Steven Pautler is a creature of habit.
He’s lived in the same house his entire life — 55 years. He’s attended the same church — St. Boniface Church in Evansville. He had the same job for 34 years —at the Xerox Corp.
Pautler’s life took a dramatic turn when he retired and entered Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Milwaukee.
“Ever since I’ve been a small boy, that seed was planted in me,” he said. “I’ve always thought about a vocation. I think what happens a lot of times in a lot of our lives is that we go in different directions, but it’s still there.”
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Pautler is one of eight metro-east men who are currently attending seminary school under the sponsorship of the Diocese of Belleville, which covers the southern 28 counties of Illinois.
“We are seeing a modest increase in vocations,” said Nick Junker, vocation director for the diocese. “Nationally, there are more seminarians, more ordinations then there have been over the past few years.”
However, more priests are still needed to replace those priests who are retiring or passing away, according to Junker. “It’s still not where we need it,” he said.
Seminarians from the metro-east typically attend one of two seminaries — Sacred Heart or Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. The Diocese of Belleville covers the cost for the seminarians to attend, and individuals can donate to the seminary education fund.
Sacred Heart is a seminary that caters to second-career seminarians like Pautler. “The average age of a seminarian and a newly ordained priest is a lot higher than it used to be,” Junker said.
The metro-east seminary students at Sacred Heart include Pautler, Carl Schrhee, Doug Sumowski, Joel Seipp and Anthony Hyginus, who is from Nigeria. Sacred Heart also has a strong English as a Second Language program.
Nick Fleming is attending Kenrick, and Chris Streetman will start his studies at Kenrick in the fall.
Thomas Lugge is currently attending Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
While at seminary, students focus on four pillars: spiritual, academic, human formation and pastoral. “The four pillars are meant to help you put on a priestly identity,” Junker said. “The priesthood isn’t just a job, it’s more of who you are. ...You’re meant to visibly bring Christ to people.”
He estimates another priest could be ordained in the diocese in two years if the bishop calls the seminarian to the priesthood.
“Hopefully in four or five years, we should have two to three ordinations each year,” he said.
As the vocation director, Junker travels to Catholic schools in the diocese to preach the importance of vocation to students as well as their families.
Ever since I’ve been a small boy, that seed was planted in me. I’ve always thought about a vocation. I think what happens a lot of times in a lot of our lives is that we go different directions, but it’s still there.
Steven Pautler, a seminary student from Evansville, Ill.
Answering the call
Pautler said his parish family at St. Boniface Church had a “great influence” on him and his decision to enter seminary. “My family and my parish family have encouraged me along,” he said. “The actual call comes from God. God is calling me.”
Pautler retired from Xerox in August. “I thought maybe this is what God is telling me. This is the time to take the step,” he said, “and I did.”
He started in 1984 as a copier service technician. “I was the guy who came to the office and serviced the copiers,” Pautler said.
He did that for 16 years before working at the Carbondale office supporting color network machines. “I think that job in my life relates to what I do in ministry too,” he said. “Anytime you are involved in service you are involved with working with people and that is one of the great joys in my life is to work with other people.”
Pautler, who has never been married, also worked with people during his time on the Evansville Village Board. He served for 25 years and once was mayor pro-tem.
Pautler was ordained a permanent deacon in the Belleville Diocese in 2008. He began working with Junker in November 2014 in anticipation of his pending retirement.
He began his discernment process at that time. “It’s quite a thorough process that we go through,” he said.
The process includes a health exam, a psychological evaluation and interviews with Diocesan officials. “We look for healthy men with good relationships and good foundation, good spiritual life, good prayer life,” Junker said.
During the discernment, individuals carefully consider if God is calling them to be a priest, Junker said.
“Once you decide if God is calling you to be a priest, it’s where and in what capacity,” he said. “There’s different layers of what we call discernment.”
Junker is there to help potential seminarians through the process.
