When Deacon William Burmester learned he was seminary-bound a few years ago, the first person he sought out was Father Juan Guido, now associate pastor of St. Raphael Church in Springdale.
“Father Guido always called me ‘The Discerner,’” Burmester recalled. “And then I got the letter and I went up to him, and I was all proud and he still introduced me as The Discerner because, he said, I would always be discerning. Every day, I’m going to have to figure out how to follow God more.”
No seminarian is fully prepared for living the life of a priest, but Burmester has already figured out a lot about the path he’s on, through writing a column for Arkansas Catholic newspaper. There, he wrote candidly about the highs and lows of discerning a vocation.
“I found those articles very therapeutic,” he said. “And yet every single time I sent one in I was like, ‘Did I just make a mistake? Should I have sent that? Was I too vulnerable?’ But each time, the reaction people had to it was just amazing because they saw me as someone who had the same types of feelings they did.
“Doubts and all that, yeah, that’s all part of really entering into formation. I’d be very leery of anyone who didn’t doubt that they were called to the priesthood at some point. I had a unique way of expressing that and it really fortified my ability to be in doubt, but not fearful.”
Burmester said witnessing firsthand the many ways Catholics practiced their faith was also inspiring and reinforced the notion that the priesthood wasn’t a one-track profession, especially in Arkansas’ smaller faith communities.
“You get this general knowledge — this is how you do marriage prep, this is how you do RCIA — and (seminarians) from bigger dioceses or larger parishes are thinking large scale, this is how I would do it,” he said. “I would always think how I would do this with a smaller number of families or a more intimate RCIA program.
“I remember going to Marked Tree with maybe 10 or 12 families experiencing a very nice dinner and a very intimate Mass. The people there love and serve the Lord in a totally different way than I’m even used to being from St. Joseph’s (in Conway). That taught me I’m not always going to serve a community exactly like my home parish.”
Burmester said two saints served as a beacon for his time at seminary: St. Wolfgang, whom he took as his confirmation saint, (“I chose him for the name back in the day; my name is William Wyatt Wolfgang Burmester,” he laughed. “It sounded cool.”) and St. Therese of Lisieux.
“When I came to St Meinrad, I found out St. Wolfgang became a priest of the house of Einsiedeln, which is the motherhouse of St. Meinrad,” he said. “I had no idea back in the day that confirmation name would be so impactful now.
“People would pray novenas for me and tell me they were praying to St. Therese of Lisieux. She just popped up a ton. She’s always been present in my prayers and reading; she’s called the Little Flower, but how powerful she is that she’s impacted my formation here. It’s pretty amazing.”
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