OSHKOSH — Journeying up a mountain on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus, the teacher, turned to address his disciples and others.
Revealing the Lord’s Prayer, among many other teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus empowered the assembled followers to embark on journeys toward holiness.
Leading people on their own path toward holiness is the goal of Deacon Michael Thiel, ordained June 6 by Bishop David Ricken at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.
A native of Oshkosh, Deacon Thiel, 25, craves outdoor adventure, particularly hiking and camping using skills he learned on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout.
“When I was a Boy Scout I always loved to hike and be the one in the front of the line with a map and compass, leading the group on a journey, figuring where our next stop should be and how to get to our destination,” Deacon Thiel said. “I’ve always talked about my time in the seminary as a journey toward priesthood. As a deacon and priest I want to be able to walk with people through the journey of life, to bring people closer to heaven.”
A week before his ordination, Deacon Thiel, whose home parish is St. Raphael the Archangel, Oshkosh, hiked with a friend in the wilds of Upper Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains, contemplating the day, a year from now, when he hopes to be ordained a priest while anticipating the joy of being ordained a deacon.
“I look forward to preaching and teaching,” said Deacon Thiel.
The oldest of three children of Joe and Mary Thiel of Oshkosh, Deacon Thiel said he first became interested in pursuing the priesthood while participating in LifeTeen , a parish-based Catholic Youth Ministry organization, during his senior year at Oshkosh West High School.
LifeTeen believes the Eucharist-based ministry transforms teens, parishes and culture as inspired by Pope John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization.
“I thought about it and prayed about it while in college at Conception Seminary College (in Missouri),” Deacon Thiel said. “Ultimately in was the influence of several priests I knew and a desire to serve the Lord that led me to follow the path to priesthood.”
Deacon Thiel’s penchant for the outdoors also played a critical role in his decision-making process.
“I was driving home one day while spending some time hiking up north and I was praying the rosary during the trip home,” Deacon Thiel said. “When I finished praying the rosary I made the decision to go to seminary. There was a profound sense of joy and peace that came over me. I knew that pursuing the diaconate and priesthood was the right thing to do.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Conception, Deacon Thiel transferred to St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee where he is entering his final year.
Still, some doubts lingered in his mind.
“You have to make certain commitments to life,” Deacon Thiel said. “I haven’t always been certain about my calling, but I stayed with it and persevered. I’m excited about being ordained a transitional deacon and moving on toward priesthood.”
Deacon Thiel, who in 2014 hiked 140 miles from the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope in Champion to Holy Hill near Milwaukee, plans to keep the outdoors a big part of his life following ordination as a deacon and priest.
“I love having a chance to spend time outdoors and walk through the woods,” Deacon Thiel said. “I love to enjoy the silence, the quiet of being away from the big-city noise and technology and being able to walk with a small group of people experiencing life together.
He said hiking can provide inspiration for his faith.
“I received a huge inspiration when we recently hiked by the Carmelite Monastery in Denmark,” Deacon Thiel said. “As we approached the monastery the nuns started ringing the bells for us, welcoming us to the monastery for a break. Hearing those bells as we approached was something very welcoming and signaled the end of a very long day.”