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May 17, 2023

By Darcy Fargo

As he prepares for ordination to the Order of Deacon, Douglas Schirmer said he’s surprised at the level of peace he’s experiencing.

“I’m feeling serene,” he said. “That’s a bit surprising. I naturally tend to be a bit anxious, but the last few months have been very peaceful.”

He’s found that peace in Christ in his preparations for ordination.

“I’ve been praying more and talking to other seminarians about ordination,” Schirmer said. “And I’ve been spending meditating on the Office of Deacon. I’m also preparing to make a general confession with my spiritual director. You sort of go back through your life and dig in deeper. I’ve spent eight years in seminary, and I’ve learned more about what sin is and how it affects you. So you talk about sins for which you’ve already been absolved, but you dig deeper and look at the causes and effects.”

That peace is also an extension of joy he’s found in a portion of his future ministry.

“I’ve been taking a practice class in homiletics,” he said. “It’s been so lifegiving and joyful! I’m looking forward to testing that out, especially over the summer (in parish ministry). It’s been a lot of learning how to preach to people – what they need to hear and what they want to hear. It’s been learning to communicate not just scripture but also tenets of the faith in a way that’s digestible and helpful. We work with a different priest each week, so we get lots of different perspectives and tools to use. I can’t say it’s come easy, but I’ve been surprised by the fact that I’m not scared at all when I preach. I count that as a grace. It’s still an ongoing learning process – sort of broadening that gift. It’s something I’ll be doing the rest of my life.”

Schirmer, 33, grew up in the Midwest, the son of an Anglican priest. His mother converted to Catholicism when he was a teen. Now residing in Ogdensburg, Schirmer said his family played an integral role in his being willing to be open to where God is calling him.

“I started looking at the Church when I was about 15 years old,” he said. “Mom had come into the Church at that point. A huge part of me discerning whether I wanted to be Roman Catholic was the priesthood. I never have been able to say why, but I always felt it should be part of the conversation. My maternal grandparents were missionaries in Africa on and off for decades.”

Additionally, Schirmer noted that his father is part of a “breakaway group,” in his faith, and that provided him with inspiration, as well.

“My dad made life-altering decisions based on principles, truth and faith,” he said. “I grew up in that environment. My parents have both been very supportive, and so have my brothers, Calvin and Joe. They’ve cheered me on whenever I was feeling down or annoyed. My brothers would basically help me to screw my head on straight and get back on the path.”

Despite growing up in that environment, Schirmer said it took him a while after converting to Catholicism to truly start discerning God’s call for him.

“After I was Catholic for two years, it was like the Lord hit me upside the head, and I realized how I’d been running from this vocation,” he said. “I owe a debt of gratitude to Father Bryan Stitt and (former Campus Minister) Peter Mueller from Potsdam. They wouldn’t let me shuffle these ideas off. With them, there was always a sense of ‘keep asking the tough questions.’”

Even then, he had to overcome his own desires, Schirmer said.

“I realized a month ago that the hard part of my discernment has been letting go of the idea of marriage,” he said. “This is the most adult decision and sacrifice I’ve made in my life, that I’ll make in my life, most likely, but I get to do that for Christ and the Church. After I realized that, everything was smoother.”

As he’s moved through his studies and toward ordination, Schirmer said the time he’s spent in various parishes and meeting the people of the diocese have buoyed him in his vocation.

“It’s been a joy to get to know people in the parishes over the years,” he said. “It’s given me a deeper joy in wanting to serve as a deacon and as a priest. It’s one thing to discern a vocation. It’s another thing actually ministering to real people with real gifts and real problems.  It becomes very personal. I’ve started to feel that sense of fatherhood and friendship. The people of the North Country have given me that. It’s not something I felt going in. I owe everyone in the diocese a pretty big debt there.”

In addition to inviting the diocese to his ordination, Schirmer issued another invitation to the diocese.

“Please pray for Bishop LaValley, pray for the priests of our diocese, and pray for vocations,” he said.

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