Be Not Afraid: Fr. Kris Schmidt on his “moment of calling,” the roller coaster of priesthood and the importance of not discerning your vocation alone

02 May 2024

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

Father Kris Schmidt is a priest for the Archdiocese of Edmonton and he currently serves as the pastor for St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Camrose. He grew up in St. Albert, attending Holy Family Catholic Church and he entered St. Joseph’s Seminary at age 21 in 2008. He was ordained a priest in 2015. Father Kris is currently the Vocations Lead for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Watch the video version of his story here.

When did you first think of priesthood as an option for you?

In a concrete way, it wasn’t until I was in my second year of university.

The idea first came around when I started altar serving in Grade 2; being close to the priest like that. Getting involved in the liturgy, and that sparked lights for the first time, but that spark was probably nothing more than like a young boy when he wants to be a fire truck or a dinosaur.

A future Father Kris in Grade 10, circa 2001 -2002.

I went to Mass growing up and I knew different priests, so it wasn’t something foreign. My family was especially close with Father Maurice Joly. But for me it wasn’t a concrete idea until university. Now I say that, but I do also remember, in my teenage stupidity, when I told my girlfriend at the time that if we ever broke up, I was probably going to become a priest. So even in high school, the call to priesthood was probably closer than I wanted to admit.

What happened early in university that made the call to priesthood more real and more pressing?

In a lot of ways it was kind of a culmination of many years of just growing personally in faith. But there was a kind of  “moment of call.”  It’s always hard to describe what that means.

Basically, from my recollection, I was praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, which at that point in my life was not commonplace.  I don’t even remember what I was praying about. I know that I definitely was not praying about vocation because I knew what my vocation was and it wasn’t the priesthood.

But then it was just this overwhelming kind of question that came into my heart: “What about being a priest?” It was kind of like God giving me a feeling of homesickness for vocation to the priesthood, which was very disconcerting and terrifying.

Was that the first time that you felt fear about the call to priesthood? 

Yes, I had probably felt fear about it before. I was 19 at the time that I first heard that call.  And when you’re in your late teens and early 20s, you might think you want commitment, but you don’t really want commitment. So anything that smacks of commitment is terrifying and so the commitment of the priesthood was terrifying to me.

Commitment and priesthood are kind of tied together, so it’s hard to tease out which one is which, but I’m a product of my millennial generation so commitment is hard!

A future Fr. Kris in Grade 8, circa (1998-1999).

How did altar serving as a kid impact your vocation to the priesthood?

I mean, even if you just look at marriage from a secular standpoint, those who come from stable homes and stable marriages are much more likely to enter a stable marriage, right? So your environment and the way that you become open to grace through that environment is very important to be able to discern a vocation.

Being able to serve the liturgy, being able to experience the priest more than just the guy behind the altar who says a bunch of prayers that I don’t understand, would help foster an understanding of the sacraments of the priestly life. 

A lot of people have brought up wanting to experience the humanity of a priest, to know he is a person just like them. As a priest, it is painfully obvious to me every day that I am very, very human. But some forget that. 

For some people, they’ve only ever seen me in a chasuble. So the experience of interacting on a personal level, all of those pieces create a familiarity with sacred things that they otherwise wouldn’t have. You can only discern something for the truth that it is and not just an idea of what it is. Altar serving can give us a more clear idea of truly what the priesthood is and who the priest is.

Did you ever date, before entering the seminary? 

I dated someone from basically Grade 12 into my first two years of university. So it was a three- year relationship. It was during that relationship that God decided to stick his nose in my business. So that was fun!

When I felt that call, the response of fear manifested itself as me thinking: “God, I’m happy right? Now, why would you want to make me unhappy? If you want me to do this, you do something about it, because I’m not interested.”

A future Fr. Kris at high school graduation, 2004.

Over the course of the next six to eight months, basically, all of my life plans fell apart at once. The relationship broke down for multiple reasons. My faith continued to grow. She was Catholic by name but in three years of dating, I think she came to Mass with me twice, even after multiple invitations. As a consequence of that, her outlook on relationships and what she was looking for in her life was different. 

