What is the meaning of life? Most of us spend years in the search: pondering, seeking, questioning. But for William Schmid, 26, the answers to that age-old question found him.
The loss of a close high-school friend in a tragic post-prom accident left Will—at the time a high school junior—reeling, rudderless, lost and lacking a sense of purpose. But slowly, and with great simplicity, the fuzzy edges fell into sharp focus. He is currently studying to earn a master’s degree in divinity at the Pontifical College Josephinium in Columbus, Ohio. This June, Deacon Will’s ordination as a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Phoenix will be the beginning of a life of service, sacrifice and, yes, celibacy.
Vicki: What were some of the things you liked to do as a kid?
Will: I just loved basketball. It is my favorite sport. I loved swimming. Pretty much since I was a few weeks old, I was in the pool. We had a house in Fountain Hills that bordered the desert, and so all summer long I would run around and explore and get in all kinds of trouble.
Vicki: Growing up, did you go to church?
Will: I grew up in the Lutheran Church, so we would go pretty much every Sunday. Although we were active, I never really felt like it was…I don’t know…for me. I just went because my mom and dad really wanted to go. My parents valued it, so I thought maybe I should value it, too.
Vicki: What led to your conversion to Catholicism?
Will: A friend of mine died in a car accident. Her name was Emily Ell. She was killed by a drunk driver [while] leaving prom. And I was the first person on the scene of the accident. She was a friend of mine, and it was really hard for me, as a 17-year-old kid—experiencing death up close. It just really rocked my world, so to speak. I kind of felt lost. I didn’t really know what to do.
Vicki: Finding solace in religion is one thing…but becoming a priest takes it quite a step further.
Will: I just felt like I had to really figure out this whole God thing. So I started getting involved with parish ministry. I was spending probably 80 percent of my time at the parish, 10 percent at home at my apartment and 10 percent at ASU. I started asking myself, why am I spending so much time at the parish? Why do I love this so much? That’s when I started thinking, well, maybe the priesthood. Let me think about that for a little bit. And I did, and it just stuck in my head. It never went away.
Vicki: What was your parents’ reaction?
Will: Well, when I became Catholic, my dad said, “Well, that’s fine. Just don’t become a priest!” He was kidding, of course. They’ve been really supportive. When I told them I was thinking of becoming a priest, their response was, ‘Well, we want to make sure you get an education.’ That was really important.
Vicki: You have decided to become a priest at a time of great crisis in the church, which is still reeling from all the abuse cases. How did these events affect your decision?
Will: It made me realize how careful I have to be in setting appropriate boundaries with people. And it also makes me want to be a better priest. I only want to bring people joy and fulfillment.
Vicki: Now for the celibacy question. How does a young man decide to leave sex behind?
Will: You don’t leave your sexuality behind. I’m very much a man in everything I do. I’ve been called to something different. And, I believe that what I’ve been called to will make me the happiest in my life. Even if it means I have to give up the possibility of having a wife, and children. And in a sense, my calling, my role as a priest, is to be a spiritual father.
Vicki: Any thoughts on how parents can pass faith on to kids?
Will: Even though I didn’t necessarily want to go to church, I always knew that my parents’ faith was authentic. I admired that about them. I wasn’t sure I necessarily believed it, but I really admired their dedication to it.
Vicki: It can be tough on parents, though, when teens start to question and want to opt out. What then?
Will: I think the best thing, honestly, that a family can do, is to pray for their children—that they’ll come to admire and believe in the same values that they do. Obviously we can’t force anybody into it. And we shouldn’t, you know. It should be a choice. I just think there is power in prayer. RAK
Vicki Louk Balint, of Phoenix, is the mother of Cory (26), Frankie (22), Robert (17) and Annie (16). Read her blog at raisingarizonakids.com. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.