By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Talk about having your back covered.
There were 189 years worth of priests standing at the altar of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish and concelebrating with Father Kevin Drew May 20 as he celebrated his first Mass, one day after his ordination as a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
There was his pastor, Msgr. William Blacet, who completed 65 years as a priest in December.
Then there were Father Drew’s uncles, Father Carl Schmidt and Father Anthony Schmidt, brothers who were ordained on the same day 62 years ago as priests of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill.
They were the priests who inspired him to hear and answer God’s call, though it took him a while.
At age 46, Father Drew is the “old man” among his ordination Class of 2012, the largest single ordination ceremony in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 30 years.
And although he will be challenged to match them in quantity, the quality of their service has set a high standard.
He also learned through his uncles that you could be a regular guy and a priest at the same time.
“Growing up and attending reunions and family gatherings, it was a regular thing to have priests around,” Father Drew said.
And he learned the value of persistence.
A year younger but inseparable from his older brother Anthony, Carl Schmidt would tag along with his big brother to the one-room school across the road in rural Illinois.
“After a few instances of this, the teacher let Carl stay and if he could keep up with the work, he could remain in school,” Father Drew said.
“I think there were nine kids in the school at the time, and six of them were Schmidts,” he said.
The two brothers went to Quincy College together, then to Cardinal Glennon College in St. Louis, then to Kenrich School of Theology, where Father Drew would graduate some 62 years later.
Father Drew said his uncles kept working on him.
“In 1998, after my father’s funeral, Uncle Anthony put his Roman collar and his jacket on me and someone took a picture. I thought, ‘What is he up to?’” Father Drew said. “Their witness and presence, not to mention their kindness to me, has been very influential,” he said.
But they didn’t plant the seed of vocation. They nurtured it, Father Drew said.
Father Drew credits his parents and his home parish in Quincy, Ill., historic St. Peter, for handing to him the gift of faith that made his priesthood possible..
“I was blessed to have two faithful Catholics for parents,” he said. “My mom and dad always worked together, never against each other, always complementing the other with their own special gifts.
“I learned how to be a man by watching how my mother and father treated each other,” Father Drew said.
St. Peter Parish in Quincy was once led by Father Augustine Tolton, who in 1886 was the first African-American ordained as a priest in the United States. A former slave, his sainthood cause is now under consideration.
“When I was in school in the late 70’s, the boys started serving at the altar when we were in sixth grade,” Father Drew said.
“Not only was it a rite of passage, it gave one a taste and a feel for the priestly duty of offering the Sacrifice of the Mass,” he said.
“Looking back, I can see the genius of it,” he said.
“If one is attracted to service at the altar, then that service needs to be fostered by parents teachers and priests,” Father Drew said. “If God is truly calling a young man, then a solid logical progression can take place: altar boy, seminary, acolyte, deacon, priesthood. I’d say it has been an effective way of garnering vocations throughout the history of Christianity.”
But it really wasn’t for some 30 years later, after on a whim he decided to drop into Our Lady of Good Counsel for a noon weekday Mass, that Father Drew said he answered his own call.
Father Drew said he was on his way to lunch in Westport about 10 years ago when he took a detour.
“It was a Tuesday because I was going to get a slice of pizza at Joe’s in the back of Kelly’s Tavern because they had $1 slices on Tuesdays,” Father Drew said.
“Driving by Good Counsel, something that day made me look at the sign. It said, ‘Noon Mass,’” he recalled.
“I had driven by it many times and always just assumed it was some kind of Protestant church,” Father Drew said.
So on a whim, he decided park his car and skip the $1 pizza. Inside, the venerable Msgr. Blacet was celebrating.
“What a breath of fresh air,” Father Drew said. “To escape from the noisy, busy world and soak in some silence, some reverence, some prayer over lunch hour.”
He was hooked on Our Lady of Good Counsel, and Msgr. Blacet soon helped reel him into the seminary.
“He has been a gentle guiding hand and a true spiritual father for me this past decade,” Father Drew said.
One problem he hasn’t had to overcome was being some 20 years older than his seminary classmates.
Bishop Robert W. Finn personally took Father Drew to Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., which is for “older” vocations.
“He was very fatherly and kind,” Father Drew recalled. “He was also really humble and I could tell he cared about a man’s seminary formation.”
But he went instead to Kenrick in St. Louis, not far from his hometown, with younger seminarians.
“I can still beat most of them in a race,” he said of his classmates, no brag just fact. “Ask (classmate and Father) Ben Kneib. He witnessed me almost single-handedly bring the Theology school back against the Cardinal Glennon College football team a few years back. I was quarterback. Ben was a lineman.”
Father Drew said he will still depend on “linemen” to block for him, especially the three that were with him on the altar at that first Mass, just as they were with him every step of the way through seminary.
“The vessel is clay, not gold,” Father Drew said. “God takes a man and forms him through tough years of seminary. And help is needed. God puts people in your path to assist you.”
Clearing Father Drew’s path were 189 years of priestly experience.
“I’d relate a problem to my uncles or Msgr. Blacet, and they’d tell me a story with the same scenario that happened 50, 60 years ago,” he said.
“This always gave me a great perspective that some things never change,” he said.
“The priestly life, like any vocation, isn’t always about solving problems, but enduring them and persevering through them by offering them to Christ.”