A change in vocation does not change Jim Schuster’s love for the church

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Jim Schuster’s life was heading in the direction of the priesthood. Until it wasn’t.

The now the director of evangelization and adult faith formation at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington spent five years at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., studying for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill.

“I was probably the most surprised out of anybody when God called me out of (the seminary),” he said. “I was pretty confident that was what He wanted me to do with my life, and then He started steering me in a new direction.”

In high school, Schuster said there was a big discrepancy between what he believed intellectually and the way he was living his life.

While studying at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, he experienced a turning point.

He went to college with the attitude of saying to God, “I know that my faith has more to offer me than what I’m really experiencing now,” he said. “I wanted God to show me what it was in college.”

In college, Schuster was involved with the choir and community at the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. At one Mass, the Gospel was about Bartimaeus. The priest enthusiastically told the congregation they needed to cry out with everything they have, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me,” said Schuster.

It stirred something in him and he remembered his father quoting Mother Angelica about being called to be saints. “As I struggled with that, I thought that maybe I can’t do it, but God could do it in me,” he said. “It was a pivotal moment in my life.”

Schuster said God started working out the sinful habits that he was struggling with. “It melted away in about six months,” he said. “It was all grace and all a matter of telling God you have permission to do this in my life. That was when God reached me in a personal way.”

Schuster served as lay director for one retreat program in college. “Those experiences of helping other people come to encounter Christ in the way I had, and seeing them experience joy and healing in their lives as a result, that stirred it up in me to say why would I want to do anything else?”

He sensed a calling to the priesthood and entered seminary right after college. He envisioned himself as a parish priest.

“I was always drawn to parish ministry and that is something that hasn’t gone away,” he said. “I see the parish as the place where the rubber meets the road. It’s the frontlines of pastoral ministry, and there is potential for the parish to be a hub or outpost for evangelization.”

Schuster said toward the end of his time in the seminary, God started talking to him in prayer about revisiting marriage as a possibility again. After leaving seminary he worked in youth ministry at St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg. He worked there for two years before moving to St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, where he had the opportunity to work with a longtime friend Jonna. They married in 2011.

“We always talked about working full-time in ministry together because that is a core passion of our lives is pursuing God and helping others know Him,” said Schuster.

They worked together for nearly seven years until this past March. “The hard thing was leaving the chance to work alongside my wife because we love sharing that mission together, and enjoy discovering new things and new approaches in ministry and sharing that journey,” he said.

Schuster tries to apply what he’s learned to his role at St. Charles. “You have to win trust with people and largely it comes through listening and making sure they feel protected and safe with you,” he said. “I find that before I ever encounter somebody God is already doing something with them. He has already reached out before I have reached out,” he said.

When Schuster gives talks he leaves space at the end to invite God into the conversation. “Leaving that room for God to act in the moment and move in the moment has made a significant difference in the fruitfulness of my ministry,” he said.

He has a favorite part of the job. “It is the moments when I get to see someone encountering Christ in a personal way. Whenever there’s an encounter with Christ, He always brings new measures of freedom, new measures of joy, clarity in life,” said Schuster. “The times when I get to witness people experiencing new life and new liberty in Christ, that is what it’s all about. That’s what I enjoy the most.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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