Father Michael Metzgar
Hometown: Shermans Dale, Pa.
Education: Carroll Elementary, West Perry High School, Cumberland-Perry Vocational Technical School, Universal Technical Institute, Mercedes-Benz Factory Training, St. Charles Borrromeo Seminary
Current assignment: Pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lancaster
Tell me a little bit about your childhood, and being raised in the faith.
My parents really set the example for me, making sure that I went to Mass every Sunday. Because we went to public school, we went to CCD on Wednesday evenings, and that was always very much a priority. My mother, in a special way, witnessed to that because she would help out in the office at St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle.
We were altar servers, and it was natural to be in the parish. I got to know a lot of the priests very well. In high school, I went to different youth events and retreats. Again, my parents always made it a priority, and I was very blessed. I really enjoyed being at church and interacting with people and doing all the service projects.
Once I got out of high school, and went to Universal Technical Institute in Texas, I got connected with a parish there. I was involved in LifeTeen, helping to teach. I really enjoyed working with the mission of the Church.
When did you first think about being a priest?
The first time would have been kindergarten. My mother, at the end of every year, would have us fill out this little booklet about the school year, things that you liked, your report card. The last question was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For kindergarten, I checked “Priest,” which was one of the boxes available. Of course, the following years, it was always “Astronaut.”
In eighth grade, shortly after Confirmation, I was riding home on the bus, and it was just any old day. I thought, “Boy, it would be neat to be a priest.” Throughout high school, it was something I would think about from time to time, but my intention was to be an auto mechanic and own my own shop one day. Looking back on it now, there were a lot of seeds that were being planted, and I think that desire to be in the Church was always there because of it. The Lord was working me at a very young age and I didn’t even realize it.
You studied to become an auto mechanic. How did you move from that career to the seminary?
I really enjoyed working on cars. Working with my hands was always one of those things that I enjoy, and I still do. After high school, I went to technical training in Texas and had a great experience at a parish there. Looking back on it, God was always there. I didn’t see it all the time, but it’s very clear now.
Even as I was working on cars and looking at factory-specific training, the parish I was in was absolutely phenomenal. It was so alive. I was working in LifeTeen, meeting a lot of people. They took their faith seriously and lived it. They weren’t afraid to talk about it, either. That was very formative for me. It really started to allow me to hear the Lord’s call.
I came back to Pennsylvania after school concluded and started working for a shop, which at that point was my dream job. After two years of working there, I was thinking to myself, “What’s next?” I was happy that I was there, but I wasn’t joy-filled. There was kind of a discontentment that I was wrestling with. I thought the natural course of things was to look at getting married and, Lord-willing, have kids. As I thought about that, quite often the thought of seminary would come up. Over the next months, it became louder and louder.
One of things I see as a prompting from the Lord was, every time the yearly lease came up for my apartment, I would get this feeling like, “Is this the year?” I was in contact with Father LaVoie, who was the Diocesan Vocations Director at the time, because it got to the point where I was thinking about it quite often.
With Father LaVoie and Father David Hereshko, I got some guidance from priests who were very close in my life and I started discerning that this might be something God was calling me to. Personally, the difficulty was that there was a lot of surety in my job. I was making good money, I felt very comfortable there, and I really enjoyed what I was doing and where I was working. Through continued discernment and prayer, it became really pronounced, and finally I asked for the application. I’ll never forget the day I dropped it off in the mailbox. I released it and thought, “Oh my gosh, what did I just do?” But it was a leap of faith that had to happen, and putting things in the Lord’s hands, because there was some anxiety about going back to school.
The Lord has taken care of me in so many ways. It’s beautiful now to look back and see his hand working, putting to rest all the fears that I had. Me just giving him a little bit has blossomed, and it’s an absolutely wonderful life. I get to do what I love every day of my life, for the rest of my life, and it brings me great joy.
Does the seminary experience also help to alleviate concerns or fears during the discernment process?
Definitely. The faculty are phenomenal. As soon as I got there, a lot of my initial fears and concerns just kind of vanished because I realized I was in a place where they were going to set me up for success. Through prayer, I had done a lot of discernment myself and there was still a need for it to continue, but in seminary, things really fell into place.
One of my concerns was academics, and the faculty was wonderful. They worked with me if I had a question. Looking at four years of philosophy, I’m a very concrete thinker, so in that sense, some of it was difficult, but the faculty were really helpful.
Discernment is difficult as it ought to be; it doesn’t necessarily come easy. But they really work with the guys where they’re at. That’s what really helped me discern amidst all the things that seminary tries to teach, and the knowledge, wisdom and structure that they try to impart on someone to become a good and effective priest, Lord willing.
You were ordained in June of 2017. Where have you served?
My first two years were at Holy Name of Jesus in Harrisburg, with Father Quinlan, a great mentor. It’s the biggest parish in the Diocese, and it was absolutely wonderful. After two years there, Bishop asked me to come to Sacred Heart as pastor. Interestingly enough, I was here in my final year of seminary as a deacon, so they already knew me. I always hoped that I’d come back; I just didn’t think it would be quite this fast!
Throughout seminary, you start to recognize that God’s going to put stuff in front of you that you can’t even begin to imagine. Being a priest is a very humbling experience. The first time an 80-year-old man asked me for guidance on a spiritual issue, and he called me “Father,” I was humbled. When you’re a priest, it’s joy-filled. You finally get to start doing the work you’ve trained for. As a seminarian, you do get a taste for it as you serve in parishes and talk to priests, but it’s just an immense joy to get to work with the people of God.
One of the great joys I experienced in my first year was being at a parish for an entire liturgical year. In seminary, you get to spend ten weeks in the summer with a parish, but then you go back to studies. Being with a parish in Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, there’s something beautiful about being there in all those moments.
And we have a school here. The kids are wonderful! Coming from public school, I wish I would have had the experience of being about to talk about my faith in a classroom. I was blessed that with my parents, we talked about the faith. But to be in a place where you’re learning about the sciences, math, literature and having God, the ultimate Truth, in the midst of it, it’s wonderful. The teachers have a firm sense that they’re doing God’s work. It’s a very blessed thing that the Church offers and that our parish here offers. We’re also blessed to have six IHM Sisters who do a phenomenal job with a real sense of purpose and love for the Lord that flows out into what they do. There’s a vibrancy that the school brings to the parish.
What would you say to a young man who is starting to discern a possible call to the priesthood?
The thing that helped me first off was talking, telling a priest that I knew. They’re going to help guide you in that. If God is calling you, it will be stable and abiding. As I verbalized it, I found it became more concrete.
Also, it’s also important to point out the things you’re concerned about, or things that might be a struggle. Seminary is not a walk in the park. There is some difficulty, but that’s purifying our “Yes” that we say to God as we lay on the marble.
The other thing is, if other people have told you that they think you might be called, there might be something to that. When I told my parents and my family, it wasn’t a big surprise to them. They had seen it. When we hear other people say it, sometimes it can help us confirm it.
And pray. We have to give time to Our Lord to speak to us. We can hear the call, and it can be kind of scary in some sense, but God will not be outdone in his goodness.
It’s wonderful being a priest, and it’s neat being a pastor. You go into any situation as a priest, and people call you “Father,” and they might not even know you. Coming into a new parish, automatically there is a sense of comfortability because “he’s a priest.” There is something very humbling about that. The work that God has called us to do is absolutely amazing.
The Called: Father Michael Metzgar
Father Michael Metzgar
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