By SUSAN J. MEISTER
Special to The Messenger
When Deacon Steven Pautler told his brother Brian that he was going to seminary in hopes of entering the priesthood, Brian replied, “It’s about time! I can’t believe you’ve waited this long!”
Brian remembered that Steve’s childhood was all about church, in particular St. Boniface Parish, in Evansville.
“I’d be helping on the farm, and Steve would be at church getting ready for Lent,” his brother laughed.
After many years of service, Steven Pautler’s more formal involvement in the church began in 2008, when he was ordained a Permanent Deacon. And then, when a vice president at his employer, Xerox Corporation, called to say the employees were being outsourced, Pautler took early retirement and very soon after found himself at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Deacon Pautler received his Master of Divinity degree from Sacred Heart on May 4. His family traveled north to share in the celebration.
The next major celebration will be May 19, when the ordination for Pautler to the priesthood and eight deacon candidates to the diaconate is held at the Cathedral of Saint Peter, Belleville.
“You will see the hierarchy of the church and how it works on that day,” he said, “when you see deacons, priests and Bishop Braxton together.”
After his ordination, Father Pautler will wait for an assignment to a parish by Bishop Edward K. Braxton.
“I am looking forward to where I will be able to serve,” Father Pautler said. “I want to bring the gifts and abilities God has given me to help people draw closer to God.”
Answering God’s call
“I feel that God has been calling me most of my life, even as a child,” Pautler said. “It’s funny how things come together and things happen in your life. With my job and my life, I kept saying ‘Not now, God.’”
He credits the late Msgr. Francis Tecklenburg, “Father Teck,” for being a great inspiration, even though he died when Steven was only five. “I feel like I know him.
He was thinking about things before his time,” Pautler said, “and he lived his life in a simple way. He ‘smelled like a sheep’ way back then, even before Pope Francis (suggested it).
“He inspires me to want to do things to help people and help them understand God better.”
Pautler attended Catholic elementary school, was active in the parish youth organization, and then served as a lector. When he was 33, he participated in a two-year ministry formation program. He enrolled in the diocesan diaconal program and was ordained a permanent deacon in 2008.
During the five years of his service as a deacon, Pautler felt God was calling him to do more.
With his ordination to the priesthood, he will be able to celebrate Mass, consecrate the elements, and hear confessions. Just this past Holy Week, on Holy Thursday, Deacon Pautler carried the Blessed Sacrament and had a profound feeling of closeness in those moments.
“It was a prelude of things to come,” he said.
The seminary experience
Pautler said the Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology is a seminary for men of all ages. He was 54 when he entered the school. Current seminarians range in age from 23-70.
“The school molds the seminary experience to meet you where you fit,” Pautler said.
As part of his diaconate training, Pautler had taken courses at St. Meinrad School of Theology, Indiana and was able to transfer 55 credit hours to the pursuit of his M. Div. degree.
During the three years in Wisconsin, Pautler was active in local parishes. “I’ve been assigned to a parish every year,” he said. “I assisted the priest on weekends and with preaching and baptisms. I didn’t get ‘rusty!’”
Pautler said that the parishes were large — between 2,500 and 3,000 families — and he is thankful for the opportunity to work in that setting.
The soon-to-be-ordained priest especially enjoyed his assignment to a chaplain team in a large retirement community, Franciscan Villa in Milwaukee.
“I took Holy Communion to the residents and prayed with them,” he said. “I listened to the residents’ life stories and struggles, and related to their weaknesses and frailties.”
And although it was sometimes hard to find a quiet time to pray at the seminary (renovations were underway), Pautler prayed the Divine Office daily and felt close to God. “I felt God was really with me,” he said, “and I thanked God for the opportunity of the gift to attend this seminary — what a wonderful gift — in my 50s.”
Pautler will be 57 years old when he is ordained.
Family and pastoral
Pautler is very close to his family, and he is grateful for the ongoing support of his mom, Margaret Pautler, 82, and his brother Brian, both of whom live in Red Bud. His father died in 1995. The family has been to Milwaukee to visit and his mom, brother, niece and nephew were present at his graduation.
“Mom taught me compassion and Dad taught me how to succeed and reach my goals,” Pautler said.
Even though Deacon Pautler’s mother is not Roman Catholic, she has been fully supportive of her children’s and grandchildren’s involvement in the church. Margaret worships at the United Church of Christ, just a block away from St. Boniface in Evansville.
Deacon Pautler said that both Msgr. Eugene Wojcik and Father Benjamin Stern had great influence on his vocation. In an article in The Messenger, published in November 2015 when Pautler had just started his seminary studies, he said that Father Stern’s energy and love for what he does is off the charts.
“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,” he said.
Father Stern has known Deacon Steve for a number of years, and said that the quality of his homilies has improved over time, especially when he speaks from his heart and relates ordinary experience with the Gospel. “Deacon Steve brings a compassionate pastoral presence wherever he goes,” Father Stern added. “(He) embodies what it means to be a servant.”
Father Eugene Wojcik is the director of the diocesan diaconate program. “I had the honor to journey with Deacon Pautler as he began and throughout his journey of discernment to the Order of Deacon,” Father Wojcik said. “From those earliest days of discernment, he has always displayed a sense of profound love for the Church and an equally strong willingness to serve the People of God.
“We who have known and journeyed with him in the Permanent Diaconate Office rejoice in his ordination to the priesthood,” he said. “As a brother priest and as a friend, I am excited to have soon-to-be Father Steve Pautler join in the wonderful gift of the priesthood.
“I am certain that his zeal and love for the priesthood will be infectious to all who will be as privileged as I to know him.”