4 to be ordained priests in cathedral ceremonies May 25

Photo Caption: From left are Deacons Jeremy Freehill, Tom Otto, Scott Potthoff, and Jacob Rose. In advance of their ordination May 25, they shared what and who influenced their paths to the priesthood.

By: By Jennifer Willems, The Catholic Post

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, will ordain four men to the priesthood on Saturday, May 25, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. The Mass will begin at 10:30 a.m.

The transitional deacons who will be ordained for priestly service in the Diocese of Peoria, with their home parishes, are:

— Deacon Jeremy Freehill, St. Joseph’s Parish, Pekin;
— Deacon Thomas Otto, St. Edward’s Parish, Chillicothe;
— Deacon Scott Potthoff, St. Anthony’s Parish, Spring Valley;
— Deacon Jacob Rose, Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Peterstown.

The lectors for the Mass of Ordination will be Jayson Becker and Sam Mangieri, who are completing their first year of theology studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

A reception for the new priests will follow at the Spalding Pastoral Center, 419 N.E. Madison Ave.

Following are brief biographies of those who will be ordained, including information about their vesting priests and first Masses.

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DEACON JEREMY FREEHILL

There is no Catholic church or Catholic school in Deacon Jeremy Freehill’s hometown of Tremont and he wasn’t really close to any priests growing up. That didn’t stop God from calling him to the priesthood and putting people in his path who could help him answer that call.

Among them were some good friends he made while studying at Illinois Central College in East Peoria. Their Catholic faith was attractive and when he had an opportunity to attend a Teens Encounter Christ weekend, he did.

“At that retreat I basically learned all the things I didn’t know as a Catholic,” he told The Catholic Post. “There I learned about vocations and the universal call to holiness. I left with a desire to live my faith more strongly, to go to confession more regularly, to pray.”

Deacon Freehill got involved in prayer support for TEC and that led him to the rosary. He taught himself how to say it using the Internet but was soon taking long walks and talking to the Blessed Mother like a close friend.

“It was on those rosary walks through Tremont that the thought of priesthood came up,” he said, admitting that he didn’t know what to do since he didn’t really know what that life looked like. “I asked the Lord to give me a sign.”

He did.

A distant relative Deacon Freehill had seen at a family reunion also happened to be at a Mass for veterans at his parish, St. Joseph’s in Pekin. When he went up to ask her how they were related she said to him, “Have you ever thought of being a priest?”

“I took her as a godsend, Providence,” he said of the woman, who turned out to be his father’s first cousin. “She was the first person I ever told, ‘Yes, I want to be a priest.’ She gave me direction about what to do.”

Deacon Freehill entered Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn., in 2005, but left after one semester for further discernment. Until he returned in 2007 he worked at an agency that served people with developmental disabilities and continued his studies at Illinois State University.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Immaculate Heart of Mary in 2009 and went on to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., to study theology.

The son of Rick and Bev Freehill of Tremont, Deacon Freehill had discovered a love for people, especially the elderly, while working at his father’s grocery store. He had been planning a career in nursing and that desire to visit and care for people came up again during a summer break from Mount St. Mary’s in 2010.

“I had a unique assignment at Sacred Heart in Abingdon — I was a Boy Scout chaplain. But there was a man in hospice care and I would visit him every day, bring him Communion and pray with him,” Deacon Freehill recalled. “That was a real affirmation that that’s what I want to do. . . . This is how I’m created to love. It’s not just what I want to do but me being what I’m made to be.”

As he approaches ordination to the priesthood, he is looking forward to “bringing Christ to others and leading people to him . . . and be an instrument to help them respond to that love.”

Assisting Deacon Freehill as his vesting priest during ordination will be Msgr. Gerald Ward, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church of Merna in Bloomington, who baptized him at Holy Trinity Church there.

His first Mass will be on Sunday, May 26, at 2 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Church in Pekin. The homilist will be Father Antonio Dittmer, a friend from his days at ISU who is now pastor of the Catholic parishes of LaSalle.

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DEACON TOM OTTO

Deacon Tom Otto couldn’t be happier about coming home to the Diocese of Peoria.

“I really do love central Illinois,” said the Chillicothe native, a lifelong member of St. Edward’s Parish there. “I was raised there. I love the people. I’m excited to be back.”

While he’s looking forward to seeing family and old friends, he hopes to deflect the attention away from himself.

“We’re not celebrating four individuals but the incredible love of God the Father, who gives us priests and gives us priesthood and wants to continue to bring us his love and forgiveness in a direct way,” Deacon Otto told The Post.

“This is an opportunity to stop and stand in awe of our Father and his Son, Jesus Christ,” he said. “We should be blown away by his love for us.”

Deacon Otto will have a chance to return that love at his first Mass on Sunday, May 26, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Edward’s Church. The homilist will be another native son, Msgr. Mark Merdian, who is now the president of Peoria Notre Dame High School.

A reception hosted by the parish will follow.

Father Fredi Gomez Torres, pastor of Holy Cross in Mendota and Sts. Peter and Paul in Peterstown, will be his vesting priest at ordination. Deacon Otto said the priest has been a good mentor in ministry and Spanish during summer breaks from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and has become a good friend.

The son of Donald and Charlene Otto, Deacon Otto said the turning point in his faith journey came in the fifth grade when his family hosted two members of the National Evangelization Team.

“It was the first time I had ever met young adults who were excited about their faith and lived their faith,” he said. “They were joyful. Alive. On fire. I thought to myself, ‘I want that.'”

Sitting before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament during a NET Discipleship Week one summer, Deacon Otto encountered the Lord in a powerful way. “I experienced for the first time living in the joy of the Lord. There was a peace and joy there that I hadn’t found anywhere else.”

