PERSONAL PROFILE: New vocations director shares own journey
August 17, 2022
To Father Scott Schilmoeller, the priesthood is an adventure – one he loves to share with other young men as the archdiocese’s new vocations director.
He moved into that post July 1, replacing Father Andy Roza, who is now associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha.
As a boy, Father Schilmoeller and his brother sought out childhood “adventures” in their Ralston neighborhood, such as exploring houses under construction along with other youthful exploits.
His growing Catholic faith also provided a sense of adventure, he said.
“As a young boy who had a big imagination, I had this sense of … the wonder of God, that he’s real, he’s involved (in my life), and there’s something exciting and adventurous about that.”
“There was something very dear about the familiarity of the faith to me as a young boy with my dad praying with us and teaching us,” Father Schilmoeller said. “I was very much ahead of most of my classmates in knowledge and practice of the faith.”
He also witnessed his father’s friendship with a man who left a career as a surgeon to become a priest.
“My dad having a really good friend who was in seminary – the influence of those conversations really trickled down,” Father Schilmoeller said.
But a growing discomfort during middle and high school years began to tamp down his enthusiasm, he said.
“I had this sense that there was something different about my family from a lot of my classmates, and I didn’t want to be different or stick out. I didn’t want my faith to be seen for some reason.”
So, his zeal for the faith began to wane, until he began college at the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL).
EMERGING FROM DARKNESS
“I had not been taking my faith seriously for a number of years,” Father Schilmoeller said, “and I felt a weight and a darkness in my life apart from God, even though I knew better.”
So, one morning he asked the Lord for help.
Having always been strongly influenced by friends he prayed: “Lord, if you don’t give me a good group of friends I’m not going to change.”
A short time later, Father Schilmoeller said, he met a number of people who were involved with the Newman Center at UNL.
“I met some really good, joyful people,” he said, who invited him to attend the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) national conference.
And there, during eucharistic adoration, Jesus touched his heart. “He showed me that he cares, and I just felt seen and known by Jesus,” Father Schilmoeller said.
For the next two years, he became involved in Bible studies and took part in mission trips, until one day during Mass, the Lord challenged him to go further.
“I really felt the Lord’s presence,” he said. “I sensed his nearness and he posed a question to my heart while I was looking at the priest: ‘This priest is giving up everything to follow me. Will you do the same?’ That adventurous little kid within me was awakened.”
Despite discouragement from “the enemy,” he said, the Lord continued to call, leading to visits to two religious orders and St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
At the seminary, he was surprised to find the seminarians there to be relatable.
“I could see myself being friends with a number of guys there,” Father Schilmoeller said. “I enjoyed the prayer they had together in community, and I could see myself there.”
“I didn’t know if I was really going to be a priest, I just knew the Lord wanted me there,” he said.
“And that’s the message that we try to give young guys now,” he said. “If you’re open, if you’re discerning, there’s no better place to discern than in a seminary.”
AN EVOLVING MINISTRY
After completing two years of study at St. John Vianney and four years at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Father Schilmoeller was ordained in 2017.
Since then, he has been associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, St. Leonard in Madison, St. Peter in Stanton and St. Patrick in Battle Creek.
At Sacred Heart, with its active youth ministry, Father Schilmoeller became acquainted with a number of young people, some of whom began to seek him out for guidance, especially if feeling a possible call to the priesthood.
In time, he began leading seminary visits to St. John Vianney and also started a vocation discernment group.
“I had just been at seminary so it was fresh in my mind that normal men go to seminary, and I was meeting normal young guys who were Catholic and engaged in their faith to some extent,” he said. “I thought, why not?”
Eventually Father Schilmoeller also began getting requests from young men at Wayne State College for spiritual advice and help with discernment.
“I started thinking, I don’t know why this keeps coming up with young guys, but it’s really amazing,” he said. “It wasn’t a huge process. … It was just listening to them, relating to them. The Lord did the heavy lifting.”
ACCOMPANIMENT IS GOAL
Now, as vocations director, Father Schilmoeller is accompanying young men on a full time basis as they discern a possible priestly vocation.
He described three key factors that help form the foundation for vocations: the opportunity for young men to “meet Jesus in a profound and personal way” in their parish or home; a supportive Christian community where they can live their relationship with Jesus alongside others; and an outlet for service “where the gifts, talents and uniqueness of young people are recognized and called forth.”
“Vocations come from the places where those three things are happening,” he said.
“That’s when the Vocations Office comes alongside those parishes, schools and ministries to provide support by accompanying the leaders in how to have conversations, where to direct them, what resources to give.”
Father Schilmoeller encourages priests, teachers and parishioners to contact him whenever they become aware of a promising young man who may be discerning a vocation.
It’s very much a collaborative effort,” he said. “Everybody needs to be helping foster these vocations and this discernment.”