By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
ROME — As he prepares to take the penultimate step towards the priesthood by being ordained a transitional deacon, seminarian Jack Schrader expressed “tremendous gratitude” for his years at St. John’s Seminary in Boston and at the North American College in Rome, where he is currently finishing his studies.
“I thank Bishop Coleman, the priests, deacons and laity of the Diocese of Fall River for supporting me, allowing me to pray and study for these precious years,” Schrader recently told The Anchor. “During seminary, God has grafted me more deeply into the Vine, Who is His Son, and pruned me so that I have been able to mature into the man God has called me to be. Hopefully soon I will be bearing fruit as a deacon and priest.”
Schrader will be ordained to the transitional diaconate by His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on October 2.
“Studying in Rome has opened my eyes to the deep living tradition of our Church,” he said. “Only our Church has such a strong historical and theological link to the Lord Jesus, Who sent His Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, to Rome. Here they shed their blood for the sake of introducing people to the Son of God.”
Being able to study at a seminary situated within close proximity to the Vatican and essentially being the pontiff’s “neighbor” has been a great blessing for Schrader.
“The North American College is very near St. Peter’s Square, the place where St. Peter was martyred,” he said. “His bones still lie under St. Peter’s Basilica. On a tour of the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica, you can see the jawbone of the man who professed to Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ Often I go to the Sunday Angelus with the Holy Father to receive his blessing and be encouraged by his words. Pope Francis echoes St. Peter’s confession of faith and brilliantly leads the Church.”
While it has often been said that “all roads lead to Rome,” Schrader’s journey to the Eternal City has been marked by several key milestones along the way.
Since his father was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, he and his siblings have lived at various military bases with their parents over the years. During the latter half of his high school career, Schrader was actually living in northern Italy, near Aviano Air Force Base, where his family attended Sunday Masses.
It was during this crucial time in his life that he met Father Dennis Hanley, the Catholic chaplain on base.
“Father Hanley first asked me to consider being a priest when I was 17 years old,” Schrader recalled. “In my earlier teen-age years, I had experienced a deepening of my faith because of the example of my two best friends. Father Hanley must have seen that I loved the Eucharist and that I was striving to be holier through the Sacrament of Penance. At first, he offered a light-hearted invitation to consider the priesthood. Until then, I had never thought of becoming a priest because I had never known a priest personally.”
Once planted, that initial seed began to take root in Schrader.
“Eventually after some months, I began to take Father Hanley’s invitation seriously,” he said. “I prayed and I thought about this unbelievable invitation to join the ranks of men who represent Jesus in a special and powerful way.”
Another important milestone on Schrader’s journey was a stop in Germany in 2005 for World Youth Day in Cologne, which eventually inspired him to attend the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
“With the exemption of first grade, I had always gone to public school,” Schrader said. “I wanted to go to a Catholic university, and I chose Franciscan University because there was a priestly discernment program on campus. At the time, my parents were moving to California after my dad’s retirement from the Air Force. This would have made going to a seminary very difficult, because I had no home diocese. Going to Franciscan University was one of the best decisions I ever made, second only to applying to seminary.”
After his first year at Steubenville, Schrader’s path veered towards New England.
“After my freshman year, my family moved to Sagamore Beach, into the Diocese of Fall River,” Schrader said. “I continued at Franciscan University until graduation and my subsequent entrance into St. John’s Seminary in Boston.”
While admitting he could fill the pages of The Anchor with inspiring stories of priestly role models he’s met over the years, Schrader singled out his Spiritual director at St. John’s Seminary, Father Philip Merdinger, as “a model priest” who he hopes to emulate.
“He is a founding member of a religious community, called the Brotherhood of Hope, whose members dedicate themselves to the evangelization of university campuses,” Schrader said. “His merciful response to my Confessions and struggles showed me a priestly heart and guided me towards a deeper conformity with Jesus Christ, the Priest. Father Merdinger is in love with God the Father and dedicated to the Divine Will in all things.”
One of the first people Schrader befriended after settling in the Fall River Diocese was Father Christopher Peschel, who was ordained to the presbyterate in June.
Schrader fondly recalled Father Peschel — who was then himself a seminarian — inviting him to attend the annual feast at St. Michael’s Parish in Fall River.
“It was the first time I had been to Fall River and to a Portuguese feast,” he said. “I was planning to watch the procession, eat some food, and partake in the prayers. As I was sitting in the church waiting for the procession to begin, a few men asked me to help them carry the statue of Santo Cristo. Surprised by the invitation, I excitedly agreed. As we were struggling to lower the statue to leave the church through the main doors, Father Jason Brilhante — also a seminarian at the time — looked at me with wide eyes and expressed to me that it was a great honor to be carrying Santo Cristo.
“Two hours later, we returned to St. Michael’s Church, my shoulder was in pain, but I was filled with joy because I had been chosen to carry Christ through the streets of Fall River. I look back now and realize that God was beginning to let me fall in love with the Diocese of Fall River.”
Looking ahead with great anticipation to his October 2 diaconal ordination, Schrader said he is excited that his parents, Steven and Diane Schrader, will be traveling to Rome, along with his sister, Anna. His grandmother and three aunts will also be there.
Sadly, his brother Sam won’t be able to attend because he is enlisted with the Massachusetts Air Force National Guard.
“Please pray for him as he is currently at pre-deployment training,” he added.
He is also honored that representatives from Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich, St. John and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Attleboro, and St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham will be making the trek to Rome for his special day, along with diocesan priests Msgr. Stephen Avila, Father George Harrison, Father Jay Mello, Father Ron Floyd, Father Jason Brilhante, Father Riley Williams, and Father Richard Wilson.
“Father Williams will be vesting me in the deacon’s vestment, the dalmatic, during the Rite of Ordination,” Schrader said. “When I was a freshman at Franciscan University, he was a senior. As a new seminarian in Rome, he was finishing his last year of studies in Rome as a priest; and during the summer of 2013, I was assigned with him in Attleboro. God has allowed Father Williams and I to walk together along the way to the priesthood, so I thought it was fitting that he should vest me.”
On the day following his diaconal ordination, Schrader will gather with family and friends for a Mass celebration at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island, where the remains of the Apostle are kept in the main altar.
“In addition, St. Pope John Paul II designated this church as a shrine to the ‘New Martyrs,’ that is to the men and women who gave their lives for Christ in the 20th and 21st centuries,” Schrader said.
The side chapels of this landmark church hold relics from many such “New Martyrs,” including Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, who knew that Nazism was incompatible with faith in Christ, and Shabaz Bhatti, a Christian federal minister in the Pakistani government and an outspoken opponent of Pakistan’s severe blasphemy law.
“I want to show my friends and family this holy place in Rome, and it will be a privilege to proclaim the Gospel and preach my first homily there,” he said.
Although he is the only seminarian slated to be ordained for the diocese next year, Schrader has great expectations that vocations will increase in the coming years, especially with the installation of Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha — a Vocationist Father — as the eighth Bishop of Fall River this month.
“I believe that God is calling many men to the priesthood in our diocese,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to hear the voice of the Lord. One way to help young people hear the call of God is to foster in our homes and in our parishes a culture of contemplative prayer and joyful Christian fellowship. Teach your children and grandchildren how to pray and introduce to them the treasure of encountering God in silence. Without a bit of silence every week, it is nearly impossible to hear God’s call.”
“Bishop da Cunha’s outgoing joy in following the Lord has been contagious to me,” he added. “I think he will continue to manifest the attractive joy of the Gospel as our chief shepherd and young men and women will be inspired by Bishop da Cunha to be courageous in their search for their vocation from God.”