‘I went to every discernment retreat . . . I could find’

Deacon Anthony Mersmann stands with Cheryl and Coulter Schwartze, parishioners of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield, Missouri, where the deacon had a weekend assignment this past academic year. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEACON ANTHONY MERSMANN

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — There are perhaps only two things in common about the vocational journeys of men who become priests.

The first is that they are each mysterious.

The second is that they are each individual.

For example, in a family where all the children undergo the same experiences of formation and faith life, vocational “lightning” may only strike one. Why only that one? It’s a mystery.

Such is the case of Deacon Anthony Mersmann.

He is one of nine children of Walt and Martha Mersmann. The family faithfully attended Holy Family Parish in Eudora. When the children were little, they prayed family rosaries every morning before school and went to morning Mass Tuesdays and Thursdays until the older children gradually grew up and left home.

Deacon Mersmann and his two brothers would serve Mass — the older brothers with reluctance, but young Anthony with eagerness. He loved the Mass and praying the rosary.

“That foundation of prayer [provided by my parents] was definitely the most important factor in my vocation,” said Deacon Mersmann.

The personal arc of his life was bending toward the priesthood, but he didn’t know that until he went to the archdiocesan summer camp, Camp Tekakwitha, and met a young seminarian named Jared Cheek.

“I knew very fundamentally that God had the best plan for me, so I wanted to find out what that plan was,” he said. “My conscious pursuit of finding out what that plan was, the priesthood, started the summer before fifth grade at Camp Tekakwitha when I had Jared Cheek for my very first counselor.

“He told me I would make a good priest, and it was the coolest thing I ever heard,” he said. “To this day, it remains the coolest thing I ever heard.”

There weren’t a lot of opportunities for religious activities at his small-town parish. There was parish religious education and a youth group begun by his older sister Molly when her family moved back to Eudora.

But he wanted more.

“I went to every discernment retreat, any retreat at all I could find,” he said. “I went looking online on the archdiocesan website for Kairos, Encounter with God’s Call, Project Andrew.

“Literally anything I could find from middle school on, I was going to. In my small town and small parish, besides CCD and the youth group, there wasn’t anything else.”

Once he was old enough to drive, he’d go to eucharistic adoration chapels at Johnson County parishes.

His discernment for the priesthood began after he came home from camp that first summer. He began exploring seminary and religious order websites, and watching videos about the seminary and the priesthood. He also discovered the archdiocesan vocations office.

“I remember calling Father Brian Schieber, vocations director, and wanting to know what I should do,” he said. “I was so young that it was hilarious. He sent me a CD to watch on the computer called ‘Make A Difference.’ I would watch that thing once a week, because that was all I had in addition to praying.”

Father Schieber was succeeded by Father Mitchel Zimmerman, and Deacon Mersmann began to pester him, too.

“Even though I was too young for some of the retreats . . . I bothered Father Mitchel so much that he let me go on [retreats] before most people do,” he said.

Deacon Mersmann was interested in other things, too — mostly related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). While in high school, he attended STEM camps at the University of Kansas. These were all great and fun, but God was definitely drawing him toward one thing: the priesthood.

“I always knew God was drawing me in that direction,” he said.

He wanted to go into the seminary after he graduated from high school in 2011. But Father Zimmerman asked him to study at a secular college or university for a year first. Deacon Mersmann said he’d go to Kansas State University — for one year only.

“You’ll hear back from me very soon about finishing my [seminary] application,” he told Father Zimmerman.

When he told his parents about his desire to enter the seminary, they weren’t surprised. But he was surprised by some things his mother told him. While he was growing up, four pastors told her “that youngest son had a vocation to the priesthood.”

And when she picked him up from Camp Tekakwitha,  Cheek pulled her aside and said he thought little Anthony had a vocation to the priesthood.

Why didn’t you tell me, he asked his mother.

I didn’t want to pressure you, she said.

And every year in the seminary has confirmed his choice.

“Every year was better than the one before, and year one was phenomenal,” said Deacon Mersmann.

His advice to a man seeking the priesthood is simple: Pray. Prayer is an actual conversation with the One who is calling you, he said. Time dedicated to prayer is time dedicated to growing that relationship with God, getting to know God more intimately and hearing his voice more clearly.

He was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on May 18, 2019, at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park.

Now, Deacon Mersmann will be ordained a priest by Archbishop Naumann at 10:30 a.m. on May 23 at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas. Because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are invited to view the liturgy livestream via the archdiocesan website at: archkck.org.

Personally speaking

Name: Deacon Anthony Mersmann

Age: 26

Hometown: Eudora

Parents: Walt and Martha Mersmann

Siblings: Molly Pratt, Ruth Finnegan, Therese Vink, Maureen Mersmann, Michael Mersmann, Charles Mersmann, Marian Mersmann-Joshi, Claire Mersmann

Home parish: Holy Family, Eudora

Higher education:
• Cardinal Glennon College, St. Louis; Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, 2015
• Kenrick School of Theology, St. Louis; Master of Divinity and Sacred Theology Bachelor degree, 2020

Best binge-worthy movie or TV series discovered during lockdown: I ended up watching less TV and movies during lockdown than I normally do, surprisingly enough.

New skill learned during lockdown: I got a taste of what it’s like leading and providing for a group of 12 seminarians, and that has meant a new and profound appreciation for my own parents and all parents of large families.

My most notable encounter with the famous/infamous: I met a couple of cardinals, I have been a few yards from Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, and I saw Ben Rector perform live.

Favorite devotion: Our Lady of Sorrows and Stations of the Cross

Favorite saint and why: St. Norbert. I discovered I was actually baptized on June 6, which happens to be the Feast of St. Norbert.

Food you missed most during lockdown: Zen Zero (Thai restaurant in Lawrence)

Food you learned to make for yourself during lockdown: I made a roux for the first time without looking at any directions. My first attempt included way too much flour, but take two was a success.

Favorite childhood toy: Lincoln Logs, Legos and Hot Wheels

Worst job you’ve ever had: Intramural referee at Kansas State University

Best job you’ve ever had: Using my dad’s little pickup and push mower to mow some of my relatives’ yards

Hobbies/leisure pursuits: Casual activities and work outdoors. Everything from Frisbee or bean bag toss, to mowing the grass or power washing a patio. I also really enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies of saints.

My hidden talent/party trick: Most people are surprised I can do amateur-level sewing. Does that count?

In the movie about my life, I would hope to be played by: Kevin James, but I would want him to be a little more serious, in addition to all the levity he has in his normal roles.

Best advice I’ve received seeking my vocation: Jared Cheek told me I would make a great priest the summer before I entered fifth grade. It’s not advice, strictly speaking, but it’s the one phrase that started all of my discernment.

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