Two seminarians for the Diocese of Nashville will be ordained as transitional deacons, a major step on the path to the priesthood, at 10 a.m. Friday, May 15, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
Daniel Steiner, a seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland, came to the Nashville Diocese last year after starting his studies and formation for the Diocese of Peoria in his native Illinois. And Joe Fessenden, a seminarian at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, was living in Florida when he decided to enter the seminary for the Diocese of Nashville.
“I’m very excited,” Steiner said. “Now I will be able to start ministering to the people.”
“I’m excited and scared,” Fessenden said, “to have one of the goals within grasp. It’s a big jump in responsibility.”
As transitional deacons, they will be able to preach and proclaim the gospel, assist the priest at the altar during Mass and preside at weddings, funerals and baptisms.
Steiner is scheduled to be ordained a priest in the summer of 2016 and Fessenden is scheduled to be ordained in the summer of 2017.
“I’m actually being ordained (a deacon) a year early,” Fessenden said. Because his father’s health is declining, he explained, Bishop David Choby, in consultation with the staff at Notre Dame Seminary, decided to ordain Fessenden this year so his father could be there.
Both Steiner and Fessenden said they felt a call to the priesthood when they were young but ignored it for years.
“I realized the Lord was calling around 9 or 10,” Steiner said. “It was kind of pushed down. Nothing surfaced at that moment.”
His family bought a Subway restaurant in his hometown of Bartonville, Illinois, and he started working there at 15 years old. He and his older brother, Michael, managed the restaurant for the next decade and had plans to open their own restaurant.
But after making a medical mission trip to Haiti, ideas of the priesthood started to reappear, Steiner said. “That opened my eyes up to the bigger world,” Steiner said of his first trip to Haiti. He started asking himself tough questions. “I knew what me and my brother wanted to do but I never asked what God wanted me to do,” he said.
He started taking his faith more seriously and he and his brother went through Cursillo. “That was a big jumpstart.”
Eventually, he became a seminarian for his home diocese of Peoria. That meant going back to school for the first time since he graduated from high school, Steiner said.
“To go from a working atmosphere and environment to studying was a big thing,” said Steiner, who started his seminary studies at age 30. “I would have to trust that (God) would get me through it and help me through it.”
After graduating from Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota, with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Steiner began studying theology at Mount St. Mary’s. He is scheduled to graduate with a master’s of divinity degree in the spring of 2016.
While a seminarian with the Peoria diocese, he returned home for the celebration of a priest’s 20th anniversary and was talking to fellow seminarian Delphinus Mutajuka, who had recently switched from Peoria to Nashville. “He just kept going on and on and on about Bishop Choby … how he was not like any other bishop he had met.”
Father Mutajuka was one of nine seminarians ordained last July as priests for the Nashville Diocese.
After praying about it and consulting with his professors at the seminary, Steiner decided to explore the possibility of switching to the Diocese of Nashville. “There was a great peace with Nashville,” he said. “Meeting Bishop Choby, the feeling strengthened. There was a great pull there. …
“There’s a great peace going there that it’s my new spiritual home,” Steiner said. “This is where the Lord is calling me to minister to his people.”
Like Steiner, Fessenden felt a call to the priesthood early, but ignored it. “I first felt called when I was about 13 years old. I answered that call with a resounding and unequivocal no,” Fessenden said. “I wanted a regular life and girls.”
After graduating from high school in central Florida, he trained as a chef in New York and worked in professional kitchens for about a year. He then returned to Florida to pursue a degree in English literature, with an idea of becoming a teacher.
But his academic career got sidetracked a bit when he got involved in the computer hardware and software business. “I basically started slowing down the classes I took to work,” Fessenden said. “I was doing really well.”
Despite his success, “there was still something not there,” Fessenden said. In 2005, he decided “to return to the Church that I had gotten too busy, too cool for.”
Fessenden volunteered in parishes and did retreat work professionally. “I saw the grace God had to offer,” Fessenden said. “It made me even more anxious to get started on seminary.”
While he was getting his affairs in order to enter a seminary, Fessenden’s parents, Stephen and Cristine, retired and moved from Florida to Lafayette, Tenn., where they are parishioners at Holy Family Church. As a favor to his father, Fessenden agreed to meet with Bishop Choby about becoming a seminarian for Nashville.
“I flew up for one day” to meet Bishop Choby, Fessenden said. He found Bishop Choby very welcoming, and joked, “Once Bishop Choby has the hooks in, you’re not escaping.”
Fessenden graduated from the University of South Florida in the spring of 2010 and began his studies at Notre Dame Seminary the following January.
As he approaches his ordination as a transitional deacon and later as a priest, Fessenden said, “Working with the people is truly exciting, seeing them come alive in the faith, seeing them grow in the faith,” he said.
He has spent summers and Christmas and Easter breaks in several parishes, including St. Christopher Church in Dickson, St. Patrick Church in McEwen, St. Philip Church in Franklin, Sacred Heart Church in Loretto and Our Lady of the Lake in Hendersonville. “Everywhere I’ve been, the outpouring of love is a great confidence booster to me and any seminarian.”