Friends at the fishing hole, brothers in Christ, Deacons Curtis Berube and JD Carmichael are preparing for their ordinations to the priesthood on the same day, after a long and winding road of discernment.
Both men share a love of the outdoors. They went fishing together a week before their ordination and just days before a retreat, and they’re grateful to be ordained together.
“It’s like having a brother around in a sense. If you need some time away or you need to talk to somebody, they’re there and with you on the same journey,” Carmichael said.
“We’re a community of brothers,” Berube said of his cohort at St. Joseph Seminary. “We’re all there for the same purpose: to grow closer to Christ, to grow in our faith and to discern whether we’re being called to the priesthood. It was huge for me just being a part of that community.”
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith will preside at the Mass of Ordination for both men on June 29 at 7 p.m. in St Joseph’s Basilica. Because of COVID-19 crowd restrictions, the ordination is open only to immediate family. However, the Mass will be livestreamed.
For both men, their ordination marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one.
“It was a long journey. I was in the seminary for eight years,” said Berube, 27, who entered a year after high school. “I’m excited and relieved to come to the end of that.”
Berube grew up in a family of 11 children on an acreage near Sherwood Park. He had considered a career in carpentry like his father, but attending World Youth Day in Spain changed all that. Inspired by the experience, he decided to give the seminary a try.
“Of course along with that there are a lot of struggles, a lot of things we have to grow in. For me one of them was just the studies and the academic aspect of it. There are so many years of studies, but then there are papers and exams. At times it can be a little overwhelming to go through that.”
Berube estimates he’s written “thousands of pages” of papers during his years in seminary.
Those academic years were a particular challenge for Deacon JD Carmichael. He faced financial challenges that led to the 2016 foreclosure on his house in Fort McMurray but friends, family and the formation team helped him come to a decision.
“What I chose was to stick in with seminary,” Carmichael said. “I felt that call. I felt it was genuine and worth pursuing to give myself in that way.”
So what was God trying to teach him? “The first word that jumps to mind is poverty. We’re not doing this to be secure and make money. Part of the priesthood is a little bit of uncertainty and insecurity.
“It just helped clarify what is important, and what lasts and what doesn’t last.”
Born in Edmonton, Carmichael grew up in Fort St. John, B.C. When he was in Grade 10, the family moved to Sherwood Park and he graduated from Archbishop Anthony Jordan high school.
Initially the priesthood wasn’t on his mind. Carmichael graduated from the University of Alberta with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. He then worked in the oil and gas industry in Louisiana, Calgary and Fort McMurray. It was there that he felt God’s call.
“I just kind of had a feeling that I wasn’t created to make oil and gas. I felt like I was created to do something more,” Carmichael said. “For me, when you hear the call and it’s something God’s asking, you do. God comes before anything else. Some people think it was leaving a lot, a career and a well-paying job and all that, but it’s really not that important compared to what God’s asking me to do.”
Carmichael, 34, considered the Oblates and the Franciscans before entering St. Joseph Seminary in 2014.
Asked about the most rewarding experiences of seminary life, both men name the guidance of the formation team and being with other men studying for the priesthood after hearing God’s call – however faint it might be.
“I believe God is still calling young men to the priesthood, but maybe with the amount of distractions in our world sometimes it’s hard for them to hear that,” Berube said.
“It’s hard to recognize that call and then maybe fear of commitment or fear of moving outside of what they’re used to maybe makes it difficult for some of these men to respond. At the same time, I see a lot of young guys in the seminary, just normal guys coming out of our society who felt the call and responded to it.”
Their ordination comes at an extraordinary time, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming large over all aspects of life and limiting the number of people who are able to attend the celebration.
“Even in the midst of this pandemic I still see the support of the community,” Berube said. “I guess that helps me realize why I’m being ordained. It’s to serve the people even though I can’t be present with them all the time, especially now with all the restrictions.
“I can see clearly my calling to serve these people anyway. I can still be there for the people and to serve them and to do all that I can to reach out to them during this time and as time goes on.”
On June 1 that public celebrations of the Mass resumed under conditions which include limiting the total number of people in church, hand sanitizing and mask wearing. For more than two months before that, there was no congregation present. For Deacon Carmichael, Easter was a stark reminder of the effects of COVID-19.
“I got a little choked up when we were celebrating the Easter vigil in Rocky Mountain House because it kind of really hit me there. I was looking out at the church and all the pews were empty,” Carmichael recalled. “In my mind’s eye I could imagine who normally sits there.”
“It’s a good reminder of how important the community is as a church and how beautiful it is when we do gather, when we do receive the Eucharist together.”
Deacon Berube sees lessons in the pandemic.
“It’s an opportunity to draw closer to God, to grow in our trust, to realize that it’s Him who works through us in our ministry and also to offer everything that we’re going through for our people as well. There’s suffering in it, but there’s also lots of opportunity for grace and blessing.”
After ordination, Berube is looking forward to his appointment as associate pastor at St. Thomas More Parish in Edmonton, assisting Rev. Mitch Fidyka, the pastor. Deacon Carmichael will be assisting Rev. Marc Cramer, the pastor at St. Charles Parish, and looking for ways to share lessons learned.
“I see definitely a need for teaching within our parishes,” Carmichael said. “So I hope even as a parish priest there might be opportunities to help share some of the knowledge that I’ve received.”
As a seminarian, Carmichael completed a pastoral placement at the Edmonton Remand Centre which is near St. Charles, and he’d like to continue working with inmates in some way.
“I feel a lot more calm and ready for this; where my nervousness lies is in terms of going to the parish, because that’s going to be all new to me,” Carmichael said.
Whatever their goals, both men say they’re ready even in a time of anxiety among their flock.
If Berube were a priest today, amid worry, stress and challenge, he’d tell his people to stay connected to family and he would give them words of comfort that he’s taken to heart himself.
“I would just encourage people to trust in God, to pray to Him, to know that He loves them and He understands their situation, whatever they’re going through. He’s ready to give them the graces that they need in whatever situation they’re in, whether it’s financial difficulties or loneliness or uncertainty about everything that’s happening.”