The Eucharist continued to be a draw for him and he would often drive past church on his way home from track or cross country practice. Eventually he started to go in for a few minutes of quiet prayer.

Early in his junior year at Illinois Valley High School in Chillicothe he started to think about the priesthood. After Communion one Sunday, he got the sense that God was asking him, “Do you love me?”

“I thought, ‘Of course I love you,'” Deacon Otto said, noting that he heard the same words Peter heard from Jesus in John 21:17: “Feed my sheep.”
He had told everyone that he was going to be an architect, but agreed to give God two years and went to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary for two years when he graduated from high school in 2005.

“It was a grace-filled experience,” he explained. “The Lord showed me things about myself that I had never seen or known and a lot of things about himself that I had never seen or known.”

After graduating from the Minnesota seminary with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and minor in Spanish in 2009, Deacon Otto went on to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. There he found great joy in learning about the new evangelization and how that would look in a parish. He is looking forward to share this interest — and life — with the people he will serve in the Diocese of Peoria.

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DEACON SCOTT POTTHOFF

It was somewhere between the fifth grade and sixth grade that Deacon Scott Potthoff told Father Harold Datzman, OSB, his pastor at St. Benedict’s in Ladd, that he thought he might be called to the priesthood.

“It just kept coming to me. I knew I should tell a priest about it,” Deacon Potthoff said. “I wanted to tell somebody just to get it out there.”

He had been happy to run away from God’s call until then, because the life of a priest seemed difficult and he wasn’t sure he’d be as happy as being a fighter pilot.

Father Harold suggested he go to Emmaus Days. He would take the Benedictine priest’s advice, going to the Diocese of Peoria’s summer vocations camp each year between seventh grade and high school.

Still not sure he had a vocation, Deacon Potthoff attended a Teens Encounter Christ weekend during his sophomore year of high school and was transformed by the conversion stories he heard.

“I came into TEC thinking I’m living a pretty decent Catholic life. I’m going to Mass and doing well in the moral life,” he said, and left thinking, “Wow. I could have this whole thing wrong. I know a lot about Jesus and the church but I don’t think I know him.”

In an effort to be a better disciple he changed how he interacted with people and became more honest in his relationships. Doing that brought him great peace.

While praying the rosary during Lent at St. Bede Academy in Peru his senior year, he realized that he didn’t really know what God wanted of him — be it priesthood or anything else.

“Everyone was making plans and I had no idea what I was going to do,” Deacon Potthoff said. “After I let go, there was peace. I asked the Lord, ‘What do you want me to be?’ I wanted to hear the Lord’s voice and not just my own.”

One final trip to Emmaus Days convinced him to go to the seminary for a year.

“He didn’t ask for my whole life like I was expecting. He just wanted a year. I thought, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that,'” he said.

Going to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn., after graduation in 2005 confirmed what God was asking of him.

“God doesn’t call those who are worthy; he makes worthy those he calls. That’s what I felt,” Deacon Potthoff said. “If he was doing all this work in me in the seminary, all I could say was yes.”

He went on to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in 2009 and has found the daily routine of prayer to be wonderful.

“In that prayer time the peace that was in my life has flourished into joy,” Deacon Potthoff said. “As I got to know the Lord more, he showed me myself more . . . embracing me in my weakness and giving me greater freedom to embrace my call. It’s been such a gift.”

Assisting Deacon Potthoff as his vesting priest at ordination will be Father Robert Spilman, pastor of his home parish, St. Anthony’s in Streator.

He will celebrate his first Mass there on Sunday, May 26, at 2 p.m. The homilist will be Msgr. Brian Brownsey, director of the Office of Priestly Vocations for the Diocese of Peoria. A reception will follow Mass.

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DEACON JACOB ROSE

Msgr. James Kruse didn’t really give Deacon Jacob Rose an option when he suggested his young parishioner at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Peterstown attend Emmaus Days.

“He must have seen something in me that said I should go,” Deacon Rose told The Post. “He posed the question in a way that I couldn’t say no.”
He knew God must have a plan for him when he walked away from a car accident with a broken collarbone and a cut on his head at age 16.

“That was one of the wake-up calls our Lord gave me,” Deacon Rose said. “He gave me other signs, but I was too stubborn to notice. That was the turning point. I asked God, ‘If I’m alive what do you want me to do?'”

His parents, Gary and Rosemary Rose, were longtime lay directors of TEC in Peterstown and Deacon Rose always interacted with the priests on the weekends. Their great joy in sharing their life and love of the Lord with the teens showed him that they were ordinary guys and made the priesthood appealing to him.

Even so, he wondered if it was right for him. It was Bishop Jenky who gave him words of wisdom that helped him make a decision.

“He said it was like a swimming pool — you can’t know until you get in,” Deacon Rose recalled. “The beauty is you’re able to get out of the water if you’re not supposed to be there.”

After graduating from St. Bede Academy in Peru in 2005, he decided to make a leap of faith and went to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary to study philosophy.

“Over time I was able to realize that I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. Something must be right,” he said.

He completed his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and said he can’t wait to come home to central Illinois.

“Every time I drive home from seminary by about the time I get to the middle of Indiana there is a great excitement and I can feel it,” Deacon Rose said. “There is this feeling that home can be nowhere else. This is where I want to spend the rest of my life.”

He said he has a great desire to spend time with the people of God, the people of the parish he will serve, and help them meet Jesus in the sacraments.

Deacon Rose’s first Mass will be on Sunday, May 26, at 3 p.m. at Holy Cross Church in Mendota — the sister parish of Sts. Peter and Paul in Peterstown. The homilist will be Msgr. Kruse.

His vesting priest during the Mass of Ordination will be Father Stephen Willard, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Champaign, where he served last summer.

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