By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Deacon Eric Schneider knows that when God calls, you listen.
“If God wants you to be a priest, he will make it known to you and will not leave you alone,” he said.
Deacon Schneider, who will be ordained to the diocesan priesthood May 24, was raised in his mother’s Methodist tradition, although he had strong Catholics on his father’s side of the family.
Just before his step-father moved the family to St. Louis when Deacon Schneider was 11 years old, his birth father gave him his old St. Joseph’s Missal.
“I was struck by all the information in this book and memorized all the parts of the Mass and would read the explanations,” he said.
His step-father began taking him to Mass, which led to a decision to seek full communion with the Catholic Church at age 12.
It was a no-brainer, he said.
“I had an Italian-American grandmother and I can remember the deep impression that she and her mother both made on me by praying the rosary in the house, as well as the pictures and crucifixes that were in the house,” he said.
“I remember being enamored as a little boy of my great-grandmother’s shrine in her room of satin statues and the flickering light of candles that burned next to them,” Deacon Schneider said.
“Ultimately, I wanted to join the Catholic Church because I was drawn to the Mass. I think you can say that God was drawing me in,” he said.
In his teen years, Deacon Schneider admitted, he wasn’t the best of Catholics. Then, before he started college, and learning that the priests of the Institute of Christ the King were celebrating Mass in the Latin of his father’s Missal at St. Francis de Sales Parish in St. Louis, Deacon Schneider said he decided on his own to go to Mass and Confession.
“I describe this as sort of a ‘St. Paul moment,’” he said.
“The priest was an excellent confessor and I was reduced to tears by the beauty of the High Mass. I understood at that moment, I had to return to the practice of my faith,” Deacon Schneider said.
The more he practiced his faith, the stronger God’s call became, he said.
“There was a longing and nagging in my conscience to do what this priest just did for me — to sit in the confessional and impart God’s mercy to sinners and to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” he said. “It was really my love for the Mass that drew me in more and more.”
Still, he entered the University of Missouri-Columbia with no real idea what he would do with his life, Deacon Schneider said.
“Eventually, I got enough courage to visit the Institute of Christ the King’s seminary in Italy,” Deacon Schneider said. But he left discouraged.
“While it was a beautiful experience, I came away thinking the priesthood was not for me,” he said.
Enter God and his mysterious ways.
“A man in plain clothes happened to sit next to me on the plane ride home. He happened to be a Franciscan priest from Poland. We talked about the priesthood for several hours. God has a great sense of humor,” Deacon Schneider said.
He decided then that his calling was to the diocesan priesthood.
“God has made this very clear to me in my vocational discernment,” Deacon Schneider said. “There is something very exciting about being on the front lines of parish work.”
That feeling was underscored at St. John LaLande Parish, where he served as a transitional deacon.
“My experience at St. John LaLande Parish in Blue Springs was a blessed experience,” he said. “I learned a lot from my pastor, Father Ron Elliott, as well as from the very fine staff and devoted parishioners. It certainly solidified my vocation to the priesthood even more.”
Deacon Schneider said he was invited to the seminary by then-Archbishop and now Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was the archbishop of St. Louis at a retreat for young men hearing the call.
“I will never forget his kindness and generosity in meeting and encouraging each of the men on the retreat,” he said.
But with his family moving out of the St. Louis area and his father retired in northwestern Arkansas, Deacon Schneider chose to transfer to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to be closer to his father.
He said he was welcomed immediately and warmly supported in his journey to priesthood by all he has met.
“I am very grateful to God, my family, the parishioners that I have had the privilege to serve, Bishop (Robert W.) Finn, and all of the many priests who have prayed for me, supported me and mentored me in my priestly vocation,” Deacon Schneider said.
“Why not the diocesan priesthood,” he said. “This is where all of the people are. And I am confident that this is where God wants me to be. God is never outdone in his mercy and generosity towards us, and I am joyfully anticipating working in our diocese very soon.”