Br. Joachim Ostermann
Once again, Brother Joachim Ostermann came to a life-changing decision at a retreat.
It was during that silence, that protective barrier against life's distractions, that Ostermann decided, "Yes, I want to be ordained. From that point on, I always felt, 'Yes, I want to be a priest.'"
It was at another retreat many years ago that Ostermann felt the first call from God, left the world of biotechnology and became a Franciscan. Now he is on the brink of ordination as a priest.
The trigger for priesthood came when someone remarked, "What is my relation to the sacraments? What is God calling me to be in his Church?"
Ostermann took those words into his heart during the retreat.
"I had time to think. I was not distracted by the practicalities. Do I want to study? Do I not want to study? Would I like the job or not?"
When Ostermann entered the Franciscans he had to check a box to indicate whether he wanted to become a priest.
"I checked 'Not sure,'" he recalls.
This move to the priesthood is not to say Ostermann is unhappy in his current role as pastoral assistant and deacon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park.
"I knew OLPH because I volunteered there, so I knew how it worked. I like OLPH because it is a big parish," he says with relish. "It's a mega-parish really.
"It's very active, a large amount of very involved laity, people who have their own ideas, their own initiatives," he said. "But the clergy has its own specific role that cannot be replaced by anyone else."
Given OLPH's size and high level of lay involvement, it's a wonderful place for brothers and priests to learn.
As a deacon, Ostermann assists the priest with liturgies and preaching.
Does he like preaching?
Ostermann breaks into joyous laughter.
"I like it. It's a wonderful calling to be able to preach. It's a big privilege. We can speak about our faith to a large audience.
"It's a big responsibility. A lot depends on the quality of the homily. People leave churches after a bad homily. So it is very important to be well prepared, do a good job. But it is also very rewarding."
Parishioners express their pleasure when Ostermann's homilies hit home and "many people give thanks for that."
Have there been any surprises during his time at OLPH?
Ostermann takes a moment to think and his voice lightens in his reply.
"In some respects, (the surprise is) how easy it is," he says. "People are very open to clergy coming in. There is a desire to hear what I have to say, there is a desire to be very welcoming. They make it easy to be supportive."
His major delights? Ostermann's face softens.
"Baptizing people at the Easter Vigil. My area of responsibility is faith formation ministries. RCIA is part of that."
Baptizing a group of five adults with whom he had worked was "fun," he said.
Things like that helped Ostermann quell concerns as to whether he would "feel comfortable in the liturgical role."
The dialogues he led during RCIA helped him realize he had the gifts to serve as an ordained minister, that he could answer people's questions in a way that builds faith rather than in a purely academic way.
He did however have struggles during his formation when his Franciscan brothers expressed skepticism about whether he was called to the priesthood.
Ostermann explains. Now in his 50s, "I didn't fit into the typical profile of a priest or seminarian. I am a bit too pushy, aggressive, which is a strength in the secular workplace. Priests like Father Jack (Hamilton) have reminded me, on more than one occasion, to shut up."
Father Dennis Vavrek, provincial minister of the Franciscans of Western Canada, has no concerns.
"Joachim has always been a disciplined person – prayerful, dependable, prepared and organized – throughout his formation years as a friar.
"As well, over the past few years Joachim has been receiving wonderful reports regarding his pastoral ability and skills in chaplaincy and parish ministry. I am confident he will serve the people of God well in sacramental ministry as an ordained priest."
Ostermann draws strength from a German Jesuit who said he couldn't understand young people who struggle for years discerning whether they have a vocation. "When I became a religious, I thought I had won the grand lottery. This is the best life you could ask for."
The soon-to-be-priest agrees. "Being a pastor is a wonderful gift. One should be joyful about it. It's not a big burden."
Ostermann has asked to stay at OLPH after his June 27 ordination. However, he has not yet received word on whether that request will be granted.