“If all this were true, then it’s really important.”
2018 was a busy year for Fr. Andrew Williams, having been ordained a deacon on May 25, and ordained a priest on Dec. 14 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Over a phone call with Fr. Williams, who, at the time, was on his way to see an also newly ordained friend, Fr. Joseph Stoverink, I talked with him about his upbringing, his call to the priesthood, and his time at Notre Dame.
What was your upbringing like in a Catholic family?
I was raised in a pretty practicing Catholic family. We always went to mass, and the only times we ever missed were when we got snowed in, in which case, our mother would make me and my siblings sit around and sing hymns! My parents were involved with marriage prep for other couples and with bible studies, so we definitely had that influence on us. In eighth grade, I was brought into youth group by Teresa Legrand, who was the youth minister over at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Girardeau at the time. She invited several students to the Steubenville conference, and I just remember being very impressed by the joy and comfort felt by the other people there. I knew that whatever they had, it was something I was interested in.
When do you think you were initially called to the priesthood?
The call to priesthood started very early on; my father’s best friend was Fr. Rick Jones, and knowing him growing up put the idea in my head that this was possible. Also, we had so many young associates who were freshly ordained come through at St. Mary’s, and the impression that made on me as a young man was a very favorable one towards the kind of energy that a young priest should have. I was probably a sophomore at Notre Dame when I first mentioned to my mom that I thought I wanted to be a priest. The vocation director for the Springfield Diocese at the time made a visit to our house, and asked me: ‘Do you pray? How are things at school?’ He also pointed out that there weren’t any high school seminaries in the area, and he asked if I would be okay with staying at Notre Dame for the time being. I said I would, and we agreed to get back in touch after two years.
What were some of your interests in high school? I mean, was religion your focus, or did you study anything else seriously?
I think I was interested in theology from the time I was in grade school. I actually just told the St. Mary’s grade school through a homily that, around 6th grade, I realized that if what we were talking about was true, if the religion thing and all these stories and teachings about God and the Church were true, then it was really important. If this was true and people are going to live by it, then this is the most important thing. That was the realization I had, and it carried me into high school. I was involved in campus ministry with Miss Sarah Strohmeyer, and Mr. Danny Strohmeyer was also influential on me. He was another example of a young man in my life who was interested in theology. I was part of science club, gaming club, National Art Honor Society, NDTV, and, of course, theatre. But I always had an interest in theology, which was something I didn’t necessarily share with a lot of people.
Do you know where you’ll be assigned, or do you have yet to be assigned to a parish?
I have yet to be assigned, because I’m going back to school for one more semester. I’ve already completed my Master of Divinity, which is a 6-8 year program, and now I’m going to finish up my extra degree on scholarship by the diocese for a Sacred Theology Licensure (STL). I just need to take three classes this semester, finish my 60-page thesis, and then take the STL exam. It’s an oral exam which will test my general knowledge of the 2,000 years of Christian thought. The STL is meant to help me be of more service to the diocese; by studying spiritual theology, hopefully, I’ll be able to assist the Bishop in either writing documents, preaching at retreats, and giving spiritual guidance to people.
Do you have any advice for those considering entering the seminary, or those who are discerning?
I would tell anyone in high school to pray, and to take this seriously. I spent time every day at Notre Dame’s chapel. And, remember that the faith we’re presented with as kids has been tailored for us being kids – they have to explain it in a way for children. If someone never studied science again, except from what they learned when they were in grade school, they would grow up thinking that science was only these childish things they learned as a kid, not realizing that there was a whole other world of science that happens once you continue to study it. The same is true with our faith, our Catholicism, and our Christianity. But you have to keep going, or else you’ll grow up thinking that the childish way this was explained to you is all that there is. I would also remind them that there’s a whole lot of pain that, if we allow God into our lives by prayer, He will be present with us. And there really is a lot of comfort and support that comes from the relationship with Christ and the parish community that, when we allow that to just disappear from our lives, a lot of things become very difficult. Lastly, there’s no life worth living, that we aim at, that is going to be easy. Whatever path you choose – married life or priesthood – they’re all pretty difficult. But they’re also full of joy!