By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
It was a bittersweet moment for Deacon Russ Mower as he finished his final class after spending four years studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.
On the one hand, leaving friendships behind is always difficult to do; on the other, Mower was now in the final stages of becoming a priest. He and Deacon Paul Iverson will be ordained as priests for the Diocese of Dallas on May 30 at the Cathedral Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“It was a little unsettling, but knowing that I’m starting a new journey, I’m excited about that,” said Mower, a retired 33-year firefighting veteran. “God is going to provide for me. He will put the people in front of me that I need to see. So I just trust that this next journey is going to be as exciting as the last one.”
Having spent 18 years as a married man, Mower naturally never considered the possibility that becoming a Catholic priest was a viable option, even after his beloved wife, Diana, passed away in 2009.
Mower said he began inquiring about it only after encouragement from friends.
“I just kind of laughed it off,” said Mower, who is also a father of three daughters. “I didn’t think it was an option because of my age.”
Mower said as evidence that God might have a sense of humor, he entered St. John XXIII National Seminary on his 60th birthday. The seminary is specifically dedicated to men like Mower who might be experiencing a call to the priesthood late in life, often referred to as a second vocation.
One of Mower’s three daughters, Lisa Pflughoest-Goetz, said the prospect of her father becoming a priest was startling at first, but then awe-inspiring after she visited him during his time in seminary.
“I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see how happy he was there,” Pflughoest-Goetz said. “It was reaffirming that that’s where he was supposed to be. He’s going to be an amazing priest because he’s been through so much. He knows what it’s like to lose a spouse. He knows what it’s like to raise teenage daughters.”
One of Mower’s seminary classmates was Deacon Greg Bierbaum, a former chef and pharmaceutical sales representative, with whom Mower continues to share a close friendship.
Both men will also share an ordination date.
“Russ is a very easy person to get along with,” said Bierbaum, who will become a priest for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. “He always has a smile on his face. He’s just a very kind person and is going to make a fantastic priest.”
After ordination, Mower will assume his assignment as parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano, where Father Bruce Bradley, who welcomed Mower into the Catholic faith as a convert, currently resides as the pastor.
“I was surprised that they appointed him here and very pleased,” Father Bradley said. “It makes me feel good to know that the people whose lives I’ve touched are coming back to share their own life with the life of the church.”
Mower said the enormity of his next journey dawned on him one day in seminary as he was vesting for a Mass exam, basically a practice run to make sure students understand how to celebrate the liturgy.
“It sort of strikes you that I’m going to be doing this for real,” Mower said. “I’m going to be bringing the body and blood of Christ to the community. That God would use me as that instrument is humbling and almost hard to grasp.”