Quiet Joy: ‘Happy priests’ inspire two men on their vocation journeys

Bishop Donald Kettler will ordain two new priests at 10:30 a.m. June 18 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud: Deacon Matthew Langager of Alexandria and Deacon Doug Liebsch of Long Prairie.

Deacon Matthew Langager

Most people who know Deacon Matthew Langager say he’s just an ordinary guy — a “man’s man, a guy’s guy,” some have said.

Like many kids who grew up in central Minnesota, Deacon Langager was very adventurous. He loved going to the lake, camping, fishing and being around his family, including his parents, Brian and MaryAnn, and his younger sister, Deanna, as well as his grandparents and extended family.

He attended high school in Big Lake but now calls Alexandria his home since his parents moved there four years ago. After high school, he attended St. Cloud State University, graduating in 2009 with a degree in geography and geographic information systems.

Reverend Mister Matthew Langager
Deacon Matthew Langager

During his years at SCSU, he became involved with Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud, where he met Father Anthony Oelrich, pastor, and Father Aaron Kuhn, who at that time was serving as parochial vicar there.

“They were the first priests I really got to know,” Deacon Langager said. “They showed me that a good priest is someone who not only celebrates Mass on Sundays, but he is also someone who shares his joy for life with others.”

After graduating from SCSU, Deacon Langager spent a year teaching fourth grade at St. Francis Catholic School, located on a reservation in Lumberton, New Mexico. It was there, he said, he realized his vocation to the priesthood.

“I saw how God had been active in my life throughout high school and especially in college,” he said.

It was also there that he met Lindsey Hernandez, another teacher at the school.

“I think his year teaching in Lumberton was a year of discernment,” Hernandez said. “By the end of the year, he knew he was going to be a priest. I was relieved when he set his mind to it. Before then, you could tell something was nagging deep in. After he set his mind to priesthood, he seemed more at peace.”

Hernandez and her family, who now live in Texas, will make the trek to Minnesota for Deacon Langager’s ordination.

“Matt will also be baptizing my first child the day after the ordination, so we’re really excited about that,” she said.

After returning from Lumberton, Deacon Langager spent two years studying pre-theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul and has spent the last four years studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Father Oelrich said the Newman community has great pride in celebrating Deacon Langager’s ordination.

“One of the things for us at the Newman Center is that we help young people to personally appropriate their faith and encourage young people to strive to see what God wants for them,” Father Oelrich said. “There are many beautiful vocations in the life of the church. . . . To see that fruit of our nurturing faith and encouraging young people coming to life in the vocation to the priesthood is a great satisfaction to the whole community at Newman Center,” he said.

Father Kuhn, who now serves as pastor at St. Ann Church in Wadena and St. John the Baptist in Bluffton, said, “Matthew has a great pastoral heart and a good sense of the role of priests as mediating God’s grace for people, even in the midst of . . . the messiness of our lives. He has a good sense of fidelity to the life and mission of the church.”

Deacon Langager said the influence of seeing Father Oelrich and Father Kuhn as “happy priests” had a strong influence on him.

“Not only do I want to be a priest because I believe it’s God’s will, but because it’s what will make me most joyful,” he said.

Looking back, MaryAnn said she has seen God’s hand in preparation for her son’s ordination. He was named after St. Matthew, and both he and his sister often served at Mass, occasionally being called from school to serve for funeral Masses. In his sixth-grade yearbook, he wrote that he wanted to be a priest.

“I think God put on my heart many years ago that being a priest was a possibility for Matthew,” MaryAnn said. “I truly believe that our children are not ours and that we are only their guides on this earth, to be given back to God.”

After ordination, Deacon Langager will serve as parochial vicar for Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary parishes in Little Falls as well as Holy Family in Belle Prairie.

“Service to God is service to others and I feel that has been part of Matthew’s nature,” MaryAnn added. “He has always been open to follow what the Lord would put in his life. Whatever God has in plan for who Matthew comes into contact with, being immediate family or church family, I am thankful and look forward to what God has in store for the next step in Matthew’s life journey.”