We also started dating at 17 and now that I was 19 or 20, you start to figure out who you are and what you’re looking for. That was making a bigger and bigger gap between us. Then my grades and university were falling apart. So what I wanted to go into was becoming less realistic. I had a terrible experience in youth ministry during that year, and my old view of the Church fell apart. So that was also a lot of fun.

What happened in those two years from the first moment of calling, to the time that you entered seminary?

It was a roller coaster. I was at university and I said to God:  “Alright, fine. If this is what you want me to do God, then I’ll just give everything up and go do it right now .” But I was three years into an undergraduate degree and my spiritual director at the time told me to just chill.

So then I was immediately like “There’s no way I’m doing this, this is stupid. I’m done with this.”

That was my experience, and most guys’ experience of discernment. Discernment starts like a roller coaster and then it slowly levels out over time. So the first years of discernment can be pretty extreme.

For me, there was fear. For most guys before going to seminary, the feeling of going to seminary is final, right? Like if I decide to go to seminary, it’s all over. Going to the seminary feels the same as committing to become a priest.

Ordination to the priesthood with Archbishop Richard Smith, St. Joseph’s Basilica, June 2015.

But seminary is actually when you start discernment. Discerning to go to seminary is not discerning priesthood, you discern priesthood in the seminary. So there’s nothing final about going there. But before you go, that’s what it feels like. It feels like this monumental decision that you have to make in your life. 

Many guys feel this pressure to make the decision about seminary, which is usually unrealistic in terms of a timeframe. And then, there’s just this mess of being a young adult, and thinking that everything in life happens way faster than it actually does. So all of these factors mean that young men have a need for adults in their life to just settle things down.

How did you handle fear in those first years of discerning seminary and thinking of the priesthood?

Not very rationally. It was either fight or flight. I was kind of like: “OK, I’ll do this, I’ll give everything up. And I will run to the corners of the earth to spread the Gospel, if that’s what I’m called to do.” Or I was like “I’m out of here.”

Quite literally for the first two or three years of seminary, I would leave seminary in April every year to go to my summer job and by the end of May I would have decided that I’ve done my time, I gave seminary a chance and now I’m going to move on. But then by the end of July, I’m thinking: “I’m just a big chicken. You have no good reason not to go back. Go back!”

A big part of that roller coaster of fear was that I didn’t have stability, in my life of prayer and in my relationship with Jesus to calm that. So it was driven far too much by the emotion of the moment, rather than something much more stable.

A moment of joy during ordination to the priesthood, with fellow priest, Fr. Jim Corrigan, June 2015.

Being in seminary formation and that life of prayer and being in a solid Christian community every day, slowly fostered that steadiness. Regular spiritual direction and regular confession were important.

I started to sense greater stability late in my third year of seminary or into my internship, which would have been my fourth year of seminary. So it took time to settle down.

Did your experience of discernment stabilize as seminary went on? 

Yes, it definitely stabilized. I wouldn’t have made the commitment towards the permanent diaconate if it didn’t have some form of stability.

I guess the first stabilizing experience was in my third year of formation over the summer. Just before my internship year at St. Theresa’s parish, I went and spent three months in the Diocese of Whitehorse. The experience of ministry up there was very stabilizing in terms of experiencing the personality of the priest.

Sometimes in the city parishes, with the sheer magnitude of them, the priest’s role can sometimes feel mechanical. You’re just getting a bunch of jobs done. Working in a smaller community church with a priest who spent lots of time one on one with people, it was pretty stabilizing.

After that, I realized that I had stared these two vocations – marriage and priesthood – down in the face and I was like 78.6% sure that God was calling me to priesthood. So that was probably as close as I was going to get to total certainty.

With altar servers for a school Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic School.

You described how when you were 19 you had a clear “moment of calling.” Did you find that clear moment of calling to be a comfort or would you have preferred more ambiguity?

It was kind of both, because that initial calling was a definite concrete experience of grace. But my calling was offered as a question. It was offered as “What about becoming a priest?” It wasn’t presented as: “You are called to be a priest.”

