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Austin Catholic priest finds new path toward faith midway in life

By Rich Andre
Special to the American-Statesman
St. Austin Catholic Church Associate Pastor Rich Andre, right, talks with members of the Austin group Mariachi Relampago, who provided the music for a special mass celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2016.

Twenty years ago, I thought I knew where I was going. I was happily experiencing a year of “full circle” moments that seemed to confirm my life choices. I had first become interested in science in second grade when Voyagers I and II visited the planet Saturn, and now, at age 27, I was building a telescope for the organization that had led the Voyager missions. I had recently moved back to my hometown, making new friends and reconnecting with long-time acquaintances. I had just paid off the last of my college loans.

And then, one Saturday morning in May 2001, I had a lightning-bolt revelation. God placed — what to call it? the thought? the feeling? the instinct? — something in me to investigate the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.

In that moment, I was shocked, excited and scared. Was I crazy, or was this really a divine call that would change the direction of my life?

None of us discern our spiritual journeys alone. As I shared the revelation with family and friends in the following days and weeks, they affirmed me while also asking questions that clarified my call. In the upcoming months and years, I continued discerning with students and ministers in religious life.

The Rev. Rich Andre is an associate pastor at St. Austin Catholic Parish.

It took 10 years, but I eventually pledged my life to a religious community of Catholic priests called the Paulist Fathers. We are the first order of priests founded in the United States. Our founder, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, was a young spiritual seeker who eventually joined the Catholic Church and became a priest himself in 1851.

Hecker, the poorly educated, bespectacled mystic who lived in a Transcendentalist commune in the early 1840s, has most profoundly influenced my understanding of how I’m called to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We Paulists pride ourselves on making the gospel relevant, which is why Bishop Gallagher asked us to minister to the students of the University of Texas in 1908. We reach out to those who feel hurt and alienated from the Church, which is partially why St. Austin Catholic Parish is home to people of diverse ages, economic statuses, political leanings, ethnic/racial heritages and ZIP codes.

We value ecumenism, prompting St. Austin to partner with other Christian churches in West Campus to care for our indigent sisters and brothers. We engage in interreligious dialogue, leading to partnerships with the Hillel Center and the Nueces Mosque.

My spiritual journey continues to bind me to an ever-wider group of people. I don’t discern just with my family and friends, not just with Catholic professionals, not just with parishioners at St. Austin, not just with people in the neighborhood who belong to other faith traditions, not just with the Paulists and saints who’ve come before me. Now, I discern with generations yet to be born.

This month, St. Austin community breaks ground on an exciting new development of our property. We’re partnering with a developer who will build apartments with affordable housing, and the lease payments will allow us to expand our ministry and school facilities. We’re leaving an unfinished floor for future generations to provide ministries not yet revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

Some people might view their life’s destination as achieving a certain job position, entering into a certain relationship or living in a certain setting. I disagree. Our destination is heaven. We can’t see beyond the first hill of the trip, so we must continually check our bearings with the compass within (the Holy Spirit) and with ALL the people along our journey to determine where the road leads next.

Me? I’m trying to relax and enjoy the ride!

The Rev. Rich Andre is an associate pastor at St. Austin Catholic Parish. His sermons can be found at bit.ly/RichThoughts. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.