these three seminarians — 10 years from the youngest, another 10 years to second oldest and another 10 to the eldest.

It is a symmetry they hope portends well into the future when both the older and the younger men of such proclivities — choose this path.

Deacon Ed Pratt

Deacon Edward Pratt, 45, is from Middletown, attended Catholic grade school, Bishop Fenwick High School and then headed southward to Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he majored in business administration and had visions of a career in human resources, but with a Catholic bent.

He worked at Target in human resources, but then moved on to hospitals — Mercy of Fairfield and Mercy of Hamilton — working in management development and recruitment. He also worked for more than seven years as director of member services for the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA).

"We were regular churchgoers," he recalls. "My mom and dad are still active in the Middletown parish. We didn’t have statues in our house, although some people do. Catholic grade school and high school were important. Then I went to Xavier. Those values were always present in my home."

Through most of his career life, he’d stayed close to his religion, working at Catholic hospitals with religious Sisters. He was chairman of his parish council in Middletown for five years and taught religious education for several years.

"I was helping the Sisters do orientations on why you work in a Catholic hospital, what are the values the Sisters hold when you’re dealing with patients," he says. "That’s how I ended up working with NACPA."

For more than seven years, Deacon Pratt traveled for NACPA, visiting 42 states, working with dioceses and "more motherhouses of Sisters, Brothers and priests than I knew even existed. I did a lot of stuff to help Sisters’ orders, wrote handbooks, made sure they had good personnel policies. I did a lot on pay and benefits to see that the church as an employer was being just to those who worked for the church."

And while doing that, he thought something was missing, even as he grew into his middle and late 30s.

"I think the seminary was always in the back of my mind," says Deacon Pratt. "As I reached my upper 30s, I thought, ‘I’m going to give this a try. If it doesn’t work, God will let me know, and I’ll go back to doing something else.’

"I have to say that when you hear these stories from guys that they just knew they had to be at the seminary or they had this life-changing moment — I never had that. But I had a journey. My life has been a journey.

"I did not have an ‘a ha’ moment. I just did a journey. I know some guys will say, ‘Well, I was sitting in church and . . .’ That never really happened to me. It was just kind of a continual journey to me. I didn’t have that moment. I was working with men and women, Religious and priests and laypeople who worked for the church. There was something there, something I needed to do even more than what I was doing."

Close friends and family were not surprised by his decision.

"Everyone has been very supportive," said Deacon Pratt. "I think if you ask my parents what they think about it, they would probably say they’re not surprised." He paused and began laughing. "Or, ‘What took so long?’"

Deacon Pratt enjoys travel, which meant the travel he did for NACPA was not a chore. He also considers himself a sports fan, though he concedes, "I’m not gifted to play. I would say I pretty much appreciate everything except for hockey and boxing, because they’re too violent for me."

His days start with morning prayers, followed by Mass, then classes.

"That was one of the biggest adjustments for me as an older guy," said Deacon Pratt. "I was 39 when I got here. After owning my own home and having a career, suddenly having a routine schedule — where someone else seemed to be setting the schedule — was a bit of an adjustment. The academic part, the classroom part, I didn’t find it as hard as I thought it would be. That’s not to say academics weren’t an adjustment after having a career and going back to being a fulltime student."

His thoughts on the future of the priesthood?

"We need to look at the role of the laity and how we collaborate," Deacon Pratt said. "I’m looking forward to working with a lot of the lay ministers. As for the priesthood, there have to be ways to do things to show younger men and older men and have them recognize this as an option in their lives.

"I feel like I’m in the right place."

Deacon Jason Bedel

Deacon Bedel, 34, lived in Cheviot until the age of 13, when his family moved to Miami Heights. He attended St. Martin of Tours grade school, but when his family — he was one of seven children — moved, he attended Taylor High School in North Bend, then Xavier University, where he studied public relations and was intent on a corporate career.

"I was hoping to get into public relations for a big corporation somewhere," he recalls.

His was a religious household, and the family lived across the street from the church in Cheviot. "We would see the priests," he said. "I remember being impressed with that. I had an appreciation for the Mass. I thought the house the priests lived in — the rectory — was cool. When I was in grade school I was pretty sure I would become a priest."

When he attended a public school, thoughts of becoming a priest "got put on the back burner." He was sure he would one day marry. And he thought college was in the future.

"I realized that the best thing would be to go on to college," said Deacon Bedel. "That way you can get a good job and provide for a family. I dated all through college."

He worked summers delivering ice for Home City Ice Co. while at Xavier University. It was pure physical labor. He began working year ’round, and as he came close to graduation from Xavier, he was promoted into a management position at Home City Ice.

While the job wasn’t in public relations, he appreciated having a management position at a young age. He was later promoted to sales.

But he was also impressed with the Jesuit priests at Xavier.

"Most of these guys are highly educated — PhDs and such," said Deacon Bedel. "They could have used those skills for selfish reasons, to make millions out in the world. But they decided to give those gifts back to God, to bring about the kingdom of God instead of bringing about their own wealth. But even though I was impressed by them, it wasn’t enough for me to reconsider a vocation to the priesthood."

Nor had he considered it despite the fact that his uncle, Father Bob Kleiner, is a Comboni missionary.

By 2001 Deacon Bedel owned his own home in Westwood. He had a girlfriend for two years who attended Mass with him but was never baptized Catholic.

