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THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING
Called to the Collar
Aired November 16, 2014 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LISA LING, CNN NARRATOR: Catholicism is one of the biggest religions of the world. But news of scandal in the Catholic Church involving priests has been virtually inescapable over the last decade.
DELIA GALLAGHER, REPORTER: The Pope's statement this morning is the first time the Pope has apologized for the sexual abuse of children by priests in the catholic church.
LING: As a result, people espousing strong faith have been on the decline. But I'm headed to this rural patch in Michigan where Catholicism is thriving and where priests are considered cool.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please welcome to the mound, father (INAUDIBLE).
LING: Here, even at the local baseball game, the presence of the collar is everywhere. They've been producing priests for some time. But in the past decade, more and more young men are heeding the call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see what a priest does for people. I, too, want to do that.
LING: This rural pocket of America is defying the trend of a shrinking roman catholic clergy. Inspiring men of all ages to join.
Have you ever considered becoming a priest?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE CHILD: I'm open to it.
LING: Tonight we meet the men who answered the call to the caller to find out who in the face of church scandal would want to become a priest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember thinking to myself is this really what I want? And the more I prayed about it, I thought this is exactly what I want to do.
LING: 26-year-old father Gary has just been assigned to his first perish in central Michigan.
FATHER GARY, CENTRAL MICHIGAN PRIEST: In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit.
CROWD: Amen. GARY: The Lord be with you.
LING: It's a big role for a man as young as he is.
GARY: Become the chosen people of God.
LING: He's presiding over a congregation of nearly 1700 families. You've been here how long?
GARY: About a month and a half.
GARY: Not long.
LING: And what was it like to actually be assigned to a parish?
GARY: Whether I first arrived, I looked very young and they're like, you're Father Gary? So it was very funny.
That God is opening up that covenant that he showed us.
I think it is so satisfying knowing like this is going to be my place and these are my people.
LING: You're only 26 years old and you've assumed this role of spiritual father.
LING: What does that mean? And how has it been?
GARY: Well, it's very surreal, still. I'm still not used to it for sure. I am called father just like a father is called to provide for his children. My duty then is to help my people grow in holiness. And to put their needs before my own.
These gifts we have brought you to for consecration. They become the body and blood of your son our Lord, Jesus Christ.
LING: Though, Father Gary is new to the job, he seems confident up there on the altar.
GARY: Body of Christ. The body of Christ.
LING: And connecting with parishioners.
GARY: How are you doing? Nice to see you. That's a beautiful name. That's right. Thanks.
LING: He's bonding with young and hold.
GARY: Yes. Good job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have a good week.
GARY: You, too, thanks.
LING: Most of the people here were a lot older than Gary. A couple women said to me we've been going to this church longer than he's been alive. But now he is their spiritual father and the pews were full and the people are thrilled.
As he greets people at the exit, I get a chance to talk to a family that's been coming to this church for over 15 years. How do you like the new priest?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love him. We absolutely love him. And it is great to see younger priests. Father Gary, you know, they do a good job getting people excited up and fired up and excited about Catholicism and, you know, going to church.
The hope is that, you know, Father Gary will inspire other people, for the catholic clutch to keep growing, we need the father Garys, we really do.
LING: Do you guys think it's cool to see a younger priest?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LING: At just 26, Father Gary is already making an impression. But in this day and age, what drives someone to become a catholic priest?
Maybe the answer can be found here in Gary's hometown of Fowler, Michigan. A tiny rural community with a population of just over 1200.
As soon as you hit town, you get an immediate sense of the values that are important to people. There is one restaurant, two bridal stores and a catholic shop.
Hi. How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.
LING: I've never been in a catholic store before in the middle of town. How long has this store been here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Almost 10 years.
LING: Ten years? It is pretty popular store?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's getting to be busier and busier every year. Most of the people in this community are catholic. We've always been active. But the last couple years they just can't say enough about the young kids that are on fire with their faith.
LING: You have noticed in recent years more young men wanting to pursue priesthood than before?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We have so many young men that are checking it out. LING: And that is something that people are pretty proud of.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Definitely. I would love to have a son that was a priest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That would be -- I think that is every mother's dream in this community.
LING: Just a few miles up the road from the catholic store, that dream came true for Father Gary's mother, Agnes. Once a week her son, the priest, comes home to lead a private mass just for his parents and siblings.
