DETROIT – During his freshman year at the University, Jeremy Meuser pledged Pi Kappa Phi and joined the Solar Car Team. The Highland native thought he was destined to become a computer engineer like his father.
He never thought he would become a priest, save one five-minute interval in his senior year of high school.
“I immediately dismissed it,” he said.
Meuser, who graduated in 2000, just started his second year of study at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. If all goes according to plan, he will be ordained a priest in 2011.
“It was a leap of faith,” he said. “But this was God’s plan for me.”
Meuser’s decision to pursue the priesthood isn’t as common as it used to be. He entered the seminary with only 14 other students, a dramatic decline from the 27 who entered in 1997.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the past 40 years have seen a steady decline in the number of diocesan priests. In 1964, there were 6,958 more priests nationwide than last year, when there were 28,967. The number fell by more than 700 from 2003 to 2004.
Why is the priesthood losing its appeal for young men?
“Our culture measures success by size of house, car and paycheck,” Meuser said. “It’s like keeping up with the Joneses gone wild.”
One of the most prominent factors that discourage men from becoming priests is the sacrifice of conventional family life. Meuser said that while he’s giving up the chance to raise his own kids, he’s able to devote his time and energy to the family of the church and God.
Jeremy Meuser is small in stature, but walks with an assertive step. Always tightly clasped in his hand are a green Liturgy of the Hours prayer book and his personal notebook, where he jots down appointments, seminary obligations and ideas for his own creative writing. He’s quick witted and has a remarkable eye for detail. His computer engineer persona is displayed as he recalls specific dates, times, events and even Bible passages with incredible ease. At the seminary, he puts his keen eye for detail to service for others, mentioning that he often proofreads class mates’ letters to the bishop. His faith runs deep, and he harbors the theological knowledge to justify and defend his beliefs. Meuser’s presence demands your attention. And once he has it, he’ll tell you exactly why he wants to become a priest.
Ever since he was a fifth-grader at St. Patrick Parish of Whitelake, Catholicism has been deeply embedded in Meuser’s life.
He began his service to the church as an usher and then moved up, eventually gaining the privilege of serving Eucharist at Mass. These experiences, he said, helped strengthen his faith.
“I was formed at a young age to respond to the church in a real and physical way,” Meuser said.
During his high school years, Meuser devoted much of his time to his new position as head server at a different parish, Church of the Holy Spirit in Highland, of which his parents are founding members.
Once he arrived at the University, Meuser joined St. Mary Student Parish.
The time he spent there moved him along on his spiritual journey. He still recalls Father Tom Firestone, a former St. Mary pastor, challenging a group of Catholic student leaders to strengthen the church’s presence on the campus.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 2000, Meuser took a technology-related job at Orchard Lake Schools. He took classes at the Wayne State School of Business, hoping to combine his computer know-how with business. Ministry was still a major part of his life, but not yet a career interest.
It wasn’t until he was 23 that he discovered he needed to reorganize his priorities and contribute more time to ministry. He drifted apart from his girlfriend of five years who had gone to medical school in Pittsburgh. He spent all day Sundays at St. Mary and often worked on church-related projects two nights a week.
Friends and parishioners took note of Meuser’s piety and profound devotion.
“Guys were introducing me to their girlfriends, saying, ‘I want you to meet Jeremy. He’s the guy who runs the church,'” he said.
Meuser constantly found himself trying to discern what God wanted him to do with his life.
Then it hit him.
One day, Father Charlie Irvin, senior priest at the Lansing Diocese, said what Meuser now knows God was saying all along.
“Have you ever thought of being a priest?” Irvin asked him.
Meuser was surprised at the question, but quickly realized he’d been considering priesthood for a long time although he’d never pursued it.
Irvin gave Meuser’s phone number to Father Jerry Vincke, director of seminarians for the Lansing Diocese. After several serious conversations with Vincke, Meuser decided he would apply for a position in the seminary.
Entering the seminary is one thing, but it requires persistence and dedication to become an ordained diocesan priest.
All seminarians in the Lansing Diocese must complete an eight-year program. Students spend the first four years working toward a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and the second four pursuing a degree in theology.
Upon completing their studies, seminarians attain a master’s degree of divinity.
Meuser entered the seminary as a third-year philosophy student because of his degree from the University.
During the first semester of his fourth year of theological studies, Meuser will be ordained a deacon. At the end of the year, he will write a letter to the bishop, asking to be ordained a priest. Provided there is no change in policy, his ordainment will occur on June 11, 2011.
Meuser’s schooling keeps him busy. On a typical day, Meuser wakes up at 6:30 a.m. and goes to morning prayer, mass and then breakfast. He has classes in the morning, afternoon and occasionally at night. Lunch begins at noon and dinner is served promptly at 5:30 p.m. His evening consists of more prayer but also the opportunity to socialize in the student lounge if he doesn’t have any classes.
When asked if he had any advice for someone considering the priesthood, Meuser offered a definitive response.
“Patience and prayer,” he said. “If God wants you to be a priest, you’ll get there someday.”
By the numbers
35,925 Diocesan priests in 1964
28,967 Diocesan priests last year