“After the process, Bishop (Edward) Braxton calls you to be a seminarian, to allow you to study further as a seminarian,” Pautler said. “The diocese has been very supportive of my vocation.”
Once Pautler finishes seminary school, he must be called to the priesthood by Braxton.
Pautler’s hopeful he will become a parish priest once his theology studies conclude. “It gives me the opportunity to be a part of the community and work with the people,” he said. “I just really find that’s what God has called me to.”
A parish priest has to be there when people need you, he said, at a time of loss and also the joyous times like marriages and baptisms. “It’s wonderful being allowed to be part of people’s lives,” Pautler said.
His advice for others who may be considering priesthood is to pray. “Listen to what God is saying to you,” Pautler said. “Open up your mind to what God is saying and answer him.”
We are seeing a modest increase in vocations. Nationally, there are more seminarians, more ordinations than there have been over the past few years.
Nick Junker, vocation director for the Diocese of Belleville
Time at seminary
Pautler has been at Sacred Heart Seminary for three semesters now. He has two more years of studies before he can be called to the priesthood by the bishop.
The amount of time a man spends at seminary depends on his education level going in, Junker said. “We take each situation differently,” he said.
For example, someone straight out of high school will need four years of college seminary in which they study philosophy, Junker said. Then they will need four years of major seminary, where they study theology.
“Vocations coming right out of high school are becoming lesson common,” he said. “A lot of men have their bachelor’s degree already.”
In that case, a man would take a year or two of pre-thelogy and then four years of seminary. “For most guys it’s a five-to six-year process,” Junker said.
Even though he was 54 years old when he left home, Pautler said it was hard to leave his mother, Marge Pautler, who lives in Red Bud. “It was hard for her, and it was hard for me, too,” he said. “Leaving Mom was a little tough.”
This summer, he is assigned to St. Patrick’s in Ruma and St. John the Baptist Parish in Red Bud. “It’s nice to be in the same town as Mom,” he said. “I have a refugee to go to now if I need to take a nap or to get a good home-cooked meal, which would be nice, too.”
His father, Anthony Pautler, died in 1995.
What’s really nice about the seminary is they send you out into the world so you’re not completely isolated.
Steven Pautler, seminary student
Adjusting to new routines
The most challenging part of the seminary, he said, was learning to live in community as he’s been single all his life. He lives on a floor with 35 other men.
“But most of them are in the same situation I am,” Pautler said. “One thing nice about Sacred Heart is it’s a seminary for older vocations.”
Over time, he said he learned how to find his alone time while living in a dormitory.
“The joys definitely are more than what the problems are,” Pautler said.
He praised the professors at the seminary. “They understand we have been away from school for a while,” Pautler said. “Our old brains don’t work as well as they used to, and they know that and accept that.”
He attended the former Belleville Area College and a technical school in Missouri, where he was recruited by Xerox.
The most difficult subject at seminary for Pautler is philosophy. His favorite subject is scripted studies.
It was also hard for Pautler to get used to living in a small 8x10 room.
He said he likes to leave his door open and enjoys hearing the other seminarians sing as they walk past. “To me, that reflects the joy,” Pautler said that seminarians feel. “They know that God called them to this.”
He brought a digital frame with 2,000 pictures on it to seminary school to remind him of why he’s there. It has pictures of his friends and family as well as St. Boniface and Evansville.
“People are very important to me,” he said.
Pautler also tries to keep in contact with parishioners at St. Boniface, especially those who are home bound. “I like to randomly call them and surprise them,” he said. “I want to keep that connection. I do have a deep love for my town, but I do understand God calls us to serve the wider church and that’s where I’ll be serving.”
When he’s at seminary in Milwaukee, Pautler is assigned to St. Stephen Church, and he works there as a deacon on the weekends. This fall, he is looking forward to working at a retirement center with 300 residents.
“What’s really nice about the seminary is they send you out into the world so you’re not completely isolated,” Pautler said.