GARY: You alone are the lord.
LING: But father Gary isn't the only one wearing a collar in this family. His identical twin brother, Todd, is also a priest. It's a double blessing for Agnes and her husband, Brian.
When they told you that they were interested in pursuing the priesthood, how did you feel?
AGNES, FATHER GARY'S MOTHER: Wonderful. Like yes, I knew it. It was unbelievable.
BRIAN, FATHER GARY'S FATHER: It's one thing just having a new priest for the church but to have your own sons, it's real special privilege for us.
GARY: There is really fast.
LING: Todd and Gary have worked on the family dairy farm for most of their lives.
GARY: I think one of the greatest joys of growing up on a farm is that sense of being needed. Like I help cut move the cows and you make it go around. That's been a great blessing. Dad is always saying that everything we have on this farm is a blessing from God.
LING: Such a little guy.
You call them all Besy?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, every cow is Besy.
LING: No. I don't really need it to suck on my finger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to feed her? That is a quintessential farm experience right there.
LING: It is all right. I'll pass.
As young boys and twins, Todd and Gary had similar interests and personalities. It's hard to believe that you two were both the shy guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People often commented on that. Where did that come from?
LING: I mean how shy were you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty shy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty shy.
LING: From a young age, the twins did everything together. They went to catholic school, had their first confession at age eight and became altar boys at 10. It was during this time that God spoke directly to one of them.
GARY: I was about seven or 8-years-old when I first felt the call. Gary, if you want to go to heaven, you should be a priest.
LING: So, Gary, you felt the call first. Did you share this with Todd?
GARY: No. Not a bit.
LING: Todd tells me he heard his own calling several years later whether he was 14. He also chose to keep ate it a secret from his brother.
FATHER TODD, PRIEST: Our parents talked to both of us separately but we weren't talking to each other. And eventually, they brought us in the same room and said you're both thinking about it.
LING: And were you surprised that other was thinking about it?
TODD: Yes. It was a big relief, actually, to know, he is feeling this call, too. And I can maybe share it with him.
LING: The twins began their acquired eight years of seminary traveling on retreats to the holy land and Rome. Seven years in they became deacons and a year later at the age of 26, they were finally ordained as priests.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire church gathered for this moment saying thank you God for this man. Please bless him. Please prepare him. Please open his heart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sort in put in to words. It is almost a powerful and wonderful moments in my life. And I couldn't stop smiling the entire day.
LING: Todd and Gary are now devoted to doing God's work. They joined their Uncle Bill who is also a man of the cloth (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just as, you know, roots get life and support to a tree, that's what I have here. There is really a support system.
LING: Theirs is a close in that family. And the only that Todd and Gary will ever have.
As priest, they both made the ultimate sacrifice, to remain celibate for the rest of their lives.
Did you ever think that you might feel like you kind of just missed out on physical relationship with a woman?
GARY: The desire is certainly still there, always will be there. But that's not part of what my life is. Jesus can and does fulfill it in other ways.
LING: Did you ever feel, even slightly disappoint that you might not be getting grandkids out of those boys? I mean they are really handsome guys.
AGNES: No. No. Because your children might not be called to marriage. And if they are, they might not have children. So there are no guarantees that there were going to be grandchildren to begin with.
LING: Back in his parish, Father Gary is now far from the family farm. Handling the daily duties of tending to his new flock. You come from such a big family. And you spent the last eight years in seminary and you have a brother. Now you're here.
LING: Ever feel lonely?
GARY: Yes. I've definitely been there. But a wise priest once told me that. When you feel a loneliness, don't run away from it. You go over to Jesus and see what he does.
LING: Father Gary uses that same advice whether he faces one of the toughest part of the job, praying with those in their darkest hour.
GARY: Can I do this?? Can I handle walking with people into the dark moments of their life?
LING (voice-over): The duties of a catholic priest take Father Gary beyond church walls. Today, he's been called to the hospital.
Hey, Father Gary, how are you?
GARY: Good to see you.
LING: Good to see you.
He's here to visit and pray with the sick and dying. In his short career, it's something he's done only a handful of time. You're visiting people in some cases in their last moments.
GARY: That's true, yes.
LING: What kind of pressure is that for you?
GARY: I would say it is a very privileged moment to be in. People see the collar and they welcome me not just as Gary but as Father Gary and as bringing God into that situation.
