By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
The best kind of peer pressure brought Edwin Jarboe to the seminary. Two of his classmates at Bethlehem High School, Deacon Kirby Rust and Deacon Tony Cecil, were faithful Catholics and he admired their faithfulness.
“They got me to convert to Catholicism,” said Jarboe, who said during a recent phone interview that he didn’t have a prior religious affiliation. He was drawn to the Catholic faith, he said, “with people like Kirby and Tony taking their faith so seriously.”
The three young men, members of the class of 2011, are now in seminary along with Cole McDowell, a 2012 graduate of Bethlehem.
While Bethlehem High School has educated four current seminarians, three others graduated from DeSales High School — Dustin Hungerford, who graduated in 2006, Kenny Nauert who graduated in 2014 and Michael Schultz who graduated in 2016.
In total seven of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 15 seminarians attended these two schools.
Was there something in the water? No, but there was something in the Catholic community, according to the young men. The schools offered friendship, a sense of shared values and mentors who encouraged their formation — hallmarks of Catholic education around the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Fathers Philip Erickson and Michael Wimsatt, who served as chaplains at DeSales and Bethlehem respectively, were credited by several of the seminarians for not just encouraging them, but being willing to be present, listen and help them in their search for meaning and purpose.
“Father Philip, a DeSales grad himself, took a keen interest in trying to make the faith understandable, serious and yet joyful,” said Hungerford, who attends St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Southern Indiana.
Hungerford also gave thanks for his former theology teacher Missy Bartlett and his best friend, Aaron Gottbrath, who now serves as a vice principal at DeSales.
Bartlett, he said, “encouraged me to develop my theological mind.” And Gottbrath “has never stopped being a source of support, advice and encouragement through these years of discerning, trying, failing, succeeding and praying.”
Nauert, a former football player for DeSales who graduated eight years after Hungerford, also credits Father Erickson and the school’s retreat and liturgical ministry for encouraging his vocation.
Recalling a significant moment on his senior retreat, Nauert noted, “We had just finished confession and I was overcome by awe of the mercy and power of God,” he said. “After confession, I was able to look at my life and say, ‘Why not me?’ ”
“DeSales was always really good to me and I look back on it as one of the most important decision I made,” said Nauert, who also attends St. Meinrad.
DeSales teacher Mike Swearingen tops the list of influences for Michael Schultz, who attends Bishop Simon Bruté College in Indiana.
“It was the strong support of people like Mike Swearingen,” Schultz said of his decision to enter college seminary. “He said it was a challenge to be Catholic, but it’s a challenge worth taking. It’s the same with priesthood.”
Last year, Swearingen asked Schultz to be his daughter’s godfather.
Close relationships seem to be important influences for the Bethlehem graduates, too.
“The small size of Bethlehem allows you to develop intimate relationships with classmates and faculty, many of whom were role models for me,” said McDowell, who attends Theological College in Washington, D.C.
In particular, McDowell noted the encouragement of theology teacher Stuart Hamilton and the former school chaplain Father Wimsatt — who is now the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Vocation Director.
“Not only did these men present to me a faith that was intelligent and thoughtful, but they lived it authentically in their daily lives,” McDowell said.
Deacon Tony Cecil added Connie McDowell, Cole’s mother and a science teacher, to the list of influential faculty at Bethlehem.
“She was so intentional about teaching how science finds its beauty with faith and vice versa and what Catholics believe about science,” Deacon Cecil said.
Deacon Cecil, who attends St. Meinrad, noted that he attended public school before Bethlehem and was glad to find a school where faith was valued.
Stuart Hamilton, he noted, was “willing to share the struggle he had in his faith life and he was so approachable,” Deacon Cecil said.
Hamilton invited him to attend a vocation dinner with the archbishop, which was “a way of him saying, ‘I see something in you,’ ” Deacon Cecil said. “I had been feeling called (to priesthood) and thinking about it.”
He and Deacon Kirby Rust said Bethlehem’s greatest influence on their vocation was the community that surrounded it, including the faithful of Nelson County.
“I credit it to the faith-filled people of Nelson County and my home parish, St. Catherine of Alexandria (in New Haven, Ky.) and the friends that I have made growing up,” said Deacon Rust, who attends Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West.