It was an invitation to consider something. So the answer wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t like from that point forward I would just always go back to the idea that I knew I was called to be a priest. It was simply that I knew God was in my life. I knew God desires something from me out of the experience of His love. What is that going to look like?

A moment from ordination, St. Joseph’s Basilica, June 2015.

Before you were ordained, did your calling to priesthood ever feel like a command from God, as opposed to a free choice?


During my internship year (4th year of seminary) my spiritual director at the time told me “young man, it appears you are called to become a priest, the priests at the seminary think you should become a priest, and I think you should become a priest. So far, the bishop thinks you should become a priest and the people at St. Teresa’s Parish where you are working also think you should become a priest. But what’s missing?”

What was missing was my choice. 

Fr. Kris with kids from our Lady of Mount Pleasant Catholic School.

Did you ever think of marriage, while you were in the seminary?

Yes, sure. I mean, I don’t think you can properly discern priesthood without seriously discerning marriage at the same time, because you’re discerning between two goods.

For me, it’s being willing to look at both of them at the same time. So it was constant through my discernment of priesthood that marriage was also an idea.

Most seminarians run into a woman in their discernment who feels very much like someone they would want to marry. I honestly think that is good and healthy. For discernment, you have to be able to stare down the prospect of marriage and go: “That’s beautiful. Yet for some reason, God wants the  priesthood for me, rather than marriage.”

Fr. Kris giving his keynote talk at the Archdiocese of Edmonton Vocations Rally, February 2024.

Were you ever sad or concerned about celibacy or not having your own biological children?

I mean, whenever you make a commitment to something, you’re saying yes to one thing, but you’re saying no to a bunch of things. So there’s a natural requirement to grieve whatever you’re saying no to.

Now, the difference in priesthood is, you’re saying no to things that most people say yes to. So it’s, in some ways, a little bit more lonely. There’s not a lot of people that can experientially understand that loss of biological fatherhood, freely chosen. So that part is a little bit different.

But in a lot of ways, you go through that differently at different points in your life, right? The loss of marriage prior to ordination is different from the sense of loss of marriage at where I am in life right now.

I had one priest tell me that it was a lot closer to middle age where he felt the sense of loss of children when he saw friends with teenage children and a family life. So I don’t know what that will look like later on in my life.

Father Kris with his family, October 2022.

What did your family think when you entered seminary? 

Mom and Dad were not surprised. I can’t remember at what point they shared their concerns. It wasn’t right away. It was more for my dad, because he had always seen me as a father of children, so he was kind of grieving that loss for himself. For my mom, there was a priest that the family knew who went through depression as a priest and she didn’t want me to experience that.

I’m the oldest of four. And the initial reaction was mostly, well I’m the nerdy older brother. So they thought it was pretty standard that I would decide to do random and weird things.

How did you choose between diocesan priesthood or a religious order?

Actually, compared to all of the other inner turmoil of discerning a vocation to the priesthood, this question was rather easy. I mean, I briefly considered religious priesthood for two or three months and it was overwhelming to think about for that short period. But I grew up mostly in St. Albert, so priesthood was always connected to serving locally for me. 

For that brief period of a few months where I considered religious priesthood, it was a bit dramatic. I was considering the Franciscans and I picked up every book that I could about St. Francis. I wrote two of my papers on Franciscan spirituality. I got into it. 

A part of the “Flying Fathers” hockey team.

But then I think I went to an ordination. At that ordination I had a sense in prayer where God said: “Look, I called you to priesthood out of the experience of seeing the teens in your home parish. And I called you to serve the faith of the people in this particular place.” So that was it.  The charism of the diocesan priest is to serve the faith of the people from where he comes from. That one was very clear to me.

In your early years as a priest, what was one of your greatest joys?

At the very beginning it was celebrating the sacrament, this huge new privilege. That was the first and most stark joy at the beginning.