Terry, do you mind if I come in?
TERRY, 56-YEAR-OLD: Not at all.
GARY: I'm Father Gary from Holy Family.
TERRY: It is nice to meet you.
GARY: Nice to meet you, too.
LING: 56-year-old Terry and her husband, Don, are devoted catholic who are confronting an uncertain future. Terry has liver disease and she is waiting for a transplant.
TERRY: They tell me that after I get the liver I'll be back to what I normally will be.
GARY: That will be wonderful.
TERRY: That would be great.
GARY: Have you been anointed before?
GARY: Well, it's a special grace.
LING: The anointing of the sick, it's a ritual, prayer and healing and something only a priest can offer.
GARY: Lord, we gathered here in your name and we ask you to be among us to watch over our sister Terry through this holy anointing. May the Lord and his love and mercy help you with the Grace of the holy spirit. Look with compassion upon your servant Terry and we anointed in your name for the healing of her body and spirit and we ask all this through our Christ our Lord, amen.
TERRY: Thank you.
GARY: You're welcome.
TERRY: I'm so blessed. GARY: Good. Praise God.
TERRY: These are tears of joy.
LING: What does it mean to you to have Father Gary visit you today?
TERRY: It makes me feel that God is right here with me.
GARY: Yes. Right here in this hospital room.
LING: You've been part of the clutch for a long time. What is it like to have this very young looking father? He is the youngest priest that you've encountered?
TERRY: Yes, I don't know of any younger. He's a breath of fresh air. I don't think, you know, most people would expect to see a priest as young as you are. But I think it's great.
LING: I watched Terry light up.
LING: When you prayed with her. How did that make you feel?
GARY: To see the light in that woman's eyes as I was praying with her, I mean, it was just so encouraging to know that God touched that person through what I did, just the joy of being a priest. That's the good reason we get up in the morning.
TERRY: It has been an honor.
LING: Father Gary, despite his baby face, carried with him this composure and this maturity and this warmth and compassion and I got it. I got the reason why someone could feel that call. I can't imagine there's a better feeling than what it felt like to bring just that moment of calmness and peace. It was beautiful.
Like his brother Gary, Father Todd helps manage his own perish. Though every morning starts the same, each day brings something new. A funeral, a wedding, a visit with someone in need. Father Todd lives in the church rectory rent free and earns a yearly salary of $30,000 from parish donations. It's not much money but there is little time for play whether you're doing God's work.
I've seen one brother comfort his parishioners in the face of death. And now I'm about to witness the other guide his at the beginning of life.
TODD: You have asked to have your children baptized. I'll trace the cross on your foreheads and invite your parents and godparents to do the same.
LING: Father Todd is welcoming not one but three young children into the catholic faith.
TODD: Lord, bathe these children in light and the welcome them into your holy church, make them your faithful followers and witnesses to your gospel. We pray to the Lord.
CROWD: Lord, hear our prayer.
TODD: My dear brothers and sisters, we now ask God --
LING: Like his brother, Gary, Todd, too, is a brand new priest, vested by the catholic church with the authority to perform sacred rituals called sacraments.
TODD: Elijah, I baptize you in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit, amen.
LING: Through his ministry, the youngest of his flock become sons and daughters of God.
What it is like to play such a significant role in people's lives?
TODD: It's just a great honor. You talk about people coming to God in a powerful way. This is one of the big ways. Parents say this is we want God to be the center of your life and we want (INAUDIBLE). And we're going to do our best to raise new it and never let you forget it.
These children have been reborn in baptism. Mighty God the father and the son and the holy spirit bless you. Amen.
Thanks so much. That was beautiful.
CROWD: Thank you, father.
LING: Even though this is your third child, you're just beaming today. What does it mean to you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our faith is our most important thing to our life. And it's his very first sacrament and the washing way of original sin and welcoming him into our church and our belief and our faith and just envision that Grace coming down upon him and God blessing him in that way, just makes my heart burst.
LING: Today, Father Todd has brought three more souls into his congregation. From this moment on, he'll be their spiritual guide as they grow and will catch them when they fall. Every week he heads to a tiny room where the troubled come to bear their souls. Confession is the most private of catholic rituals. Father Todd shares what it's like to be keeper of people's darkest secrets.
So this is the confession room?
TODD: This is one of the confessionals here at St. Thomas.
