New priests for 2013

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A peaceful thought that never left

After four years of study in Rome, Deacon Nicholas Barnes is eager to serve a local parish.

By KATIE BAHR
Catholic Herald Staff Writer

A call to the priesthood can be a frightening thought. For Deacon Nicholas Barnes, who will be ordained to the priesthood June 8 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, it was quite the opposite.

"(Becoming a priest) was a very peaceful thought that just came to me and never really left," Barnes said.

Barnes was born Aug. 26, 1985, and grew up in Denver. After moving to Virginia halfway through high school, he attended Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, and it was there that he first became dedicated to his faith. After graduating in 2003, Barnes attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he majored in history and economics. While in college, he began thinking about his vocation.

"I began to think about it and discern and pray about it," he said.
When it was time to graduate, Barnes already had a consulting job lined up in Washington. After signing the contract, he realized he was being called to the seminary, so he talked to the person who had hired him.

"I didn't know what his faith background was, but I went in and told him and his reaction was, 'God bless you,' and he gave me a hug," Barnes said.
The man told Barnes that he had looked at his resume again before the meeting and had an impression he should become a priest. Then he asked to be invited to Barnes' ordination Mass.

"That was definitely a confirming moment," Barnes said.

In 2007, Barnes entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. After two years, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde asked him to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he's been for the past four years.

During the last four years, Barnes said he's felt rewarded knowing that he is on the path God planned for him. He also has loved studying in Rome - especially being able to witness the historic events surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's resignation and Pope Francis' election earlier this year.

"I felt really blessed to be here," Barnes said. "I've had a lot of blessings in the seminary. Watching the pope get elected was one of the most exciting nights of my life."

The most challenging part of his time in seminary has been remaining patient and taking things one step at a time until he can become a priest. During his year as a transitional deacon, he has been working with students in Rome as part of the study abroad program for St. Mary College in South Bend, Ind. His job included organizing campus ministry events, Masses, catechetical nights and excursions in and around Rome.

As he counts down the days until he becomes a priest, Barnes most looks forward to working in a parish.

"(I'm excited) just to help bring people closer to God, to share the love that God has with me and with everyone else and to celebrate the sacraments," he said.
For other men discerning a call to the priesthood, Barnes suggests that they have the courage to follow God's will for their lives.

"Pursuing this has been really rewarding for me and I'm very excited to be a priest," he said. "(Don't) be afraid of what God has in store because He definitely has a plan and His plan is way better than anything we could come up with."


The 'hardest, easiest decision'

Deacon Brendan Bartlett gave up a career as a federal agent to join the priesthood.

By KATIE BAHR
Catholic Herald Staff Writer

As the old expression says, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."

Those words certainly ring true for Deacon Brendan Bartlett, who spent years pursuing a career in federal law enforcement before discerning a call to the priesthood in his late 20s.

"Everybody was surprised, but nobody was more surprised than I was," he said of his choice to enter the seminary.

Though becoming a priest was never something he envisioned, Bartlett is eagerly awaiting his ordination June 8 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington and his new role ministering to local Catholics.

The son of Dennis and Denise, Deacon Bartlett was born in San Francisco in 1975. He has two younger brothers, two siblings who passed away at birth, three nephews and one niece.

After his family moved to Virginia in 1987, Bartlett attended seventh and eighth grade at Holy Spirit School in Annandale and graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington in 1993. From there, he studied psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, graduating in 1997.

Though the faith was always a big part of Deacon Bartlett's life - his uncle was a Jesuit priest and his father had spent years as a Jesuit seminarian before getting married - he had never considered the priesthood and instead pursued a career as a federal agent.

"I had my own idea of what I wanted to do," Bartlett said. "My career track was everything I had been hoping for and things were moving along well for me, but as it goes, I felt like something was missing and I knew what it was."

After college, Deacon Bartlett became an "on-again, off-again Catholic" who didn't attend Mass or practice the faith regularly. In his mid-20s, he decided to make weekly Mass a priority and recommit to his faith.

