Farm life, family open door to vocation

St. Rosa native to be ordained priest June 3

Faith, family and farming fostered Deacon Derek Wiechmann’s vocation. The road to the priesthood was a long row to hoe for the priest-to-be, who will be ordained to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. June 3 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, but it’s a tale he never gets tired of telling.

“Every time you tell your vocation story, you think of a new part or a different dynamic the Lord keeps revealing to you. It never gets boring telling it,” Deacon Wiechmann said.

His story begins on his family’s dairy farm just northeast of St. Rosa, where he was born and raised. His parents, Mike and Brenda, were faithful Catholics, bringing their six children to Mass each weekend. They often prayed the rosary as a family after the chores were done, gathering together in their living room.

Deacon Derek Wiechmann looks out from the doorway of the calf barn on his family’s dairy farm near St. Rosa April 29. He said growing up there helped foster his vocation to the priesthood. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt/For The Visitor

Deacon Wiechmann had strong priestly influences along the way, including Father Arthur Hoppe who baptized him at his home parish of St. Rose of Lima in St. Rosa, and Benedictine Father Roger Klassen, who was also his pastor there.

“They were both strong examples of prayerful priests,” he said.

He also remembers going to the 8 p.m. Mass on the first Friday of each month where he and his family would spend time in eucharistic adoration following Mass.

“I can remember just loving going to adoration,” he said. “I saw it as a time to talk to Jesus in a way that I didn’t any other time. I prayed, but there was something different about adoration. I was so excited for that encounter, even though I wouldn’t have been able to use that language to describe it back then.

“I felt the Lord so present in my heart, not necessarily inviting me to the priesthood yet, but just inviting me to himself, to a relationship with him. That was so deep in my heart, that initial calling to follow him,” he recalled.

When Deacon Wiechmann was in sixth grade, he watched a movie about Our Lady of Fatima in his religious education class.

“I was really inspired by the three children and by their willingness to endure all, to suffer all, for God,” he said. “That’s when I really became more interested in my faith and began asking questions about why as Catholics do we do what we do. When I look back, I can see now that it was definitely the Holy Spirit stirring something in me.”

Deacon Wiechmann kept these stirrings to himself, but about five years later, he saw an announcement in the parish bulletin for a diocesan vocations camp that was being held at one of the neighboring parishes in Holdingford.

“It was the first time I got to meet seminarians [now Fathers] Gabriel Walz and Timothy Gapinski,” he said. “I remember leaving that day and thinking, ‘Yeah, this is it, this is what I want to do.”

Father Gregory Mastey, then diocesan vocations director, provided Deacon Wiechmann with more information about seminaries and helped him schedule visits to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona and St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul.

Deacon Wiechmann was drawn to the rural setting of Winona. There was something, too, he said, about being a little further from home, leaving the farm and the area.

“Even in the first couple of years in the seminary, I still wasn’t sure if God was really calling me to be a priest. Yet, I still always knew that he was asking me to come back another year, then another year. It was very peaceful. I never felt pressure from God or from anyone that I needed to know right now. By the time I was in my fourth year at IHM, I was sure. So when I came to St. Paul [Seminary,] I didn’t have to worry. It has definitely been a grace God has given me,” he said.

Family and farming

Growing up with six siblings on a farm definitely played a role in his vocation, he said.

“Working together with my parents and siblings was helpful in building relationships at a young age,” Deacon Wiechmann said. “Family life has always been huge. We worked hard together, but we also enjoyed just being together as a family.”

Deacon Derek Wiechmann visits his family farm April 29 on a break from the seminary. He has many memories and experiences there which he believes will help him in his priestly ministry. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt/For The Visitor

Deacon Wiechmann said the family never took vacations because there was always work to do on the farm but every Sunday, the family spent time at a cabin they share with some of their neighbors.

“Our parents took it seriously that there was no work on Sunday,” he said. “There were very few exceptions to that, unless rain was coming and we needed to get hay in. The cabin was our place to have fun. I think that’s unique.”

He believes that strong sense of family instilled in him will help him in his priestly ministry.

“Our family has always been really close but it helps just knowing the craziness of family life, that relationships are not always easy in families and the struggles and challenges that some families might be facing,” he said.

His own family experienced tragedy just over five years ago. On Feb. 11, 2012, Deacon Wiechmann was home from the seminary on a break when his younger brother, Craig, was killed in a tragic accident on the family’s farm. He was 18 years old.

“That was obviously by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced and that our family as a whole has ever experienced,” he said. “The first week was so raw, and I remember how all of us kids slept upstairs in the living room just because we wanted to be together.

“Looking back, I can see how we really were strengthened in our faith and our bonds together. God’s hand was there the whole weekend and in the days leading up to the funeral. The funeral was the first time our family experienced peace. It had a way of instilling that hope of the resurrection and of how we will see each other again,” he said.

He said Craig’s death has taught him a lot about how unexpected death is and it might help him connect with those he ministers to who are also suffering a loss.

“Grieving is subjective in the sense that everyone is on their own path of understanding death so it might help me in my ministry having that awareness and remembering how all of us were grieving in different ways at different times,” he said. “And I have Craig’s intercession and prayers and that peace of having him pray for us and with me.”

Looking ahead

Following ordination, Deacon Wiechmann will be serving as parochial vicar of the parishes of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Isanti, Christ the King in Cambridge and Sts. Peter and Paul in Braham beginning July 1.

“First and foremost, I am most looking forward to that deeper relationship that I will experience with God, just being one of his priests,” he said. “I put that first because that is what is happening to me and within me, an ontological change in my soul. That is extremely humbling.

“Humility is about recognizing what God has done, so in humility, I need to recognize what God has done to prepare me for this coming day,” he added.

Part of his studies included a practicum on the sacrament of reconciliation in which he and other seminarians practiced what it might be like to hear confessions.

“They really threw everything at us,” he recalled. “But what is taken away in the practicum is the presence of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “That’s what I am looking forward to — letting the Holy Spirit guide me in confession to know what to say. People have powerful experiences in confession and that intimidates me a little, but I know if I am open to the Holy Spirit I don’t have to fear. I’m excited to dive in.”

Deacon Wiechmann said although he considers himself an introvert, God has opened him up in ways he didn’t imagine.

“I love people and I look forward to being present to and with them in everyday life. I am excited to share their lives in an intimate way while bringing them the sacraments. And most of all, I’m just excited to be with them day in and day out as Jesus did in the Gospels.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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