LING: Did you get nervous in the beginning just because people are sharing such deeply held things with you? TODD: I was terrified the first time I walked in here. This is such
a sacred space where someone can be completely open to the Lord and sometimes that means really sharing something that they have never, ever told anyone. So when I'm in here, I really try to listen to the holy spirit and say God, I need you to tell me what to say. And so far he's come through.
LING: We all are predisposed to form opinions and make judgments. How hard is it for you not to judge what you hear?
TODD: Surprisingly, not that hard not to judge. I have the experience of God's love and mercy myself. How on earth could I not give that to someone else.
LING: At the end of the day you're a 26-year-old farm boy.
LING: Where do you get this authority to be able to forgive people?
TODD: At the end of the day I'm only a 26-year-old farm boy. But it's not coming from me. This is God's work and not mine.
LING: Two brothers have committed to a lifetime of God's work. Guiding parishioners through life and death, sin and salvation.
In our self absorbed world, it's hard to imagine anyone choosing such a selfless path. But in the town of Fowler, even a high school jock and lady's man can hear God's call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if god is calling me to. This but I cannot ignore this. It will not go away.
LING (voice-over): The catholic church struggled for decades to produce new priests. But here in Central Michigan in, the diocese of Lansing, the number of young men entering seminary has doubled over the past decade. They've been averaging almost 30 seminarians a year.
In the village of Fowler, faith is just as important as farming. Statues of the Virgin Mary appear in front yards and Sunday service is always packed.
This tiny community alone has produced 22 priest since its inception. Father Dennis has been the pastor in this church for seven years and oversees a congregation made up of families who lived here for generations.
Why is Catholicism flourishing here in Fowler?
FATHER DENNIS, FOWLER PRIEST: I think it's deeply rooted in the community. It is amazing how many people who are just really committed to preserving the faith and they're passing it on to their children.
LING: As early as fourth grade, young boys become an integral part of services. Versed in the language, ritual, and mystery of the church. 14-year-old Charlie has been an altar boy since he was nine.
What do you like about being an altar boy?
CHARLIE, ALTAR BOY: You're right in there in mass and you're right up with Jesus and people look up to you and that's kind of a nice feeling.
LING: Have you ever considered becoming a priest?
CHARLIE: I'm open to it. I never know if I'm going to be a priest.
LING: And what appeals to you about the idea of being a priest?
CHARLIE: It's just kind of cool seeing a priest and a whole bunch of different people, they go a lot of places. They have a lot of neat stories.
LING: Has the Lord spoken to you about your future much?
CHARLIE: Not really. I mean I pray a lot and asking him what he wants me to be. But I haven't heard an answer yet. But you just keep on praying.
LING: You've got some time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ready?
DENNIS: Nice one.
LING: Father Dennis hopes to guarantee the steady interest in the priesthood by keeping the next generation focused on God.
DENNIS: I think our job as perishes is create an openness in the young people. Is this something God may be calling you to? We're aggressively trying to evangelized our young people. We provide lots of opportunities for them to encounter the Lord Jesus.
LING: So this what you mean by working together with the youth?
LING: Barbecue, volleyball.
DENNIS: Yes. Food is a great evangelization tool.
LING: This is true. Free food. DENNIS: That's right. This is the kind of thing we like to do with
our young people. Just kick back and have fun with them.
LING: I'm just curious. Have any of the young men here expressed an interest in becoming priests?
DENNIS: Yes. I'd say there's about four of the guys here that have talked to me at some point about the serious priesthood, yes.
LING: The church is encouraging these conversations with God and even the most unlikely candidates are heeding the call.
FATHER MATHIAS, PRIEST: God is calling everybody. He's not just calling the people that prayed in their room the whole lives, who don't have friends, who didn't have a lot of experience dating. He calls a lot of people. And I just happened to have the Grace to respond.
LING: 32-year-old Father Mathias grew up in Fowler surrounded by strong culture of faith but his pursuit of the priesthood came as a surprise even to himself.
MATHIAS: When I come back here, it's like back to memory lane. It changed so much since I was in high school.
LING: Back then, Mathias was a typical high school jock. His life consumed by sports. When he wasn't running plays on the football field, he was working on his fast pitch and trying to impress the ladies.
I'm meeting Father Mathias back at his old stomping grounds, the field where he competed as a tight end for four years.