"Then this idea of a vocation started to blow up, so I went with it," Deacon Bartlett said. "It was one of those things where I had these plans and God had a different plan and He was drawing me closer and closer. (Going to seminary) was the hardest, easiest decision I ever had to make. I knew it was something I had to do, but taking that step was the hardest thing to do."

After spending three years in a religious order in Chicago, Deacon Bartlett decided that was not for him, although he still wanted to be a priest. He was accepted to be a diocesan seminarian in early 2008 and spent the next year at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., before being asked to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.
During his years in seminary, Deacon Bartlett said he's received intense spiritual formation and developed close friendships with people from all over the country. He has enjoyed living in Rome, where he was witnessed the universality of the church and developed a real affinity for the Holy Father. This year, especially, has been exciting, as Deacon Bartlett witnessed Pope Benedict XVI's retirement and Pope Francis' election and served as a deacon during Pope Francis' Mass on Easter Sunday.

"I consider it a real grace to have been able to do that in my last few months in Rome," Bartlett said. "It was a great way to cap off the four years."
As his ordination date draws near, Deacon Bartlett said he is most excited about the sacramental ministries of celebrating Mass and hearing confessions and being able to spend time with the people of the diocese.

For other men thinking about the priesthood, Deacon Bartlett suggests they keep an open mind and seek priestly role models. Though becoming a priest never was something he envisioned, the process has been incredibly fulfilling.

"I honestly can't imagine doing anything else or any other lifestyle at this point," he said. "It's not so much what I'm doing as what I am."


'To be a man of God'

A random email helped Deacon Jason Burchell stop running from his vocation.

By DAVE BOROWSKI
Catholic Herald Staff Writer

Deacon Jason Burchell's grandfather served in World War II and would tell him stories of piloting a B-24 Liberator over Italy. It was heady stuff that stayed with him all the way through seminary.

"I looked up to him," he said. "I wanted to fly."

Things didn't work out entirely as planned.

On June 8, Burchell will join seven other ordinandi at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington to be ordained a Catholic priest.

Deacon Burchell was born Feb. 1, 1980, and raised in Charlottesville. He attended Catholic middle school and developed a love of athletics and sports. After graduation from high school he entered James Madison University in Harrisonburg to study kinesiology and sports management.

Inspired by his grandfather, he planned to go to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis to live out his desire to fly, but he changed his mind.

After college he worked on a cruise ship with Royal Caribbean for a while. He had been a devout Catholic, but his life changed when he went on board the ship. There was no Catholic Mass.

"I never missed Mass until the cruise ship," said Deacon Burchell.

Life on board ship was hectic, visiting dozens of countries in just a few months. After about five months he tired of the life and returned to Virginia to sell cars at his father's dealership.

Deacon Burchell said he was good at selling cars, but something was missing.
He had a girlfriend, and he returned to James Madison to earn a master's degree in sports administration and coaching. He went to work in Richmond as a YMCA aquatic director. During this time he broke up with his girlfriend.

But a random email from an old acquaintance changed his life.

"I hadn't seen the guy in years," he said.

The email was an advertisement for the military chaplaincy. When Deacon Burchell saw the ad he realized he'd been running from a vocation for a long time.

"I decided to take (chaplaincy training) seriously," he said.
He went on a discernment retreat with the military archdiocese and realized then that this was what he wanted, "to be a man of God."

"I've been trying since (I was) 12 years old to figure out what I wanted to do," said Deacon Burchell.

He will enter the chaplaincy after three years of service as a parish priest in the Arlington Diocese. It's an agreement between Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and the Archdiocese for the Military Services. He'll serve as a chaplain and Naval officer for at least a three-year tour. After three years, the bishop will either extend his chaplaincy for another three years or assign him to a diocesan parish.

"I've given this a lot of thought," he said. "I can serve the Lord in this capacity."

His family is behind his vocation and will be there for his ordination.

"Mom and Dad could not have been more supportive," he said.

