January 8, 2010

Religious Vocations Supplement

Priest yearns to learn from parishioners and God’s creation

Father Thomas Schliessmann prays the eucharistic prayer during a Nov. 18 Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church in Franklin, where he serves as the pastor. He also is the pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Thomas Schliessmann prays the eucharistic prayer during a Nov. 18 Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church in Franklin, where he serves as the pastor. He also is the pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

EDINBURGH and FRANKLIN—Although he is 49 and has been out of school for 20 years, Father Thomas Schliessmann is still a student at heart.

He always has something to learn from the members of the two parishes where he serves as pastor—Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin.

“It’s wonderful to spend time with people who are living out their faith and trying to grow in their relationship with God,” he said.

Ordained in 1989, Father Schliessmann also learns about the glory of God while camping in Indiana and at national parks out west like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

“It’s something glorious,” he said. “You just want to applaud God.”

Through it all, he has learned that he enjoys being a priest. This has led him to share that love of the priesthood with seminarians.

“I’m happy, and I’d like people to share my happiness,” Father Schliessmann said. “I want to share our Catholic faith. And I want people who are excited about Jesus to consider that he might also be calling them to serve in the particular sacramental identity of a priest.”

A vocation nurtured in his youth

Father Schliessmann learned at an early age to love the Church and the priesthood.

Born in South Dakota, his family moved to Indianapolis and became members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish when he was 11.

“I grew up in a family where being Catholic was simply part of family life,” he said.

Involvement in Scouting as a youth also reinforced his faith.

“It just fed into that whole [perspective] that I was brought up with that God is simply a part of life, faith is a part of life,” Father Schliessmann. “It isn’t an add on. It’s in every thread of existence.”

Because of this, Father Schliessmann said considering the priesthood was a normal part of growing up.

“For me, it was an interest,” he said. “I was a server. I tried to pray. It seemed like just being an astronaut or being a ranger. It stuck with me.”

That led him to attend the Latin School of Indianapolis, the former archdiocesan high school seminary, for three years until it closed in 1978.

After graduating from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis in 1979, he studied aeronautical engineering for five years at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. During that time, he completed an internship at an Air Force base in Tennessee, where he tested jet engines.

Still, the idea of the priesthood never left him. And so after graduating from Purdue in 1984, he became a seminarian again and enrolled at Saint Meinrad School of Theology, where he “felt at home.”

The glory of God’s creation

Father Schliessmann learned early on from his parents to love the outdoors. As a priest, he has gained a new perspective on life from camping.

“There’s something about the complexity of life and wanting to hang on to things,” he said. “And so [it’s good] to go and say, ‘What do I need just to be out for a day or two?’ and to come back and say, ‘You know? I don’t need that much.’

“There’s a spirituality of getting back to basics. What’s most important? And not just in terms of survival, but in how I use this gift of time?”

This simple approach to life and the ability to pare down one’s needs helps him create a good atmosphere for the participants in the Summer Field Study program at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis that he has been a part of for several years.

Each summer, Roncalli president Joseph Hollowell and other staff members guide a group of students for two weeks of hiking and camping at national parks in the western part of the country.

“His naturally positive attitude goes a long way to everyone having a positive experience,” Hollowell said, “regardless of whether you’re in the middle of a rain storm or if you’re lost in the woods overnight or if you’re on the 10th mile of a hike and you have blisters.”

Always learning

Father Schliessmann said his parishioners “always, always” draw him closer to Christ.

This happens for him in a special way when he meets them in a privileged and confidential place: the confessional.

“I’m seeing people at their best there,” Father Schliessmann said. “They’re courageous, humble, vulnerable, being honest and being open.”

“He’s a very thoughtful and careful and attentive confessor,” said Barbara Pierse, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh.

Pierse also sees her pastor’s attentiveness when she works with him in the parish’s Hispanic ministry outreach.

“He does not presume that he knows everything,” she said. “And so he wants to hear what other people have to say about issues that are going on.”

“He listens to what you have to say, even if he disagrees with you,” said Jean Martin, a pastoral associate at Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin. “He’s open to new things. He’s a very thoughtful person.”

This positive impression that Father Schliessmann has made on the people he serves might be rubbing off on the next generation of priests.

Seminarian Michael Kubancsek, a freshman at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and at Marian University, both in Indianapolis, has gotten to know Father Schliessmann because the priest works closely with his father, Gary, who is the co-chair of the Catholic Scouting Committee in the archdiocese. Father Schliessmann is the committee’s chaplain.

“Father Tom is an excellent priestly example,” Kubancsek said. “He’s a good pastoral role model. He’s one good example of a priest who has a very human side.”

Kubancsek also simply appreciates how Father Schliessmann likes to spend time with him and his fellow seminarians.

“It’s good to know that priests are genuinely concerned about the seminarians and about their formation,” Kubancsek said. “And it comes from the fact that he cares so much about the priesthood itself.”

(For more information on priests and vocations to the priesthood in the archdiocese, log on to www.HearGodsCall.com.)

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