So were you playing football in this field when you realized that you might be interested in the priesthood?
MATHIAS: It wasn't even really on my radar at all. I actually was just like everybody else. I wanted to play football and have fun. I mean you work so hard giving yourself to working out and to being good that you don't think so much about those type of things. You live for the Friday nights, you know.
LING: What kinds of memories does this bring back?
MATHIAS: I remember just giving everything on this field. You know, just playing as if this was it. This is what high school is all about. Playing sports and, you know, the girls and friends.
LING: You're pretty studly in high school, I would imagine though.
MATHIAS: Well, maybe. My girlfriends would probably think so.
LING: Yes, because you had quite a few girlfriends in the past.
MATHIAS: Absolutely. Had you always thought that one day you would be married and have kids? LING: had you always thought that one day you would be married and
MATHIAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. That is the goal of all guys here. You grow up, you have fun in high school. You go to college, you get a job and you marry.
LING: Mathias thought he knew where his life was headed. But God had other plans. When a friend suggested they go to youth group, Mathias followed and everything changed.
MATHIAS: I started hearing the gospel for the first time in a way that I could understand. My heart started to grow in love with Jesus that it never had before.
LING: Mathias' passion for Christ grew and followed him into college where God would find him in a relationship. He was dating Samantha when he received his first call from God.
MATHIAS: I'm in prayer. And he said I want you to be a priest. I'm like, no, priests are celibate. And I said OK, if you want me to be a priest, you have to have my girlfriend breakup with me because there's no way going to breakup with her.
LING: And that's exactly what happened. After six months of dating, Samantha broke up with him. But if that was a sign from God, he still wasn't ready. And he fell for another woman he thought was the one.
MATHIAS: I had everything I ever wanted in a girl, in a wife with my future children. But there was something missing. The more I prayed, the more I kept getting this prompting, give everything to the Lord. Leave the girl of your dreams to pursue something you don't even know you're called to. It is very difficult.
LING: It's a huge risk.
MATHIAS: It's a huge risk. But that's what love is. If God is calling me, the one whom I love, the one who changed my life, whom I to say no to God?
LING: But just as Mathias was about to enter seminary, news of the sex abuse scandal in the church exploded in the media stunning the world.
MATHIAS: Right after the scandals broke in the church, I remember thinking to myself is this really what I want? Do I really want to step into the church here? There are two responses to evil. Either I allowed that evil to in a sense discourage me from doing good or I actually use that as a motivation to do all the more the will of God. And so, I actually used the scandal as something which propelled me forward in proclaiming God to a world that is hurting.
LING: A priest is meant to advice people in good times and bad. To meet them in moments of vulnerability. And to take advantage of that is deplorable. I'm meeting bishop Earl Boya of diocese of Lansing. Bishop Boya oversees more than 200 priests within the diocese. It's
his job to make sure every one of his priests are doing God's work and not abusing their power.
Sexual abuse happens in all communities. But this is the only community where celibacy is mandatory. Do you think that that has anything to do with what has happened?
BISHOP EARL BOYA, FOWLER: You know, it may have something to do with it in given circumstances. I just think there is, well, a force of evil at work anywhere lives that caused them to commit the grave sins.
LING: Do you think the church dealt with it properly?
BOYA: Not in the past like it should have. In the present, it is much better. If there is allegation against the minor, we immediately tell the person report this to the police.
LING: In fact, Bishop Boya is Michigan diocese is no stranger to allegations of inappropriate conduct and a recent report has hit close to home.
I know that there is currently a priest that is under investigation here. Can you comment on that at all?
BOYA: I really can't because that's still under investigation by the civil authorities and I have to wait for them to conclude their work.
LING: Why do you think the church has had such a problem with sexual abuse?
BOYA: Well, I don't know that it has had a problem anymore than the normal population. But having said that, for a priest to do this is much worse because not only is this a physical violation, not only is it an emotional violation, it's a spiritual violation and that is what makes it most serious and what makes it also troublesome, I think, for the church.
LING: In the wake of scandal, much of the world now views catholic clergy with skepticism. But one young seminarian isn't letting that stop him on his path to the priesthood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of hatred toward the church. This is going to be our job to heal. It's going to be a lot of work. But that's going to be our calling.
LING (voice-over): Growing up in Fowler, 19-year-old Lee wasn't sure what he wanted to be.