His brother Joe is an Air Force pilot and his sister Julie is married to an Army Judge Advocate General officer, so he's continuing the family military tradition.
With his ordination day getting closer he said he has no doubts.

"I'm ready," he said. "I'm excited to fulfill His will."


Drawn to evangelization

Many people helped Deacon Cavanaugh understand the Gospel, and now he wants to share the good news with others.

By DAVE BOROWSKI
Catholic Herald Staff Writer

After Deacon Thomas M. Cavanaugh graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington in 1999, he didn't immediately go off to college like most of his contemporaries - he went to Europe.

He was born in 1981 and raised in a Catholic family by parents Mike and Susan. The family attended St. Agnes Church in Arlington, but it wasn't until Europe that he came to develop his faith fully.

It was on a short trip to Rome in 2000 when he read the Gospels and had what he called his "big conversion" in St. Peter's Square. It was where he finally came to know the living God.

After his Rome experience, he became active in Young Life International, a non-denominational youth ministry group that brings the Gospel to adolescents around the world. He worked in Ethiopia for a year with the group.

He returned to the United States and continued his studies, first at Northern Virginia Community College and then on to study philosophy and theology at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

He returned to Arlington in 2005, enrolled at Marymount University and earned a bachelor's degree in theology and art.

In 2006, after years of discernment, he entered Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

On June 8, Deacon Cavanaugh will be ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, the culmination of years of discernment.

In preparation for this day, Deacon Cavanaugh has been serving at St. Philip Church in Falls Church.

In addition to working with priests like Fathers Denis M. Donahue, pastor, and Luke R. Dundon, parochial vicar, he said it was the emphasis on discipleship and evangelization at St. Philip that inspired him.

Last September, St. Philip held an evangelizing event that coincided with its parish picnic. It was a door-to-door event where volunteers and seminarians went to homes in the neighborhood in a spirit of discipleship.

"Our selling point was not 'You really have to accept the Gospel,'" said Deacon Cavanaugh.

It was an invitation to join the community at the St. Philip picnic.

"Join the festivities," were the key words of the day.

If people expressed an interest in the faith, the parishioners were told to encourage that interest with prayer and offer them a visit or call from a priest.
There were positive results from the visits; one neighbor actually came to Sunday Mass.

His time at St. Philip is ending and as the time of his ordination approaches, Deacon Cavanaugh said he is "immensely joyful and excited."
He said there were many priests who helped him find and develop his vocation, but many lay persons too.

"Kip Vaile was the first (person) to really challenge me to read the Gospels," said Deacon Cavanaugh.

Vaile was a former supervisor who became his "spiritual big brother." The two still meet three or four times a year to study the Gospel.

The man who was responsible for instilling a love of evangelization was pro-life lawyer Sam Casey. They meet twice a year to discuss discipleship and evangelization issues.

Cecelia Schmitt, former assistant for vocation promotion in the diocesan Office of Vocations, taught him the interior life of a disciple of Christ.

"We would pray for each other," Deacon Cavanaugh said.

Finally he credited his mother and father.

"If there's any goodness in me, it's because of what I received from my parents."


'Get off the fence'

After a career fundraising for parishes, Deacon Christopher Hayes found his vocation.

By KATIE BAHR
Catholic Herald Staff Writer

Since being ordained to the transitional diaconate last June at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Deacon Christopher Hayes has served at St. Joseph Church in Dowington, Pa., while finishing his final year of theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.

Though he's enjoyed taking on the responsibilities of a deacon - including preaching and presiding at baptisms - Deacon Hayes is ready to step into a new role at his ordination to the priesthood June 8.

"When you're a (transitional) deacon, you have one foot in the seminary and one foot in the parish," Deacon Hayes said. "There comes a point, especially after six years (of seminary), where you just want to get back home, get settled and get to work."

A parishioner of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg, Hayes was born on Christmas Eve in 1969. A native of Northern Virginia, he attended St. Ann School in Arlington and Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna and graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington in 1988. After studying theology and criminal justice, Deacon Hayes graduated from Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md., in 1992.

