The Rev. Eliot Schwer is new to the community of Fremont and to St. Patrick’s Church where he is serving.
He is not new to Nebraska.
He was born in Wisconsin and moved to Omaha as a preschooler when his father, a civil engineer, took a position at University of Nebraska to teach civil engineering at the Lincoln and Omaha campuses.
Schwer attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he majored in psychology. While there, he became active in ecumenical campus religious organizations.
He went to Jacksonville, Fla., with Navigators for a summer training program. Navigators in Florida visit with strangers they meet on the beaches or streets about faith. During the daytime, they work.
“We had to have day jobs and pay our own way,” Schwer said. “I went job hunting with guys from Kansas State University at a place that was hiring temporary help. When they found out we were from Kansas and Nebraska, they hired us on the spot. They said they liked the Midwestern work ethic.
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“There were conversations on the beach about trusting and having faith that God has brought you to this place for a reason. It’s not just extroverts that engage people about faith.”
Schwer’s religious upbringing differs from that usually associated with men who become priests in the Catholic Church. Most are “cradle Catholics,” born into a family with deep Catholic roots and encouraged by that family to discern a call to priesthood.
“I was not born Catholic,” he said.
“My mom had left the Catholic Church shortly before we moved to Omaha. My parents ‘church shopped’ for a while, then were drawn to Trinity Community Church, now Lifegate. Her faith came alive there and that’s where she found that God was the most important person in her life. I went to Trinity School there from kindergarten through eighth grade.”
When a student in Lincoln, Schwer continued his affiliation with Navigators as well as Crusade for Christ, both active groups on the UNL campus.
“It was in Navigators that I met my first Catholic who wore her faith on her sleeve,” he said. “She would talk about having a relationship with God and reading the Bible. It was through her witness that I was called from being a non-denominational Christian to being Catholic.
“It was a long, slow process. I knew her for quite a few years before I began to dig deeply. As a Christian, I knew that it was my responsibility to seek the truth and follow the Lord wherever He was leading me.”
Those early years in Omaha, when his parents were visiting different churches in Omaha and worshipping in different places each Sunday left him wondering.
“I was kind of scandalized by all the different denominations,” Schwer said.
He asked himself questions about the lack of unity in Christianity, because he believed that unity was truly Christ’s hope for His church.
“I was not able to see what I was to do with my disenchantment,” he said. “I was convinced that Jesus is God, the Way, the Truth and the Life, but is seemed that articles of faith should be more certain rather than relying on my own subjectivity and intuition and basing my faith on that.”
The journey began. Armed with a deep faith and the conviction that the answers were there for those seeking for them, Schwer began to read. He wanted to study Christian traditions and thoughts.
He read a lot of C.S. Lewis. A turning point was the book “The Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel. The author, through interviews, tackles some of the big problems that cause people to reject faith.
Schwer’s friend invited him to events held by Focus, a campus fellowship group associated with the Catholic Church. After graduation, he worked for Focus for two years.
“At the very beginning of my second year, I went to a retreat center just outside of Estes Park, Colo.,” he said. “That’s where I really began to accept the possibility that God was calling me to priesthood.”
There was something more for him, something deeper, something requiring more from him, something that would affect his whole family.
“Mom had left the church and was baffled by it,” he said. “Dad thought it was interesting. Mom came back to the church and dad became Catholic a few years later. My brother became Catholic after I did.”
He went to Kendrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., graduating this May and was ordained on June 4.
His work at St. Patrick’s will encompass the priestly duties of celebrating the Mass, presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals, making parish calls, meetings and all the miscellaneous and sundry things that fill the life of a full-time priest. He also will focus on helping with the Spanish ministry and teaching at Bergan Catholic High School.
He will begin to establish a Catholic presence at Midland University for those students who are Catholic.
It’s a call full of tasks and challenges. Schwer is ready and eager to begin this work in Fremont.