LEE, 19-YEAR-OLD: The first thing I wanted to be was an astronaut. And after that, I think I thought about farming because it's a lot of fun. And after that is when I started praying about seminary. And it captivated me pretty seriously since then. It was like, this is what I should do.
LING: Lee has completed one year of seminary and is about to enter his second.
What was it about the priesthood that seemed interesting to you?
LEE: I see what a priest does for people. How they help people. It's like I, too, want to do. The thought of that gave me an enormous amount of joy.
LING: What inspired lee the most though were his two older brothers father Todd and Father Gary.
LING: What kind of impact did Todd and Gary have on you?
LEE: I don't remember exactly a point when I looked at them and it's like these two guys are really holy guys. They want to share God's love. It really shows how they interact with others all the time. I want to be that same amount of good.
LING: As a child, Lee was even quieter and more reserved than Todd and Gary. Like them, he, too, was involved in church from an early age and shaped by his community's strong faith.
Did you have aspirations of wanting to get married and have kids?
LEE: I thought it would be a father. It feel like it would be a lot of fun raising kids. There's a lot of joy in that. But I felt that call. And that's where the happiness is right now.
LING: For his parents, Agnes and Brian, it's a possible blessing a third time around.
So you might have three priests.
LING: In your family.
LING: How do you feel about that?
AGNES: Wonderful. That's what he's called to be, that's where he's going to be.
LING: But while Agnes is in full support, she also knows that like his brothers, Lee is considering a profession plagued by controversy. This is a support group for mothers of seminaries, right? Why is there a need for it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is something that no one else understands. If they don't have a son in seminary, they don't understand.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had one person say that is so sad that your son is going into the seminary. You'll never be a grandma. And I said, he's not mine. He's God's. God gave him to me for 18 years. They go, you are OK with it? I go, yes. It's not my plan. I'm OK with it.
AGNES: Whether Todd and Gary going to attend seminary, someone came over and said that is really sad, I thought they were going to make something of themselves. Then I thought, you know what? That's the person that really needs the prayers. It's not us. It's not our boys. It's -- it was that person.
LING: Priests have gotten a pretty bad rap over the last ten years. And there's a lot of negative stuff that is said about priests. Do you have concerns about that as your sons are embarking upon this journey?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that that's why, you know, there is our little group. You know, we pray for them. We pray that our sons would never fail in their faith. And they never in any way sin against God.
LING: At the end of the day, these are your little boys. And they're really going to be carrying really, really heavy burdens and people will be coming to them in their darkest place and with their deepest concerns.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But that's where some of their greatest joy comes from is through God's Grace and holy spirit they're able to help these people.
LING: But not everyone is cut out for the priesthood. At Lee's college seminary, nearly two-thirds of young men drop out. Last year Lee was almost one of them. In the first few months of freshman year, he was lost and home sick.
LEE: I was just a huge switch from farm life. It is two months where I was absolutely miserable. It's like I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how to do this. I felt just kind of doubt, fears. When you experience those kind of moments in seminary, their advice to you is do not change what you you're doing, stay in the same direction. Don't make big decisions. So I didn't.
LING: Lee stuck that semester out and in just a few days, he returns to seminary for seven more years. So you are excited to go back to seminary?
LEE: I am excited. After that first semester, I didn't think I'd ever be excited.
LING: Lee hit his first bump in the road to priesthood and there may be more ahead.
LEE: I have a lot to learn about celibacy. It is still kind of scary. Do I want to go through my whole life and never being married. If I become a priest, I am giving this life up.
LING (voice-over): In St. Paul, Minnesota, Lee is just a few days into his second year of college seminary. And already finding it an entirely different ball game.
LEE: I got it!
Being here this year, everything is different. I have all these brothers. It's like these are great, awesome guys. Over time I realize, like, there is where I'm meant to be.
LING: While there is time to hang out with friends, prayer and study are the focus here. And sometime over the next seven years, Lee hopes God will give him that final sign.
When do you think you'll know, Lee? Like when do you think God will say you to, OK, you are to become a priest?
LEE: I don't know. That's part of like the mystery of seminary. It is like what is that going to happen? Some guys this year, some next. Some won't know until their senior year. Hopefully I'm not one of those.
