The path to the seminary is different for every man.
Legate Fr. Philip Schulze is ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Leonard Blair on May 21. (Karen O. Bray/The Catholic Transcript photo)
But when a man enters the priesthood late in life, that path often includes life experiences that give these pastors a unique, inside view of the flock they lead.
Philip Schulze was ordained on May 21 at the age of 61 for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn. The longtime member of Legatus’ New York City Chapter recently reinstated with the Hartford Chapter. His story proves, if anything, that the second act of one’s life can be radically different from the first.
Although Legatus is an organization designed exclusively for the laity, a member is not removed if he or she pursues a religious vocation. Father Schulze is one of two priest Legates. A third is about to join the seminary.
Schulze grew up in Manhattan to an Italian Catholic mother and German Lutheran father. His dad converted to his mother’s faith early on.
“Living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, materialism was in my face every day,” Fr. Schulze explained. “You can become very jaded quickly in New York if you’re not careful.”
Father Schulze’s parents were his first exposure to Catholicism.
“During her middle age years, my mother went to Mass most Sundays. My father followed. The faith was strong for them in the later years,” he explained.
After attending the Bronx High School of Science, he went to the University of Notre Dame.
“My Catholic faith grew well at Notre Dame,” he said. “My strong desire to go to there was because of its Catholic character.” During college, Schulze threw himself into his studies, focusing on the university’s five-year architecture program. He graduated in 1977 before going on to earn an MBA in investment analysis and real estate appraisal from the University of Wisconsin in 1984.
Schulze went on to have a highly successful career in real estate development — first with the multinational CIBC Wood Gundy, running their global corporate real estate division, and then for UBS as head of their corporate real estate division for private banking in the Western Hemisphere. Throughout his career, Schulze was single.
“The turning point came in 2006, when I realized that I had moved in this field as far as I wanted to go. I knew I needed a new plateau,” he said.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, UBS private banking fell apart. Schulze’s company ended up downsizing, and the staff in his division was given a generous severance package. “People were using this time to find other jobs, but I remember thinking that I didn’t want to remain in the field,” he said.
Hearing the call
The future priest then began to think outside the box. Since he had always been a devout Catholic, the idea crossed his mind to become a deacon. But when Schulze went to speak with his parish priest at the Church of the Holy Trinity, he was directed to Fr. Glenn Sudano of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
Fr. Philip Schulze
“Speaking with Fr. Glenn was very helpful,” Fr. Schulze explained. “He told me that I definitely had a calling to the priesthood and that my paper-pushing days were over.”
Only a handful of seminaries in the U.S. take older men. Eventually, Schulze narrowed his options down to two seminaries: one in Santa Fe, N.M., and one in Hartford, Conn. He had a hard time discerning between the seminaries, but the answer came to him through two people. The first was at the 50th birthday party of his ex-boss.
“During the party, I was telling my friends that I had to decide between seminary in Hartford or Santa Fe,” he said. “My friend’s son, Connor — a precocious 11-year-old — pulled up a chair and told me, ‘You are going to Hartford.’ When I asked him why, he simply said, ‘You are!’”
The next day a friend called Schulze and basically told him the same thing, reminding him that he would be able to serve the highly educated workforce in Connecticut and New York very well as a priest with a business background.
Life of service
The new priest said he expects that he will be involved in the Hartford archdiocese’s property redevelopment corporation. How that will play out remains to be seen.
“I will leave everything to the Holy Spirit to guide me,” he said.
Fr. Andrew Johnson
The vocation to the priesthood — with the added dimension of having a business background and a family life — also came to Fr. Andrew Johnson, 87, the parochial vicar at St. Thomas More Parish in San Francisco. The former attorney, accountant and investment advisor is a founding member of Legatus’ Las Vegas Chapter and served as chapter president for several years.
After the death of his wife, the father of six began to think about the priesthood.
“I was 68 years old and thought I was too old, but the call to the priesthood kept growing,” Fr. Johnson explained.
It was challenging to find a bishop to sponsor him, but then-San Francisco Archbishop William Levada welcomed him. Father Johnson was ordained at 73.
Though he believes that his experience as a family man helps him when counselling, Fr. Johnson doesn’t believe priests should be married.
“I was married and I know full well that if a child of mine got sick, I would drop everything for that child. You can’t do both: be married and be a priest,” he said.
New Orleans Legates Maureen and Leon
Poché pose with their granddaughter in 2013
Life experiences in business and family are also a driving force for Leon Poché, a member of Legatus’ New Orleans Chapter who will enter the seminary in August. He was married to his wife Maureen for 35 years before she succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2015. They have two children and one granddaughter. By trade, Poché was a trained CPA who worked in the banking industry.
Poché had always wanted to be a deacon. But since he and his wife had been involved in a ministry preparing couples for marriage, he never entered diaconate studies because the program requires students to give up all other ministries.
“Towards the end of her battle with cancer, Maureen said, ‘I guess God wants you to be a deacon,’” Poché explained. He believes his background in the banking industry and his marriage will be helpful to others.
“There is a plan here somewhere. When someone comes to me as a priest — especially with the death of a loved one — I can help. I’ve been there. I know it hurts,” he said.
All three Legates agree that late vocations to the priesthood will never be the norm, but these men certainly add a richness and powerful empathetic element to the ministerial priesthood.
SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is a Legatus magazine staff writer.