Deacon Douglas Liebsch

Not unlike Deacon Langager, Deacon Doug Liebsch is recognized as a calm and steady presence, especially by his peers at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and on the school’s basketball team. Even his parents, Mark and Maxine, or Max, remember him that way as a child.

Reverend Mister Douglas Leibsch
Deacon Douglas Liebsch

“Doug was a very easy going kid,” Mark said. “He usually had a smile on his face. He has always liked sports. Whenever we asked him what his favorite classes were in grade school, he would always answer, ‘Lunch and recess.’”

They also believed he might be considering the priesthood as early as the second grade, when Father Mark Stang, their then-pastor at St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Long Prairie, made an impact on him. Mark and Max are part of a longstanding volleyball team and played on the team with Father Stang.

“After seeing a young, joyful priest, I just looked up to him a lot as a role model and wanted to be like him when I grew up,” Deacon Liebsch said of Father Stang.

“Also he was on a volleyball team with my parents so I didn’t just see him at church but saw him out in the world, having fun and seeing that a priest could enjoy life. It wasn’t like I thought in those terms then, but later in life I was inspired by his story, how he was healed of cancer and seeing how God had worked in his life.”

During Deacon Liebsch’s high school years, he said he always had an openness to the priesthood, attending vocation camps each summer where he met more joyful priests and seminarians. But when it came time to decide on college, he said the call “wasn’t that strong.” So he attended North Dakota State University in Fargo where he studied civil engineering.

While at college, a retreat caught his attention and he signed up to go. When he arrived, he was surprised that it was less of a retreat and more of a “come and see” for prospective seminarians.
Always the good sport, Deacon Liebsch participated in the retreat, where he was offered the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

“As [the priest] was giving me absolution, I remember feeling grace coming over me,” he said. “As that happened, I kind of knew I was going to be a priest deep in my heart. I knew it wasn’t from me. I knew it was from God. It was probably the most profound experience of God I’ve ever had. It was a real game-changer.”

Deacon Liebsch entered St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul the next fall. Mark Liebsch was impressed with his son’s decision to discern the priesthood.

“Doug has always been a good person with a strong work ethic. But if this is the real thing, it would have to be more than Doug deciding to do this. It would have to be Doug hearing God’s call, and answering ‘yes,’” Mark said.

Deacon Liebsch’s mom was also supportive of his decision but had some concerns.

“I was and still am somewhat scared for him,” she said. “This is a hard world. It is not very open to God or more specifically the Catholic Church. Also the sacrifice these young men give is often overlooked. And he is my son.”

Deacon Liebsch shared some of his mother’s worries.

“I still had a lot of fears about the priesthood, especially about public speaking and about being a public figure,” he said. “But just being exposed to a lot of different events and letting the Holy Spirit work over the years, I’ve grown in confidence and I’m at peace with who I am in front of people. There’s still a lot of growth that can take place but I feel a lot more comfortable now.”

As a priest, he is most looking forward to hearing confessions, which he will be able to do at St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Augustine Church, both in St. Cloud, where he will serve as parochial vicar after ordination.

“I have experienced so much healing and freedom in that sacrament. I just feel like the Holy Spirit is really powerful there,” he said.

There’s also talk of a reunion on the volleyball court this summer with Father Stang, Deacon Liebsch and his parents.

Father Stang, who has kept in touch with the family and with Deacon Liebsch over the years, said the people of the Diocese of St. Cloud “will experience a spirit of St. Francis in Doug.”

“I believe his joy really doesn’t come from worldly things but from his love relationship with God,” Father Stang said. “He may have witnessed this from his parents, who are not concerned about worldly things, who really have a great relationship with God and an openness to God’s spirit. They really let that show in their family, friends and community.”

Both Mark and Max agree that their son’s vocation has had an impact on their family.

“We feel the need to pray more for our priests and seminarians and our entire church community,” they said. “Over the years, Doug has brought many seminarians to our home, some from other states and countries, so we’ve had the opportunity to get a look at the Catholic Church beyond our parish. The visits with these men have brought to our home good conversation, lots of laughter and have given us much hope for the future.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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