LING: Until that fateful moment, there is always a second path for LEE. One that could someday lead to a wife and kids. And even here at seminary, he is surrounded by temptation. The university of St. Thomas is a co-ed school which means girls are everywhere. A siren song of destruction from the pursuit of a higher calling.
So you're in seminary and the seminary is on this college campus.
LING: And so you're interacting with lots of different people including a lot of very attractive women.
LEE: Yes. That is true.
LING: I'm assuming you noticed that.
LING: It is sometimes hard to maintain focus?
LEE: It's not that difficult. I mean can you have wonderful relationship with women. I mean you see a beautiful woman, it's like don't look at the parts, like look at the whole. Imagine like she's your sister and that also helps a lot. And sometimes you just have to divert your eyes. LING: I think a lot of people outside of your world are like how the
heck can he do it? I mean, I've been sitting here for the last 20 minutes and I'm noticing tons of hot chicks.
LEE: People, yes, we say that like when you come to St. Thomas. It's kind a cruel joke.
LING: It's a cruel joke?
LING: Lee tells me like his brothers, he's never dated anyone. If he follows through and commits to a vow of celibacy, he never will.
There are guys in seminary now who have experienced intimacy with a woman. You haven't. But you're kind of OK right now with the fact that it could never happen?
LEE: Right now I'm OK with it.
LING: While lee may never experience physical intimacy, Father Mathias has and yet now feels blessed by its absence.
MATHIAS: Celibacy is a gift much it's not something that someone can voluntarily do on their own. It's got to be given from God.
LING: And while he could have chosen a wife, he's happier celebrating marriage as a priest.
MATHIAS: I've actually found as a priest more fulfillment and more joy than I ever thought possible. I do realize the sacrifice is something I have to make. And it's something that's worth making. Because god is that much greater.
LING: You are still human being. Do you still now deal with temptation?
MATHIAS: Absolutely. Everyone experiences temptations, even the greatest of saints.
LING: So how do you deal with it?
MATHIAS: Usually, the temptations are more like you could be married. You could have children. You could have all this sin. I just simply say, Lord, I give this to you. I say yes fidelity to Jesus. It's just as difficult for a husband or wife to say no to other people. In one sense, as it to me to say no to temptation.
LING: Over the past four years, this former lady's man has settled into the role as a priest, learning how to overcome the obstacle of temptation. The priesthood has just thrown him a new curve ball. He's been pulled from his parish by the bishop himself to answer yet another call.
LING: In Detroit, father Mathias is back in seminary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus Christ is worthy of our praise and in our weakness we pray.
LING: The bishop has pulled him from the parish and sent him back to school to help spiritually form the next generation of priests. It seems like he's being groomed for leadership, placed in this role to mentor seminarians for their quest for the priesthood.
So essentially, your job is to really encourage seminarians.
MATHIAS: Forming priests is the most important task that's one has in the church. And we need good priests. It is a one-on-one intense conversation where the seminarian can be vulnerable with all that is going on in his heart. And there, they begin to discover their own call to the priesthood.
LING: Determining whether or not their meant for this job requires hours of prayer and study. But it doesn't saying good-bye to a night out with the guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Come on.
LING: I didn't quite expect a bar in a seminary. Is this typical seminaries?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LING: It is?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When first came here, I was actually somewhat scandalized that the seminary had a pub. I'm like seriously? But this is actually a great place for people to relax.
LING: While all these men are wearing the collar, they are not yet priest. They have a few more years to question the call.
What's the most difficult aspect of being a seminarian?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On record or Off record?
LING: On record, definitely. On record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're always under a microscope, I say. That's an honest answer, yes. Always being looked at, always being judged.
LING: And so how do you deal with that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We drink.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think seminary is hard. But we're involved. Fall in love with Jesus. We all have this relationship with him. He want to share him with the rest of the world.
LING: There is a large percentage of the population that priests are synonymous with abusers. Just because it's been so widely reported. How has that affected your desires to want to continue on to the priesthood?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world needs priests that love Jesus and love the people. And so I want to be one of those guys that can do that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need people to show people, you know, that priests are holy men, that great men and they have not all made these mistakes.
LING: It is a radical decision to become a priest. But given how scandalized the priesthood has been over the last decade, it is even more bold. But I really admire all these young men who are trying to change the perception of what it means to be a priest.
This is a brotherhood. And while they're young, despite feeling the weight of societal pressure, this life brings them overwhelming joy. And they are exactly where they want to be.