By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — In the days leading up to his priestly ordination, Deacon Jack Schrader seemed surprisingly calm and collected.
Despite a whirlwind schedule that included finalizing plans for his first Mass celebration, several days at the Quo Vadis discernment retreat, and making last-minute arrangements to greet the many guests who were arriving for his ordination weekend, he seemed at peace with himself.
“I was just reflecting on how long of a journey it’s been,” Deacon Schrader told The Anchor. “I was trying to count how many final exams I had to take and all the evaluations from the faculty, from my peers, and my self-evaluations. But in the end, what is about to happen is not the result of any personal achievement. It has required a lot work, but there’s nothing I can do to make the ordination happen. It’s a total gift from God through the bishop that doesn’t depend upon what I’ve done.”
“It’s easy to be tricked into thinking it’s the end achievement of many other achievements, but it’s really not that,” he added. “It’s God’s call and choice of someone and it’s kind of hard to believe it’s about to happen.”
Deacon Schrader will be ordained a priest for the diocese on July 11 at 11 a.m. inside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.
Although it won’t be Bishop da Cunha’s first ordination, it does mark the first time he’s ordaining someone as the Eighth Bishop of Fall River, which is a point of pride for Deacon Schrader.
“I think there’s a good number that he’s done already, but this is the first for the Fall River Diocese,” Deacon Schrader said.
“The great thing about an ordination is the one who is going to be ordained in some ways just has to show up,” he added. “What happens on that day is not the result of an examination, it’s not a test, it’s a matter of being present before God and the Church and saying ‘yes’ and receiving the Sacrament from the bishop.”
For Deacon Schrader, the defining moment of the Liturgy for him will be the laying on of hands.
“You’re kneeling there in utter faith, believing that the Holy Spirit is being poured out upon you,” he said. “Although you can’t see it, you can’t feel it — you might have some emotions in the moment, but God in that moment will call me and will call the Church around to believe that He is doing something powerful to make me into His instrument.”
When considering the detours and divergent paths Deacon Schrader has taken along the way to becoming a priest for the Fall River Diocese, it’s something that only could have been accomplished through the grace of God.
The son of Steven Schrader, a career military man who served at the beckoning of Uncle Sam, Jack Schrader was born on a U.S. Air Force base in Misawa, Japan.
“I don’t remember anything about Japan, because we moved when I was three to Alaska,” Schrader said. “That’s where I went to kindergarten and preschool. And then we moved to Alabama for one year.”
For a child who rarely had time to get too comfortable in any given school, that year in Alabama stood out because it was the first time Deacon Schrader was exposed to a Catholic education.
“I always went to public school or to the American schools that were on the military bases,” he explained. “But in Alabama there was a Catholic school that was affordable and so my dad decided to send me. As I reflect on my own calling and discernment of God’s Will, I think that year was really important.”
Although he only attended first grade at Our Lady Queen of Mercy School, it was a pivotal time during which he learned all his prayers and was introduced to many tenets of the faith.
“I think it really did form me in a way that would not have been possible anywhere else, or in any school that was not Catholic,” he said. “Just having that daily life of prayer and learning how to be faithful, learning about God at a young age, is important. So I’m very thankful for that one year in Alabama.”
From Alabama, the Schrader Family — consisting of Jack, his younger sister Anna, younger brother Samuel, his father Steven and mother Diane — moved to northern Virginia for three years; then to northern Italy for three years; then back to Virginia for three years; and then back to Italy again for another two years, during which time Deacon Schrader attended Aviano High School, a school run by the U.S. Department of Defense on the Air Force Base in Aviano, Italy.
That’s where Deacon Schrader met Father Dennis Hanley, the military chaplain serving on the base who would become instrumental in his discernment.
“He was the first to ever flat-out ask me if I had ever considered the priesthood,” Deacon Schrader said. “I had never considered being a priest because I had never known a priest personally. But the community at the military base was small enough where the priest could get to know everyone, and so he knew me well enough to, at first, tease me and jokingly suggest the priesthood to me, which was quite a strategy. It was not intimidating, but it helped to plant the seed.”