Another joy of the priesthood is the privilege of being invited into people’s lives instantaneously. Like yesterday I was going to anoint a lady at the hospital. I’ve seen her at our care home Masses. I’ve never actually spoken to her. And now I’m sitting on a hospital bed. And I’m laying hands on her invoking the Holy Spirit and anointing her with oil, asking God to be with her and her suffering.

Yesterday, I was going to visit a Grade 5 class and then we went outside and played three ball, which is basically just a variation of dodgeball. Within like, five minutes, they want to whip the ball at the priest because now he’s not just the weird guy behind the altar. He’s somebody that you can enjoy being with.

A privilege of being a priest is that barriers break down very quickly. That’s a huge joy to be able to be present to people like that.

With a friend during World Youth Day Lisbon, summer 2023.

After ordination, what was a challenge?

The emotional roller coaster of a priesthood. One of my priest friends said sometimes a priest can experience in a day when it can take some people a lifetime to experience.  I remember one Saturday at St. Joseph’s Basilica where I quite literally had a baptism, a funeral and a wedding in one day. So you’re going from the joy of new life, to life ending, to a marriage and that kind of life beginning.

Unless you’re a robot, you are experiencing the emotions of the people in the place and praying through those emotions. How to ride that roller coaster and then to how to process through those emotions is something to learn.

I get the sense that that emotional side of being a priest is something that my generation of priests experiences more strongly. Older generations never talked to us about that.

Another example: In my second or third year of priesthood, my parent’s neighbour’s daughter, who was just 18, died unexpectedly. I knew her, despite some age gap between us. They asked me to do the funeral. I came home from the prayer vigil on the Friday night and ran into my director at the Cathedral – another priest – and I was just like: “How do you do this for 50 years?” And he just said, “you find a way!”

Another moment from a hockey game with the “Flying Fathers.”

What advice would you give to a young man who is drawn to priesthood, but he is fearful?

Friendship with Jesus will always bring you joy and peace. Stop focusing on everything you’re going to have to give up and start being open to what you’re being offered.

Like Peter walking on the water, when I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, it doesn’t mean that there are no challenges. But there’s joy and peace amid everything. It’s when I start to focus on everything that I want to do or need to accomplish or everything that I feel like I’m failing in that things get much rockier.

Jesus calls: “Come follow me.” He doesn’t say: “Stop being a fisherman.” Yes, the disciples had to give up their life as fishermen, they had to give up their life at home. But it’s about the invitation to follow Christ. It’s not about what you have to give up.

You have to give up much to be able to follow Christ. But you’re doing it because you want to follow Christ. It shouldn’t be a stoic approach of just giving everything up, which is pretty common for young men to try to face life as a stoic who has to give everything up for the greater good. But that’s not Christian. Jesus gives us everything back.

Father Kris during the filming of his episode of Be Not Afraid.

Sometimes discerning a vocation can seem like a sacrifice that receives nothing in return, as if you’re saying no to everything you want, for the sake of “the call.”

Yes – and that’s not it. Vocation is saying yes!  

Saying “yes” is required to experience authentic love. If you don’t say yes and commit to something, you remain in this place of ambiguity – a place where you’re maybe never really hurt. But you never really find real joy either.

For young people to avoid the trap of modernity, you need to know that you don’t have to – and you can’t – discern your vocation in isolation. You are not going to come to know your vocation, silently in your own thoughts and prayer. We discern in relationship with others.

At the Archdiocese of Edmonton Vocations Rally, February 2024.

Through modernity we have erroneously come to believe that “I will determine within my own mind what is right and good for me” and that the opinion of others has very little bearing, if any, on what I determine is good for me. It’s just so isolating. In my opinion, radical isolation of the mind is a cause of our mental health pandemic. We cannot be alone in our own minds, especially to discern our vocation.

So if you feel a call, then connect yourself with people who know that vocation, whether that’s marriage, or religious life or priesthood. It’s in relationship with others that you’re going to come to know God’s call for you.

 (This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity)

Jenny Connelly – Archdiocese of Edmonton

Be Not Afraid is a series of videos and companion articles that tell the stories of 12 religious sisters and priests who serve within the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

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