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Roots in a community of faith

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Editor's note: Fr. John Paul Heisler was ordained to the priesthood June 5 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More.

Deacon John Paul Heisler has two aunts who are nuns. His older sister, Carmelite Sister M. Grace Augustine Heisler, is a nun in St. Louis. One great-great-uncle was an archbishop, one great-uncle is a missionary priest in Ghana and one uncle, Father John F. Heisler, is parochial vicar at St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville. 

Having priests and nuns in the family made the priesthood and religious life more accessible. Having parents and a nearby community of families who loved the faith gave him the foundation he needed to consider his own vocation. 

“My family and I went to daily morning Mass together, prayed the rosary together, prayed morning prayer and evening prayer together,” he said. “I had a lot of friends who also prayed with their families, who also knew the faith. There was a whole communal dynamic to it.”

Deacon Heisler, 25, was born in Baltimore to Paul and Lisa Heisler. He’s the second oldest of nine children. He grew up in Front Royal and attended St. John the Baptist Church with his family. He lived five houses down from soon-to-be-ordained Deacon Joe Townsend. 

When he was 15, he went on a pilgrimage to Rome that inspired his desire to be a priest. “Father (Thomas) Vander Woude led it and it was my first experience of the universal church and my first time witnessing the brotherhood of the priesthood,” said Deacon Heisler. “Whenever Father Vander Woude would encounter another priest from totally different countries, they had never met each other before, but because of that shared priesthood and experience, they would always just hit it off.”

After Deacon Heisler, who was home-schooled, graduated from high school in 2013, he attended Christendom College in Front Royal. There, his chaplain, Father Donald J. Planty, now pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, gave him the book, “To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood,” by Father Brett A. Brannen. Reading the book, he realized that if he felt called to the priesthood, he shouldn’t continue attending college but should start attending seminary. “That’s what got me to snap to attention,” said Deacon Heisler.

In 2017, he graduated from St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington. This year, he finished his studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, running, biking, reading about economics and studying the Bible. 

After his ordination to the priesthood, Deacon Heisler will be parochial vicar at St. James Parish in Falls Church. He’s looking forward to putting down roots, both literally — he hopes to garden — and figuratively. “In seminary you’re constantly on the move, it's very nomadic,” he said. “What I’m most excited about is becoming a part of a parish family. I'm here to stay.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021