Taking on such a large congregation in his first role as a Catholic priest and in the middle of a multi-million dollar construction project was humbling and a challenge, but one the 35-year-old priest said continues to firm his relationship “with the Father, his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“The people of St. Patrick’s St. Anthony Parrish have just been remarkable in welcoming me with open arms,” Schwartz said. “I’m very excited about serving here.”
He noted his journey has been incredible and he’s excited o have his congregation back in the renovated sanctuary for Easter services.
Schwartz said that as a young, new pastor, he is learning from the people around him what the parish is about and how it works.
No big changes are planned, he said. Existing programs will continue.
“I’m kind of excited to see the parish operating normally when construction isn’t going on,” he said.
The $6 million project included improvements to the sanctuary and the construction of a new family center.
Parish Administrator John Strazenac said plans are to be in the new building by sometime in November. The old office building will be demolished and a new parking area constructed in that space.
Schwartz was named pastor of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish on July 1, 2016, with an appointment from the Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak, bishop of Grand Rapids.
The bishop performed his official installation on Aug. 21, 2016.
Prior to that, Schwartz served as an associate pastor for the St. Mary-St. Paul Parish in Big Rapids. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 1, 2013, by Bishop Emeritus Walter A. Hurley.
The third of Michael and Felipa Schwartz’s six children said becoming a priest was always an option to a child growing up in a Catholic family, but he always thought that he would marry and have children.
Schwartz said that he was in his early 20s when he started to re-examine the direction his life was taking.
A graduate of Grand Rapids City High, Schwartz took a couple years off school before getting an associates degree from Grand Rapids Community College.
He studied math and physics with the idea that he might go into engineering or teaching, he said.
But during his last year of high school and into his first year of college, he fell away from his beliefs.
“I was more in a rejection/rebellion mode,” he said.
Then a friend of his began to challenge him. “You say you believe there is a God, but you don’t live you life like you believe,” he said his friend told him.
Schwartz said he had to wrestle with that statement, eventually coming up with the affirmation that he did believe in God and that he would serve him.
The next question was how.
At that point he was challenged with walking away from things that did not glorify God and walking towards things “that praise him.”
Schwartz said it took him a while to mature and accept the idea of what serving God would look like to him.
He eventually decided to attend seminary.
“I went there to discern, pray and find out,” he said.
After a year, Schwartz said that he said he was at peace, so he continued on for two more years and graduated from St. John Vianney Seminary with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and Catholic Studies.
In 2011, he completed an internship at St. Michael Parish in Muskegon and Sacred Heart Parish in Muskegon Heights.
During the summer of 2012, he served as a chaplain intern at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA. He also assisted at St. Michael Parish in Wheaton, Ill.
Schwartz completed his final year of seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, and earned his Master of Divinity and a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology in May 2013.
Schwartz said longtime St. Patrick-St. Anthony Priest Bill Langlois, who is retired, has been mentoring him and helping him in his new role.
As this role develops, Schwartz said, “something I am excited to see in people is the deepening of their relationship in the Lord, how that affects them and how it affects people around him.”