By Brian Harper
Father Vincent Strand's first Mass as a priest was similar to those celebrated by 19 of his fellow Jesuits ordained throughout the United States, Canada, and Haiti this year. Surrounded by friends and family, he returned to his home parish — St. Bruno in Dousman, Wis. — to give thanks for the people and places that formed him. Unlike most Jesuits, however, Fr. Strand concelebrated with members of his family.
Vincent is the third of Bernadette and Jerry Strand’s four children to be called “Father Strand.” His older brother, Luke, and younger brother, Jacob, are both priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Their younger sister, Theresa Krausert, is married and has a new baby daughter.
In an age of fewer priests and vacant churches, many assume the Strands are a holy anomaly, a family who raised their children in a cloud of incense, observing little-known saints’ feast days, and celebrating daily Eucharist. This, the Strands insist, was not the case.
“We weren’t praying the rosary every night before we went to bed,” says Fr. Luke. “We were all involved in things like typical kids are. Vince and Jacob were really good athletes.”
“It just seemed like a very normal, American upbringing,” adds Theresa.
“I never asked them if they wanted to be a priest,” claims Jerry.
“I never honestly thought about it,” says Bernadette. “Now that I’m learning so much more from my own children, I realize we probably should have talked about that.”
|Jerry and Bernadette Strand with their children: Theresa (on Bernadette's lap); Jacob (with bow tie); Vincent;
and Luke (with tie)
However ordinarily Catholic the Strands might have been, there were signs the family had a divine destiny. Bernadette’s sister is a cloistered nun with the Poor Clares, and Jerry’s mother used to suggest that one of her grandsons might become a priest.
Father Vincent believes his vocation’s roots go back even further, that many generations of his family ultimately led him to the Jesuits.
“I’m a romantic,” he says, “and so I actually believe things like penances and prayers one of my ancestors offered in some dimly lit church in the 12th Century — not to mention all those rosaries my grandmothers said — have borne fruit in God’s time, in the strange mystery of providence, and have contributed to my vocation.”
Though the seeds of this vocation might have been planted hundreds of years ago, Fr. Vincent first became aware of it in theology courses and interactions with Jesuits while he was an undergraduate student at Marquette University. There, he encountered “the reality of God.
“I became acquainted with what the Christian tradition held God to be: the ever ancient, ever new beauty for which our hearts were created,” he says. “If God was God, then to live for anything less than God was to opt for the less real.”
He had arrived at Marquette expecting to eventually
become a doctor, marry, and “maybe even live happily ever after.” Instead, he
spent much of college in discernment or, as he describes it, “coming to grips
with the fact that God had come to grips with me.
There were also doubts at home. With Fr. Luke already having entered the seminary, the idea of first Fr. Vincent and later Fr. Jacob ending serious relationships to pursue religious life was difficult to grasp.
“It took me a long time to have peace with it,” says Bernadette. “I was thinking about all the things I wasn’t going to have, like daughters-in-law and lots of grandchildren.”
“It was, I think, a really difficult decision for him,” adds Jerry. “I know now that my daughter had her baby, my sons think of family life, like, ‘Yeah, I had to give this up. I’m not going to do this.’”
For Fr. Vincent, a feeling of certainty in his choice came “only on the far side of the decision, after I had made the plunge and said to the vocation director, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Trust followed for the rest of the family, as well.
“When we went to visit him in the novitiate, you could just tell that’s where he’s supposed to be,” recalls Fr. Luke. “He’s the intellectual of the family, so pursuing the Society of Jesus was not a surprise. He’s a brilliant man. He’s one of the smartest people I know.”
“He had discerned this so intensely all through college,” says Fr. Jacob. “When he made his decision, it was like, ‘Of course it’s right.’”
“After learning more about the Jesuits, he just fit into that vocation so perfectly that it really was pretty seamless,” remembers Theresa.
|The Strand family after Fr. Vincent Strand, SJ, was ordained a priest at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee: (from left) Jerry; Bernadette; Fr. Luke; Fr. Vincent; Fr. Jacob; Theresa Krausert with her daughter, Colette; and Chris Krausert, Theresa's husband||
In addition to imagining the Strands as uncommonly pious, many people also presume each son is a clone of his brothers, that they share the same vocation and marched into the priesthood one after another.
“As much as they are alike in their love for the Lord, they aren’t alike in a lot of other ways,” says Jerry. “Regardless of what one did, I don’t think it made any difference what the other one was going to do.”
“We all took back seat approaches to the other brothers’ discernment so they could do it in a way that would be free and healthy,” explains Fr. Luke.
“When you look at their journeys,” adds Theresa, “they’ve all been so drastically different.”
||(From left) Vincent, Jacob, and Luke Strand|
Father Vincent’s journey has taken him all over the world. After spending two years in the novitiate and pronouncing first vows, he studied philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx, theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and language in Austria and Germany.
