Any road to the “here and now” begins as many years ago as anyone wants to count. In this case, the road to the seminary to study for the priesthood for Steve Pautler began during his early years as a member of St. Boniface Parish in Evansville.
Attending a Catholic elementary school and then being active in the parish youth organization, then a lector, he always stayed close to his parish.
“I had many conversations with Father Joseph Sense,” he said. “We talked of many things, and the sisters at Ruma (Adorers of the Blood of Christ) fostered my vocation.”
When a two-year Ministry Formation program, led by the late Irene Dill, was offered in the diocese, Steve Pautler participated. “At 33, I didn’t know where God was calling me.”
In 2003, he enrolled in the diocesan diaconal program and was ordained a permanent deacon in 2008.
“The diaconate formation really nourished my vocation,” he said. “I felt connected to the people I minister to.”
Now 55, he may appear an unlikely man to head to the seminary, but knowing his background, it’s easy to trace his journey to his present address at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.
These days, he studies philosophy and theology along with other older seminarians.
Sacred Heart presently has resident seminarians ranging in age from 35-67, Deacon Pautler said, along with younger men who participate in studies and then return to their residences to live.
No longer a “permanent deacon” but one on the road to ordination, he hopes to finish his seminary studies in three years when Bishop Edward K. Braxton will decide whether to call him to Holy Orders.
Deacon Pautler said he feels a real sense of peace and belonging at Sacred Heart where four other young men from the Diocese of Belleville also attend school.
He said he leaves the door to his room open if someone wants to stop and visit, and he hears people singing or whistling as they return to their own rooms in the dormitory.
People are happy at Sacred Heart, and so is Deacon Pautler. “I feel accepted,” he said, “because I finally said ‘yes’ to God.”
Programs at Sacred Heart are tailored to the students because they come from many places, different backgrounds, different ages and different levels of education.
The school faculty and staff take life experiences into account as a student continues his life’s journey as a seminarian, Deacon Pautler said.
Always having lived in Evansville, in the same house and the same community, working for the same company for 31 years, the transition to seminary student was a little bumpy. He missed his family, his routine, his parish and his ministry.
To smooth out these rough patches, he brought a digital photo frame with space for 1,500 photos. That way he could bring his family, his friends, pictures from the parish, of Pope Francis, Bishop Braxton and Msgr. Francis Tecklenburg (first editor of The Messenger and previous pastor) with him to Wisconsin.
To continue his diaconal ministry, Deacon Pautler brought the names and telephone numbers of the parish’s homebound with him to the seminary.
With eight people on the list, he calls one person each week to visit and catch up, maybe share a prayer and thoughts about life and faith.
The people were surprised the first time he called, but this was part of his ministry at the parish and he wanted to continue it.
The deacon said he is going to the seminary for many reasons, and one of them is because of the people of St. Boniface who have nurtured his vocation since he was a child.
His mother, Margaret, who belongs to the United Church of Christ, also supports his vocation. She has participated with him in every major event of his life and has visited him at Sacred Heart.
“She’s excited, too,” he said.
In addition, he speaks to his mother every night.
Others who have had an impact on his vocation are Father Benjamin Stern, present pastor of St. Boniface, St. Mary in Ellis Grove and St. Joseph in Willisville and Father Eugene Wojcik, pastor at Mary Help of Christians in Chester.
“Father Stern’s energy and love for what he does is off the charts,” Deacon Pautler said. “His inspiration and dedication to the priesthood was one of the driving forces that encouraged me to consider studying for a possible call to God’s holy priesthood.”
Father Wojcik is director of the diocesan diaconate program.
The fall semester is rapidly drawing to a close, and Deacon Pautler said the time has gone by quickly.
While he is still waiting for his “aha” moment when all of the class work comes together, he thinks that time is approaching.
“When you do things that make you happy and when you know you’re doing God’s work, you don’t think about time,” he said.
Deacon Pautler greets each new day with energy and excitement, saying “yes, I’m ready, continually. God has asked me to be at Sacred Heart so I keep moving one step at a time.”
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