He worked for several years at an inspection management company before becoming a fundraising consultant to parishes in 1999. For that job, he spent several years traveling between dioceses to help parishes execute capital campaigns.

Though his faith was strong, Deacon Hayes never considered a vocation until a life-changing experience when he was 33 years old. He was living in South Riding and working at a startup company when his roommate, an old friend, became sick with cancer. Because his roommate's family lived in other parts of the country, Deacon Hayes became a full-time caretaker.

"Prior to that, I had my agenda laid out," Deacon Hayes said. "When you're a full-time caretaker, all of that goes on hold because you have to be attuned to the needs of the person you're caring for. Through that seven-month time period to the point where my roommate passed away, that got me refocused on the direction I think the Holy Spirit wanted me to be focused."

After his roommate's death, Deacon Hayes returned to consulting work, but began to seriously discern a call to the priesthood.

"I was thinking about the people I knew and imagining them coming into a relationship with God and the whole beauty of hearing confessions and being available to people," he said. "The thing that makes a priest different from other lay people is he's the one who provides the sacraments."

Deacon Hayes entered the seminary in 2007 and spent his first two years at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, before transferring to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

His desire to be a priest was reinforced a few years later at a diocesan "Life is Very Good" rally in Woodbridge. Thousands of teens and young adults were at the event, which included confessions. Near the end of the night, Deacon Hayes remembers seeing hundreds of teenagers lined up for the sacrament. Standing with a group of other seminarians, Deacon Hayes remembers wishing he could step in and hear confessions.

"I could be a teacher or a fundraiser, but I could never jump in line and hear confession," he said. "If you have the Holy Spirit leading people to confession, what a tremendous grace to be the one put in that place to reconcile them to the church."

Now that his ordination to the priesthood is only days away, Deacon Hayes said he is most looking forward to building fraternity with his brother priests as they work together to bring people to Christ. He also hopes to be able to preach in a way that will enable Catholics to look at their faith from a fresh perspective.
"I (hope to) come up with ways to present the faith to the people in a way that doesn't overwhelm them, but enables them to grow," he said.

When it comes to discerning a vocation, Deacon Hayes said the best thing a person can do is take action, to "get off the fence" and explore the options available.

"I was one who sat on the fence for many years," he said. "The longest journey begins with just having that courage to take the first step to try it. And then just being patient and letting God lead where He wants to take you."


A search for happiness

Deacon Mike Isenberg left a good job and comfortable lifestyle for the priesthood.

By DAVE BOROWSKI

Catholic Herald Staff Writer
On June 8, the eve of his 32nd birthday, Deacon Mike Isenberg will be ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. He said it's the culmination of a lifelong search for happiness.

Deacon Isenberg was born in Buffalo, N.Y., to parents Joan and Bob. The family moved to Herndon when he was 4 years old. A few years later, the family settled in Dumfries, where he attended public school and eventually Seton School in Manassas.

After high school, he enrolled at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering in 2003.
His training as an engineer offered him the potential for an affluent lifestyle. He went to work for software consulting firms first in New York then in Tampa, Fla.
But even with increasing economic prosperity, Deacon Isenberg was not satisfied.

"I was searching for happiness by buying things," he said. "(But) I wasn't happy."
While in Tampa, he spent a lot of time praying and reflecting on his life. He went to daily Mass and prayed at eucharistic adoration chapels. The prayer and reflection were slowly drawing him to the priesthood.

He realized what had been missing in his life - a total commitment to a priestly vocation. He called Father Brian G. Bashista, Arlington diocesan director of the Office of Vocations, and told him that he was interested in the priesthood.
He applied and was accepted to Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., in 2006.

He spent two years studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, returning to Mount St. Mary's in 2010.

It took Deacon Isenberg seven years to arrive at this moment - a bit longer than most discernment, so he took time off to work in parishes including Holy Trinity in Gainseville, St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls and St. John the Apostle in Leesburg. He said it helped him appreciate the role of a priest.

His experience with the other men studying at Mount St. Mary's was wonderful, he said.