It was during his regency at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, however, that Fr. Vincent revealed himself to not only be a gifted student but also a skilled teacher.
“I sat in his classroom and watched him teach classes to the high schoolers,” says Fr. Jacob. “Just phenomenal. He was gripping.”
“I think he was voted teacher of the year,” recalls Fr. Luke.
“Most of my students were nearing the end of 12 years of Catholic education and were tired of religion talk,” says Fr. Vincent. “Yet, at that exhilarating age of 18, they had not yet settled in to the disinterestedness that sometimes accompanies middle age. They were willing — and wanted — to consider questions of what life was all about, to concede to that old bit of Socratic wisdom that says the unexamined life is not worth living. For some students, it meant a real reckoning with the reality of God. In those moments, memories would come to me of being in my students’ place many years prior. Something had come full circle.”
This influence on others’ faith lives extended throughout the family. Father Jacob, who also studied in Rome prior to his ordination, relied on Fr. Vincent’s guidance while pursuing his Licentiate of Sacred Theology.
“He was very helpful in kind of being an academic mentor for me, in helping me formulate my ideas and making them concise and precise,” remembers Fr. Jacob. “He always helped to clarify it and to teach it to me over phone conversations in a very slow, patient way.”
“My faith has grown a lot having sons who are priests,” adds Bernadette. “In our conversations, the boys will share things, or they’ll shoot us an article, and it’s been wonderful. I absolutely love it.”
“I can’t talk on an intellectual level like my boys can,” laughs Jerry. “But it’s fun to listen to them talk anyways.”
“Through college and after college, being surrounded by them and their friends, you learn a lot about your faith and about the Catholic Church,” says Theresa. “I don’t know if I would have taken that initiative myself.”
The family’s deepening faith accompanied Fr. Vincent’s growing love and solidarity in a new brotherhood with his fellow Jesuits.
|(From left) Fr. Thomas Lawler, SJ, provincial of the Wisconsin Province; Fr. Vincent Strand, SJ; the Most Rev. Jerome E. Listecki, archbishop of Milwaukee; and Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province|
“Formation is long, often it’s difficult, and there is something about being in the trenches with other guys, year after year, that forges the deepest of bonds,” he says. “We’d lay down our lives for each other without batting an eye — Jesus, of course, says that is the mark of the greatest of loves.”
The entire Strand family is well aware of the sacrifices that often accompany love and following God’s call. One of these has been distance.
“I haven’t celebrated a birthday with Vince for 11 years,” says Bernadette. “Thank goodness we can Skype. We talk at least once a week, and we talk for a long time. I feel very connected with him, even when I’m not in the same country.”
While Fr. Vincent will soon be closer to home indefinitely — he will spend part of the summer serving at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, before heading to Boston College to study for a Licentiate of Sacred Theology — Fr. Jacob will return to Rome to pursue a Doctor of Sacred Theology.
“What’s so crazy is that Jacob was in Rome for five years,” laughs Fr. Luke. “Then, he overlapped one week with Vince, who’s been there for three years. Now, Vince comes home, and Jacob will be going for two years.”
“The few times they are home, we really do take advantage of it,” says Theresa.
“You learn not to get too caught up in the seconds
that tick away,” adds Jerry. “It’ll pass. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
It’ll all come, and it’ll go, and they’ll be back in no time.”
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Father Vincent’s first Mass was one of the family’s rare moments together. The Strands found themselves back at St. Bruno, the church their forebears helped build in 1852, and the place where three brothers’ vocations developed, perhaps with a little help from centuries-old prayers.
“It’s crazy,” marvels Fr. Jacob. “Through no merit of our own, God has called us all to be priests and given us this new identity in the priesthood of Christ.”
“As each of my brothers was called to a different religious life, there’s always an initial shock that goes along with it,” says Theresa. “But looking back, it just fits them each so well. Now it seems hard to imagine them doing anything else.”
“I know Vincent’s just going to be an amazing priest like the other two,” says Bernadette. “I was gifted with these four children, and now they’re going back and doing what the Lord wants them to do, each in their own way. I realize this is truly what the Lord called them to do. They have had the strength and committed to saying, ‘Yes’ to this. They didn’t have to. They could have pushed it aside, but they committed to saying, ‘Yes.’”
“When you get down to it, everyone should be doing that,” adds Jerry. “Whether you’re a priest or whatever, if this is what the Lord wants you to do.”
Father Vincent and his brothers cannot say exactly where that “Yes” will lead them in the future.
“I can say how much I love my brothers,” says Fr. Vincent, “and how much they have taught me.”
|(From left) Frs. Luke, Vincent, and Jacob Strand||
Learn about the stages of Jesuit formation and a vocation with the Jesuits.
Father Strand's story was featured on the cover of the Summer 2016 issue of Jesuits magazine; click here for the Summer 2016 Jesuits magazine index.