About a year later, Deacon Schrader had an opportunity to attend World Youth Day in Germany where he met several seminarians, which got him to think a bit more seriously about Father Hanley’s casual comments.
“I approached Father Hanley and said: ‘Hey, can we talk about this?’ All of a sudden he became very serious in his office, after having known me for a while and joking around with me, he started talking seriously to me about the priesthood and the gravity of this call,” Deacon Schrader said. “I think he wanted to make sure that I just wasn’t responding to his jokes, that this was a call from God.”
Upon graduating from Aviano High School, Deacon Schrader would enroll in the Franciscan University of Steubenville [Ohio], which is where he first met another key figure in his vocation journey: fellow seminarian Chris Peschel, who just celebrated his first anniversary of ordination.
“We were only together one year at school, and then again at St. John’s Seminary briefly, but we’ve been good friends along the way and he was very encouraging to me and introduced me to a lot of priests in Fall River, including some of the seminarians, and he brought me to my first-ever Portuguese festa at St. Michael’s Parish, which was great,” he said.
Making that initial connection with Father Peschel would prove to be fortuitous when Deacon Schrader’s dad, who would soon retire from the Air Force, was looking to relocate somewhere for his new job as a pilot with Southwest Airlines.
“That’s why we came here, because he had that job and he had to pick an east coast city to be near and we ended up in Sagamore Beach on Cape Cod, of all places, which I’m very thankful for,” he said. “That’s why I’m in the Fall River Diocese now. His domicile airport is Baltimore, actually, but he can commute from Boston to Baltimore every few days a week.”
In addition to earning his bachelor’s degree from Franciscan University and a brief stint at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Deacon Schrader has completed the bulk of his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
“Studying there has been a great challenge and experience, learning theology from priests, religious Sisters, and lay people from all over the world,” he said. “And the seminary is about a 10-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica. From the rooftop, you can even see the basilica and the window where the pope comes out for his Sunday Angelus.”
Deacon Schrader said his parents, siblings, both grandmothers and many other family members and friends will be attending the ordination.
“One of the benefits of being ordained alone is that I can pretty much invite everyone,” he said.
Father David Pignato, a priest of the diocese and a faculty member at St. John’s Seminary, will be vesting him during the Mass.
“He has become a mentor to me through the years — supporting me, encouraging me, teaching me a lot,” he said. “In the summer time we often go hiking together. I think I first met him at Quo Vadis Days years ago.”
The newly-ordained Father Jack Schrader will be celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Corpus Christi in East Sandwich on the following day, July 12 at 3 p.m.
“I’ll be looking forward to celebrating with my pastor, Father George Harrison, and the new parochial vicar there, Father Riley Williams, who is also a great friend,” Deacon Schrader said. “So far, 20 priests have responded to my invitation to concelebrate as well. I have a couple of classmates coming from the seminary in Rome, some friends from college, too.”
Since Deacon Schrader will be returning to Rome to complete his studies in the fall, he won’t have an immediate assignment within the diocese. But he’ll be spending the rest of the summer visiting several parishes.
“I’ll be living with Father Harrison at Corpus Christi Parish and I’ll be visiting a different church every weekend around the diocese to preach and to promote vocations,” he said. “Some of the priests who have studied in Rome have done something similar — I think Father Ron Floyd did that when he was ordained and had to go back to Rome. Since it’s not possible to give you a permanent assignment, the idea is to share the new priest with the diocese and hopefully inspire some young people and to foster vocations.
“Then when I come home next year I look forward to whatever the bishop has in mind for me. I know there are many places in our diocese where priests are being stretched a lot and working hard, so I hope I can relieve some of the burden that’s been put on our hard-working priests.”
As eager as he is to begin his priestly ministry, Deacon Schrader is also looking forward to finally having some stability in his life.
“For most of my life I’ve moved around, and even the last few years I’ve been back and forth to Rome, and so I look forward to being in a place where I can get to know people, grow with people, and grow up with people,” he said. “I hope to be a more stable presence for others, and I look forward to being in a town for a while and getting to know people.”
A Vigil Holy Hour in preparation for the priestly ordination of Deacon Jack Schrader will take place July 10 at 7 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham. All are invited.