While she was attending RCIA classes, "it was like a wakeup call for me," he said. "It was like a reminder that I hadn’t had any formation in the faith for many years. I didn’t have a prayer life, and all of a sudden I started developing this hunger to have a prayer life and to get to know God and get to know Jesus. I really didn’t know where to go with it.

"I was looking for fulfillment and I knew what car I wanted to drive, knew I wanted to own my own home. I usually had a girlfriend, and I thought having these things would bring the fulfillment. But the fulfillment just didn’t happen."

He saw a commercial on TV produced by the archdiocese about making a phone call if you’d ever thought about becoming a priest.

"I always had this excuse that if God wants me, He’ll show me the next step," said Deacon Bedel.

Now he had a phone number. It had become the next step. He sold his home and entered Mount St. Mary in August 2002.

He now recalls: "I remember hanging out with my uncle (Father Kleiner), just remember having this deep gut feeling that I wanted to do what he does."

Since arriving at the seminary, he plays golf more and softball less. He enjoys the outdoors, camping, fishing and riding four-wheelers at the family farm in southeastern Indiana once owned by his late grandparents. He appreciates all types of music, especially hard rock and grunge from the 1990s. He says he never really struggled with his studies in his six years at the seminary, but it was not a "cakewalk."

"The reason I’m here is to be a parish priest," said Deacon Bedel. "I think I’d be fine doing any number of things, whether it’s teaching or whatever else they would ask me to do. I’m also interested in doing some pro-life work. And I’m interested in ministering to the Hispanic community."

Deacon Bedel is encouraged by what he sees as the future of the priesthood.

"The men are younger, and it seems numbers are a little higher," he said. "As far as the shortage goes in our diocese, I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re still not at the point where we’re replacing the guys who are retiring and dying."

But there is some solace in where the new priests are coming from. Seminarians at Mount St. Mary have come from different backgrounds and embarked on careers, which adds to the experience and enriches the vocation, Deacon Bedel believes.

"It seems like before the [Second Vatican] Council, there was a cookie-cutter approach, where a seminarian would enter either in high school or right after high school," said Deacon Bedel. "But I think those guys who have gotten those experiences bring those gifts to the ministry. And I don’t want to discount the guys who go straight in after high school. I think they’re very gifted and very committed."

Deacon Ryan Ruiz

Deacon Ryan Ruiz, 26, who hails from Urbana, was, like the other two ordinands, raised in a strong Catholic family. The family attended Sunday Mass, and all four children attended Catholic grade and high school.

"Mine was a very supportive, very loving, faith-filled family," he says.

Even as a young boy, Deacon Ruiz was somewhat taken with the priesthood, impressed by the priests and the way they conducted themselves at Mass, and how even their vestments "were very cool."

Like Deacons Pratt and Bedel, Deacon Ruiz said his interest in the priesthood waned by the first couple of years of high school. He was dating and ascribed his thoughts of the priesthood to, as he called it, "childhood fantasy."

"I got sidetracked by other pursuits, schooling and sports and dating," he recalls.

Yet by his junior year in high school, the thought of a vocation began to re-emerge at Springfield Catholic Central in Springfield. He became involved in his high school peer ministry program, planning retreats for different classes. And not far from his mind was a parish priest remembered from growing up and was impressed with, Father Tom Espelage.

"He was very influential," said Deacon Ruiz. "He never came out and said, ‘Ryan, I think you should be a priest,’ but I just remember seeing his very joyous attitude and that he was always with us on the playground during recess. He would bring his guitar into the classroom and sing songs with us. It was just reaffirming for me to see a priest who really enjoyed being a priest."

Deacon Ruiz went on to college at Denison University, where he earned a degree in religious studies. He went to Mass daily, made confession regularly and assisted in a parish with their youth ministry program.

"That helped me in sharing my faith with others and helping others grow closer in their faith with Christ," he said. "That was a good exercise in my discernment and my formation. By the time I was a junior I was pretty certain that I was going to continue the process into the seminary."

"I entertained thoughts of being a physician; my father was a physician," said Deacon Ruiz. "I also thought of being an entrepreneur of some sort. As a kid I was interested in opening my own hotel line. And marriage was always in the back of my head — raising a family and living the quintessential American dream."

"I came to a realization that it felt right to be a priest; it didn’t feel right to be anything other than a priest," said Deacon Ruiz.

He enjoys playing the guitar and mandolin, mostly for his own amusement, and also enjoys playing sports, soccer, basketball and football.

He also enjoys the outdoors, "just being in nature," he says. "It’s just a way for me to commune with God and enjoy the beauty of nature."

He is optimistic about the future of the priesthood; indeed, he thinks it incumbent for a priest to serve as an example, a presence, to encourage the priesthood as a vocation. He thought his parish priest did that when he was in grade school.

"I think there’s a lot of hope," said Deacon Ruiz. "We have a lot of young men who are beginning to reconsider and see the value of the priesthood. I think there’s hope our numbers will increase. For the immediate future my life as a priest might be a little more challenging as far as the workload increasing and the number of priests decreasing.

"But I’m optimistic that in the next few generations there will be a surge in men and women looking at religious life and men looking at the priesthood. A big part of our priesthood is to show our parishioners the beauty and value of living whatever vocation they are called to. For us, particularly, living the vocation of the priesthood, it’s trying to be as joyful in doing that so others can see joy and value in doing it. I think now we need to re-instill in young men the need for priests to serve the Gospel."

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