Three men were ordained to the priesthood June 15 at St. Mary’s Cathedral: Fathers Rick Aubol, Mark Botzet and Gregory Sauer. At ordination, Bishop Donald Kettler told the men they are a gift to the Church and the Diocese of St. Cloud. He encouraged them to help people reconnect with God through their prayer and witness and to be priests of joy and love. “You have been called to serve all,” he told them, “especially the poor and those on the peripheries.”
For more photos from the ordination Mass, click here.
MEET FATHER RICK AUBOL
For all of his life, Father Aubol was active in his church — St. Henry’s in Monticello — and attended Mass, faith formation and youth events regularly. It was in 10th grade that he had his first conscious thought of the priesthood while attending a Lifeline Mass at the NET Center in St. Paul.
“It was vocations month and there was a seminarian giving a vocations talk,” Father Aubol recalled. “And what I came away with was that every responsible young Catholic man should, to be responsible, consider the possibility of the priesthood. And so I started consciously thinking about what that might mean: ‘Is that really something that I’d be interested in or that God would want for me?’ But it seemed also far away and I put it on the back burner.”
By the end of high school, thoughts of entering the seminary arose again. But again, he brushed them aside and pursued his education at North Dakota State University in Fargo.
“My top reasons for picking NDSU all involved the Newman Center there and the great things I’d heard about it,” he recalled. “That was my first experience of Catholic community. At the Newman Center, I started making friendships and having Catholic friends, which I really hadn’t before — Catholic friends who are excited about their faith. It was a really new and wonderful thing for me. Those were really some of the best years of my life.”
During his last year of college, Father Aubol found himself at a crossroads and decided to do something he hadn’t done before: He started talking to other people about his possible vocation to the priesthood.
“I started sharing. I asked Fargo’s vocation director for help and guidance. And he told me that you can’t just pray. God’s not going to just tell you what to do. God can’t drive a parked car. You have to give him something to work with,” Father Aubol said.
He began praying every day and making a daily Holy Hour. He also attended a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) retreat.
“During the retreat, they talked about how we all want God to tell us what to do. We pray for clarity. But God doesn’t tell us the end because then we’d be too scared to make any steps. It would seem like too much for us. So he tells us the next step. It became clear for me that my next step had to be seminary.”
Although his home parish was located in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and he was living in the Fargo Diocese, Father Aubol felt most at home in central Minnesota and made his application with the St. Cloud Diocese.
“I love this part of the world. I love central Minnesota. It’s always been home. I love to travel, but I love coming back to it. And it’s right in the middle of all my friends and family,” he said.
He spent two years studying pre-theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. At the end of those two years, he had two options: to stay on for another four years at St. Paul Seminary or study abroad at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
“I wanted to stay at St. Paul,” he recalled. “But I had to remember that it’s not just my decision. It’s God’s decision. What is God’s will for this situation? It seemed like the right thing to do was to give God as much as I can to work with, to let go of as much as I can. And going overseas seemed like the biggest letting go I could do.”
Father Aubol said there was a moment of grace as soon as the wheels touched down in Rome.
“I just had this feeling, this thought that this is going to be great. And it was,” he said.
Father Aubol, ordained June 15, is now assigned to St. Andrew Parish in Elk River, where he will serve with Father Mark Innocenti.
“I’m excited to join the mission with him,” Father Aubol said. “And as far as priesthood goes, I’m looking forward to the sacraments. The sacraments are what it’s all about — getting to bring people to God and God to people.
“But also it is the other parts of being a priest, the parts that maybe don’t get thought about as much,” he said. “All the people that priests get to meet and help — that’s a wonderful thing to help people with healing or just be there to listen to them.
“It’s also all the fun and opportunities to teach and share life and that massive, incalculable wealth of how the faith informs daily life and the culture, that it grows and develops and builds anywhere it is in the world,” he added. “When you’re part of the Church, you’re not just a part of a thing you do once a week for an hour on Sunday. You’re a part of something that informs and elevates your whole life.”
MEET FATHER MARK BOTZET
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Father Mark Botzet went from selling tires to seminary life.
Father Botzet grew up in a tight-knit family on a farm near Carlos. He recalls “playing church” as a child and taking notice of the priest at Mass.
“I think the seed of becoming a priest was first planted when I was about 5. I saw the priest up there in his vestments and that really kind of inspired a young person like myself at that age; it just captured your attention. And you do it every weekend, so it’s part of your life,” he said.
In grade school, Father Botzet took an interest in meteorology and thought that might be his path. Machining and accounting also appealed to him. He attended elementary and high school in Alexandria and then spent two years at Alexandria Technical and Community College, where he earned an associate degree in accounting.
After trying his hand at a few different things, he landed at Mills Fleet Farm, where he sold tires for a living.
“After four years, as I kept progressing, I’m like, ‘Is this really what I’m going to do for the rest of my life? Is this what I’m supposed to do?’ It seemed like doors were not opening. Then, all of a sudden, Father Ralph Zimmerman mentioned to me that he thought there was something else I was supposed to be looking at,” he said.
