FARGO — The spiritual lives of a father and son converged in a rare, meaningful way when each was ordained into ministry at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
While Eric Seitz joined the men of the cloth in August 2020, just two months later, Ben Seitz was clothed with a deacon’s robe.
Now more immersed in their roles, “We’ve come up with some jokes,” says the Rev. Eric Seitz.
“We have ‘Father-Father’ quality time, and I’m ‘Father-Son,’ while he’s ‘Deacon-Dad.’”
Initially, their mother and wife, Jennine Seitz, wondered what to call her youngest son. “She said, ‘It’s going to be weird calling you ‘Father,’” says Father Eric. “I told her, ‘Then don’t! You changed my diapers. You have the right to keep calling me by the name you baptized me into.’”
Nor will he take offense if his parents and four siblings slip into another priest’s Confessional line, he says. “Unless they’re in danger of death” with no other option, he adds.
Despite these conundrums, the two fathers and Jennine agree that their parallel ordinations have brought more blessing than burden.
“We’ve got a really close relationship,” says Deacon Ben, noting that their roles have reversed at times, with his youngest son offering him useful advice on spiritual matters in particular.
When Eric was home from seminary, he says, the three would pray the Divine Liturgy of the Hours, required of both. “Not a lot of seminarians go home and do morning and evening prayer with their parents.”
Likewise, Jennine says, “When we do evening prayers and (Ben) gives me a blessing, I realize not every wife gets that kind of blessing,” from the hands of an ordained deacon.
The road’s beginning
Despite intersections, their journeys remain unique.
An Air Force family, the Seitzes were in South Carolina when Ben was called away for a year to serve in Korea. In second grade then, Father Eric recalls the difficulty of separation, but also, his father’s spiritual transformation.
“While in Korea, he met a Polish priest who was on missionary, and they became very good friends,” Father Eric says. “He had a good way of pushing my dad gently and lovingly to take his faith to a new level of seriousness.”
He also fondly remembers the prayer group with other families that met Friday evenings to recite the Rosary and just hang out.
“That’s kind of the milieu I grew up in,” he says, attending Catholic school in each city they lived, except Stavanger, Norway, which had only secular schools.
Eric was around 9 when they moved overseas, and his dad volunteered to help train the altar boys for Mass. “Since he had five kids, he could stock it as well,” he says.
Deacon Ben recalls, “After about two months, I said (to the priest), ‘Father, I think these guys got it. I don’t need to be on the altar anymore (helping guide),’ and he said, ‘No, I like having you up there.’ I think, just from that presence on the altar, I sensed I was being called to something more.”
A son is called
Father Eric heard it a lot growing up: “Have you ever thought about the priesthood?”
Indeed, he had; first, in middle school, just after Confession while praying in the pew. “I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ And it just popped into my head, ‘You should be a priest!’” he says. “I didn’t know what to do with that at the time, but I didn’t run away from it.”
His memories of learning to reverently serve at Mass had been impressed within.
“It wasn’t so much just liking being Catholic,” he says, but being so close to Jesus. Additionally, in religion class, his hand always seemed to go up first.
“At that time, Dad was unpacking the tradition he was living in,” and, along with his mother’s encouragement, “Dad’s influence definitely seemed to have gravity.”
This love of serving followed him in moves to Great Falls, Mont., and Fargo, where Eric entered high school at Shanley, and eventually started arriving early to school, dragging his sister along, to spend time in the chapel, praying before the Eucharist.
It was toward the end, at a career fair, when Eric realized “None of those careers are for me,” and he applied for seminary.
A father is called
Though Deacon Ben had felt the tug to serve, too, he couldn’t pursue the diaconate until retiring from the military and moving to Fargo in 2008 to work for Veterans Affairs. Within a few years, he’d enrolled in Education for Parish Service (EPS), a precursor for diaconate training. Three years into it, he paused when that program ended under new leadership. His final formation lasted five years.
But “the original EPS lit a fire in me,” he says. He enrolled in a distance learning program and secured his master’s degree in theology. Explaining that “deacon” means “to serve,” Deacon Ben says this points to why their robes have sleeves, whereas priests, who offer the sacrifice, wear a sleeveless chasuble.
Like many deacons, he holds down a day job while assuming additional church duties, such as leading a new men’s group, celebrating baptisms and officiating at funerals and weddings without Mass. Only priests can hear confessions, celebrate Mass, offer the anointing of the sick and preside over Confirmation.
He calls witnessing Eric’s ordination, then becoming ordained himself, “all very grace-filled,” and says, “Being able to, as a deacon and a dad, celebrate behind the altar with your son as a priest, as he’s confecting the Eucharist, that’s one of those walking-on-the-sun types of experiences that’s difficult to put into words.”
Priest’s mother, deacon’s wife
Accompanying both in different ways, Jennine has her own unique insights. Raised with “parents who were nonbelievers,” Jennine quickly grasped onto the Catholic faith after meeting her husband.
“I’d been dating Ben a while when he asked, ‘So what do you think about the Catholic Church?’ I said I’d always wanted to be Catholic, but no one had ever asked me. He was dumbfounded.”
She calls it a joy to have helped raise their five kids in the faith and encourage each in their unique paths, noting that her own spiritual path has been particularly influenced by her son’s and husband’s ordination processes.
“As a mom and wife, it’s deepened my own relationship with God. I had to take things more seriously, and really delve deeper into my spiritual life,” Jennine says, noting that a deacon’s wife journeys alongside her husband.
“It’s a very in-depth discernment process,” she adds, both for the applicant and those determining his fitness for the role. “And as a deacon’s wife, you are also called to a higher standard.”
Now, after years of preparation, she says, it’s gratifying to see each on the altar.
“It’s made me realize, ‘Wow, this is what God wants of them.’ It’s not just something they’ve learned,” but who they are.
A culminating beginning
With Father Eric at St. John’s Catholic Church in Wahpeton, N.D., and Deacon Ben serving at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo, the two are rarely on the altar together.
But it’s happened a few times, including not long after Deacon Ben’s ordination, when they co-celebrated a funeral for his uncle, Harold Jesh, godfather to both men. He’d been praying ardently for both during their training.
“That was very special,” Deacon Ben says.
“He was very joyful about me becoming a priest,” Father Eric adds of his great-uncle. “Since Dad had more of an adult relationship with him, and more memories, I thought it best if he preached the homily. That was (Dad’s) first funeral homily.”
“I never thought about my calling being associated at all with his, or vice versa,” Deacon Ben says of his son’s journey. “But in the end, it came together and intertwined beautifully.”
With their mother and wife near, it seems, the two will continue in service — apart, yet together — each growing in deeper relationship with God and his people.
“Any time I’m being a priest, I’m having a good time,” Father Eric says. “Whether saying Mass, talking with people, hearing confessions, going around the (Catholic) school and interacting with the kids, and with parishioners — it’s all good.”
He adds that, as priest, “Your whole job is bringing Jesus to people, and bringing people to Jesus. You’re connecting people with these heavenly realities.”
And that the chance to “free” people, “to draw them away from the sins weighing them down,” is an utmost privilege. Though as a priest, he’s only a catalyst, serving in Christ’s stead, “You’re still part of the mystery.”
At the encouragement of his parochial vicar, the Rev. Dale Lagodinski, Father Eric has taken his creativity and love for Christ to social media, producing short, humorous “Minute Gospel” videos to share and explain the faith. Visit the St. John the Evangelist Wahpeton YouTube page to sample them, including a recent short, “How Not to Receive Communion.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on June 19, 2021.]