"We jelled together," he said of the friendship and camaraderie that developed among his fellow seminarians.

For the past year, Deacon Isenberg has been assigned to St. Agnes Church in Arlington. Once a week he teaches first, third, fourth, and sixth grade at St. Agnes School, and it's something he loves.

Deacon Isenberg will celebrate his first Mass on his birthday at Holy Trinity in Ashburn, his home parish. As the day quickly arrives, he is trying to take in everything.

He said there have been many people responsible for helping him find his vocation. He is especially thankful for the help and friendship of Father Francis J. Peffley, then-pastor of Holy Trinity.

"(Father Peffley) has been in and out of my life for 20 years," he said. "He was very inspirational."

Now that his ordination is just days away, he can reflect on the events that have brought him to this point and what the ordination will mean.

"I'm excited," he said. "I don't think it's quite hit me yet."


A love expressed with joy

Deacon Eric Shafer grew up unbaptized but was drawn to the beauty of the Catholic faith.

By KATIE COLLINS
Catholic Herald Editorial Assistant

Deacon Eric Shafer can't get through more than a few minutes without laughing. And it's a contagious laugh. The transitional deacon, who will be ordained a priest June 8 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, seems to communicate what Pope Francis referred to in a homily last month as "the joy of being loved by God."

"I've always had a joyful spirit about me," said the 31-year-old Catholic convert during a recent interview. And, he added, being with parishioners, serving them pastorally and sacramentally, "really draws out that joy."

Deacon Shafer was born Nov. 15, 1981, to Brenda and Jerry Shafer. His father, who was in the Army, died when he was 16 and his mother remarried.
Although he grew up an unbaptized Baptist, he was attracted to Catholicism even as a small boy. He remembers seeing images of beautiful Catholic churches in movies and thinking the Catholic Church was the real deal, that it was "The Church," he said.

After he graduated in 2000 from Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Deacon Shafer attended Northern Virginia Community College for a while, eventually moving to Charlotte, N.C., to work for Wachovia Bank. He dated a Peruvian girl who was culturally Catholic, and he thought about converting to Catholicism to marry in the church.

The relationship ended in 2002 and he found himself still considering conversion. It was a pivotal time for him.

Deacon Shafer had known he wanted to do some kind of service work, either as a police officer or a firefighter, or to follow in his father's footsteps in the military.
The year after his breakup, he made the decision to join the church and the Army.

He went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y.

At the 2003 Easter Vigil, Deacon Shafer was received into the Catholic Church. That night a decade ago was "the highlight of my life," he said.

The journey to that moment was a bit bumpy at times, he acknowledged, but overall "it was a lot of fun." Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes opened up a whole new world to him, and he was able to understand the details and depth of the faith he'd felt so drawn to since he was young.

As a new Catholic, the life of Blessed Pope John Paul II was a special inspiration, and his death was another turning point in his life.

"My desire to be a priest had always been there, but I really didn't recognize it until then," he said. Inspired by the pope's holiness and strength, Deacon Shafer wanted to model his life after him. "It was then that I really started to think about the priesthood."

While on leave from the Army in 2005, Deacon Shafer met with Father Brian G. Bashista, Arlington diocesan director of vocations, and started to consider a vocation more intensely. He eventually enrolled in the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 2009. Deacon Shafer recently completed his final year at Catholic University's Theological College in Washington.

His diaconate year was spent at All Saints Church in Manassas, the largest parish in the diocese. While at times it was stressful to juggle demanding seminary and parish responsibilities, Deacon Shafer knows balancing multiple demands is part of being a parish priest - and it's a job he's ready to jump into wholeheartedly.
"After so many years preparing, you want to do the things you've been learning about, the things that God created you to do," he said.

"There are guys who struggle with doubt in seminary, but I honestly felt this is God's call for me. I didn't always know how it would all work out, but I felt really secure in the call. It's a grace and I'm so grateful for it."

And along with gratitude, he'll no doubt continue to answer the call with a steady dose of laughter and much joy.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013