ALLOUEZ — Deacon Zach Weber anticipates the humbleness of the moment when he is ordained a priest on July 1 at St. Mary Church in Ledgeview.
“I don’t know if I will have a dry eye the whole time,” he said. “I will think of the sacrifices people have made for me. It’s all underserved. No one deserves to be a priest. It’s just God’s goodness.”
Deacon Weber, by his own account, was an unlikely candidate for the priesthood while growing up in Howards Grove in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“I was busy going through the motions,” he said about his faith life. “Going to confession was not something I did. I wasn’t really challenged in my faith. Sports and girls is what I lived for (during high school). I was also a troublemaker and class clown. I was being pulled in all different directions.”
Deacon Weber played football, basketball, baseball and competed in track. Following high school, he moved on to Upper Iowa University where he was a pitcher on the baseball team. A men’s conference during his sophomore year of college proved to be life changing. He was invited to the event by his older brother, PJ.
“My parents brought me up to be trusting in the church, but I never learned about the faith,” he said. “At the time, I had a girlfriend. I thought (going to the conference) would impress her. I remember seeing the young priests at the conference. The emcee said, ‘Your life will never be the same after today.’ I left changed forever. The men’s conference flipped my world upside down.”
Health problems could have set Deacon Weber back in his renewed faith. Shortly after telling his family that he wanted to be a priest, his lungs started collapsing. He was diagnosed with spontaneous pneumothorax.
“The next two years, I was in and out of the hospital,” he explained. “I needed to deal with the fact (of whether) I was going to die or not. People bringing me the sacraments, lay ministers, seminarians on their Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) experience and priests visiting my family and praying the rosary with them strengthened my faith.”
Deacon Weber applied to be a seminarian for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, but was instructed to wait a year. He began meeting priests from the Diocese of Green Bay.
“Fr. Tom Farrell kept saying, ‘We want you here in this diocese.’ Fr. Mark Vander Steeg encouraged me to reapply,” he said. “I felt more connected to the seminarians in this diocese. It’s not a huge jump. I drive two miles north and I’m in the Green Bay Diocese from where I live. The hospitality of the priests and lay people really made me feel at home.”
St. Mary Parish in Greenville became Deacon Weber’s home parish in the diocese.
“When I would go to that parish, there was life there — baptisms, lines for confession, adoration and vibrant youth ministry,” he said. “When you go somewhere with life, you want to be a part of it.”
Deacon Weber found another home at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana for two years prior to his four years at Mundelein Seminary, just north of Chicago.
“Your first seminary is always your true home,” he said. “It was tough to leave. Having the monks (Benedictines) around was phenomenal.”
A number of ministries have helped Deacon Weber in formation, including serving on the staff of Catholic Youth Expeditions (CYE) the summer following his first year at seminary.
“That was a healing summer for me, getting to live in community,” he said.
Fr. Quinn Mann, CYE founder and spiritual director, will vest Deacon Weber at the ordination.
Deacon Weber also points to his CPE at All Saints Parish in Lakeville, Minn., and his parish internship in Sturgeon Bay as experiences that helped him prepare for priesthood. He returned to Corpus Christi Parish in Sturgeon Bay last summer to serve as a deacon. He also served at St. Mary Parish in Maplewood. Throughout his years at Mundelein, Deacon Weber was associated with St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Gurnee, Ill.
“Some of those kids I’ve journeyed with the past four years,” he said. “There is a pretty decent sized group coming from the parish to the ordination. It’s very humbling to hear about people praying for you and how they pray for you. They are so good.”
Deacon Weber, the son of Mark and Elene Weber, is thankful for the support of his family. His father was the first person to ever ask him about being a priest.
“It was on the way to practice during my junior year,” he explained. “He was the baseball coach in high school. He said, ‘You would make a good priest.’ I didn’t know anything, so it was in one ear and out the other.
“Maybe, for a day, it felt like my vocation,” he added. “It quickly became my family’s vocation and very quickly became the church’s. Very rarely do I say it’s mine. It’s ‘we,’ ‘ours,’ ‘us.’”
Deacon Weber is the youngest of four children. In addition to his brother, PJ, he also has a sister, Rachel, and another brother, Nathan. He is the uncle to three nieces — Madelyn, Luci and Lydia — and a nephew, Silas, his godson.
“I can’t wait to help them out. I will actually have a paycheck,” he said with a laugh. “I want to help them with school.
“They teach me a lot and I get to teach them to see what sticks,” he added. “Some of my homily material comes from conversations with them. They know so much more about their faith than I did at their age.”
Deacon Weber embraced preaching opportunities as a deacon this past year and will continue to view it as a gift in priesthood.
“Sometimes you are so fired up and you have to get it out, but it’s what do they need to hear versus what I want to say,” he explained.
The newly ordained Fr. Weber will celebrate his first Mass of thanksgiving at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 2, at St. Mary Church in Greenville.
His first appointment will be as parochial vicar at the parishes in Antigo with Fr. Dave Schmidt, pastor.
“They want to start an adoration chapel in the first month, so I will get my foot in the door,” he said.
“I’m ready, it’s time,” he said about the priesthood. “I can’t imagine anything different.”