Father Zimmerman was serving as pastor at St. Nicholas Church in Belle River where Father Botzet attended regularly.
“He asked if I had considered priesthood,” he remembered. “I had thought about it, but there were some things that held me back. Father Ralph suggested I contact the Vocation Office.
“Father Gregory [Mastey, then-director of the Vocation Office] invited me to come to a vocation camp. So when I came down for the vocation camp, I was shocked at how great the connection and everything was, and I felt really at peace. And I’m not one to come into a place where I don’t know anyone, to drive down from home. I felt like, yeah, maybe this is where I’m supposed to be.”
He entered the seminary, but it wasn’t an easy choice. In fact, he almost left after the first semester.
“Academics were so challenging. I had been out of school for eight years so to get back into it and then to keep up with the seminary schedule of prayer and other activities and events was a lot. But I still felt that peace, I felt like I was supposed to be there even though I battled through a lot of things,” he said. “God works through your prayers.”
Father Botzet was ordained a priest on June 15. He will be serving in the parishes of Holy Family, Belle Prairie; Our Lady of Lourdes, Little Falls; and St. Mary in Little Falls.
Of all the sacraments, he is most excited to celebrate Mass and the Eucharist.
“Baptism’s pretty special, too, and I’ve enjoyed witnessing marriages this last summer as a deacon,” he said. “It’s just getting to know the people and to be with the people when you’re needed. The ministry of presence is the most important ministry of all. When people need you, if you can be there for them, just to listen to them and their needs and just minister to them, that’s what is the heart of the priesthood for me.”
MEET FATHER GREGORY SAUER
Just as his hobby of unicycling is distinctive, Father Gregory Sauer believes his priesthood will be filled with unique opportunities and an abundance of grace. He most looks forward to celebrating Mass and spending time with people.
“Celebrating Mass will be a great joy as well as just being present with people in those times of joy as well as those times of sadness,” Father Sauer said. “Whether it’s birth or marriage, a funeral and death, or somebody struggling with a difficulty, I look forward to being with people and helping them to grow spiritually and to provide compassion and support.”
As early as 7 years old, Father Sauer recalls being drawn to two possible vocations — a veterinarian, like his father; or the priesthood, like his childhood pastor, Father Mark Stang, at St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie.
Father Sauer grew up on a small hobby farm two miles outside of Long Prairie, where he was homeschooled along with his nine siblings. During his high school years, he developed an interest in engineering.
When it came time for college, Father Sauer attended North Dakota State University and became involved with FOCUS, Fellowship of Catholic University Students. Thoughts of entering the priesthood still crossed his mind.
“There wasn’t any hard turning point for me,” he said. “It was more just thinking that I would take the first year of college and really discern what I’m supposed to do. But I remember attending a FOCUS conference in January and thinking it’s already been half a year and I haven’t even started discerning.”
By summer, Father Sauer felt he needed to take action toward more formal discernment. He contacted the Diocese of St. Cloud’s then-director of vocations, Father Gregory Mastey, who encouraged him to spend more time in prayer.
“I went back to NDSU for another year, and throughout that year it really confirmed that entering seminary felt like the right thing to do,” he said. “I think even in high school, I knew I was going to go to seminary eventually. I just wasn’t really willing to admit it yet.”
Father Sauer continued developing his relationship with the Lord throughout his years in seminary.
“There have been challenges, like, ‘Am I really called to the priesthood? Am I worthy for this?’ But just to know with confidence that it’s not just my discernment, but it’s also the Church’s discernment and they have said, ‘We accept you, we approve.’ That has been a grace, knowing that it’s not just me. The Church has also said, ‘We want you as a priest,’” he said.
Father Mark Stang played a significant role in Father Sauer’s vocational journey.
“He was a role model that I really looked up to because he was a young priest, very joyful, and he lived a vocation that was attractive. He was very much a witness to the priesthood — something I pray that I might be as well. It’s one of the things in my heart — to inspire other people to check out the seminary or at least consider priesthood.”
Father Sauer loves to play cards as well as any kind of pick-up sports. He also has a knack for unicycling. All of these pastimes, he thinks, may serve him well in his ministry.
“Continuing to develop my own prayer life and to help others develop their prayer life is definitely important to me as well as being joyful, loving and caring for the people,” he said. “Also, taking an interest in the youth, to ask them what’s going on in their life, to go out there and play softball or volleyball with the young adults. I want to show that priesthood isn’t boring, to show them we are human, we do fun things, we love life.”
Father Sauer will be serving as parochial vicar in the St. Cloud parishes of Holy Spirit, St. John Cantius and St. Anthony. In addition to celebrating Mass, Father Sauer is looking forward to hearing confessions.
“I’ve had a lot of graces through confession, and I want to be able to help others experience the Lord’s mercy, to be forgiven of their sins and then to encourage and help them,” he said. “I feel like I will be a compassionate confessor and encourage people to continue developing their prayer life. How do you develop a relationship with the Lord? How do you really pray? I want people to know that it’s more than just saying prayers. It is developing that relationship to be able to truly experience God’s love as well as his mercy.”