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Sometimes Vocations Do Fall From the Sky

11-07-2016

by John Howarth, St. Charles Seminary

At least that’s the case for Kyle Mummert. A 1st Lieutenant in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, Mummert has parachuted from the skies more than a dozen times in his career. This past August, though, the Meadville, Penn., native took a leap of a different kind as he left the world he knew behind him and entered Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary to pursue a vocation to the priesthood.

The oldest of two children, Kyle was born to parents who had different faith backgrounds. His father was a non-practicing Lutheran, and his mother was an ex-Catholic who had drifted away from the Church. Growing up, his mother would bring him and his sister to the Unitarian Universalist Church in town every Sunday. By age 12, Mummert knew there had to be something more out there.

“I didn’t like going to that Church,” explained Mummert. “It was too free-spirited, and I didn’t have any friends that went there, so I began questioning it.”

After sharing his feelings with his mother, they began to visit different churches in the area before settling on one of the three Catholic churches in their town. Kyle was baptized, received his First Communion, and became very involved in the life of the parish serving as an altar boy and usher. It didn’t take long for the parishioners to recognize that he may have a vocation.

“The little old church ladies would come up and tell me that I would make a good priest,” said Mummert. “It was nice, but it wasn’t something I was looking to hear.”

In high school, Mummert lived a typical life getting involved in sports and hunting. Like many others, high school was also a time in which he questioned his faith. While on a Confirmation retreat, Kyle read a letter that his mother wrote him. In it, she shared an experience she had that led her to believe Kyle would become a priest.

“My mom picked me up from the retreat, and we never spoke about that letter,” shared Mummert. “I was completely turned off from the faith after that. I didn’t want to be a priest.”

With his high school years quickly coming to an end, Mummert began to plan his future. He was set on enlisting in the military. His father, a veteran himself, encouraged Kyle to attend college first and join the ROTC program. So he did.

Mummert enrolled at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and majored in Criminal Justice. “I figured if this whole thing didn’t work out, I would just go home and be a cop,” he admitted.

College was an unsettled time for Mummert as he tried to fit in.

“I just had this sense that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” he shared. “I wanted to be like everybody else and do what they were doing, but I just couldn’t. It didn’t work.”

While in college and away from the faith, thoughts of the priesthood crept back into his mind.

“I was never able to shake off the priesthood. I would even find myself sitting in the bar and thinking about it. I would look around the room and think to myself that there’s no one else in this bar who is thinking about being a priest right now,” recounted Mummert.

“At some point you have to realize that you’re not the one who is putting that thought there.”

But Mummert was already well into his preparations for a career in the military. He spent part of a summer at Airborne school and had “earned his wings.” He was sticking to his plan.

Upon graduation from the university, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He signed a 10-year contract with the United States Army.

“When you think of the Army, you think of the Infantry. They are the boots on the ground getting stuff done. That’s where I wanted to be,” shared Mummert.

The weekend after he graduated from college, Mummert met a girl and began a relationship with her. Despite the distance while he traveled to places like Fort Knox and Fort Benning, the two stayed together. Every now and then that thought of the priesthood would return, but Mummert pushed it aside. He was sticking to his plan.

In September of 2013, Mummert reported for duty at Fort Bragg and learned that he would be deploying to Afghanistan as a Platoon Leader that December.

“My parents came with me to our company area prior to boarding the bus to the airfield. We didn’t say much. I mean: what do you say? You all know it could be the last time you see each other. So we just hugged and kissed and said goodbye,” recounted Mummert with a tone that let you know he was reliving the moment as he shared it.

“All of the guys were quiet as we rode the bus, but once we got on the airplane we all switched it on,” added Mummert. “We knew it was time to go.”

Spending Christmas away from home was tough, but for Mummert the scariest part of deployment was the uncertainty.

“We call them Green-on-Blue attacks,” explained Mummert. “For us, it referred to situations in which a member of the Afghan Police Force that we were working alongside could potentially turn on us and act against us. The fear of that was always daunting.”

Halfway through his deployment, Mummert’s girlfriend ended their relationship. “In some ways, that was harder than any physical thing I had to do. Dealing with your own inner emotions while you are responsible for the lives of other people is a difficult thing to deal with. You have to put yourself aside.”

“You really find out who you are when you’re put in charge of people and have to make decisions for the greater good.”

His breakup with his girlfriend, coupled with the fact that he had plenty of time in the middle of a desert to think, eventually led Mummert back to Church.

“The base had daily Mass, so I began to go and really started being open to whatever God’s plan for me was,” shared Mummert. “I really did begin to think that God wanted me to be a priest, but I wasn’t ready to give up on all the work I’ve done just for some thought I had.

“So I asked God to show me what it was He wanted from me.”

After years away from the faith, Mummert decided to return to Confession. One day on base, he went to a Chaplain he didn’t know. After hearing his confession, the Chaplain asked Mummert if he ever thought of being a priest. Startled, the Lieutenant asked the Chaplain what made him say that.

“You’re young and living your faith. That’s rare these days,” the Chaplain told him.

The two met the next morning and discussed the faith. The Chaplain advised him that if he’s had this thought for the last 10 years, there is probably legitimacy to it. Still, Mummert wanted to be sure. He waited until he returned home from deployment before making any decisions.

Upon returning to Fort Bragg after his deployment, Mummert attended Mass at St. Patrick’s in Fayetteville, where he met Msgr. Steve Carlson. Mummert opened up to him about his thoughts of the priesthood, and Msgr. Carlson shared his own story.

Prior to being ordained a priest, Carlson served in the military as an Army Green Beret. After his Ordination, he was assigned as a chaplain with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan – the very division that Mummert now served in. While there, Carlson felt that the soldiers really needed a chapel on base. So he had one built.

Carlson coordinated with the Base Commander and a Reserve Engineer Unit responsible for construction of new buildings. Both the Base Commander and the LTC of the Engineer Unit were Catholic. It was through their help that Carlson managed to develop the blueprint, get the plan approved, and begin the construction.

“Here I am back in the states at a random parish in North Carolina, and I meet the priest who years prior built the very chapel where I returned to the sacraments,” said Mummert seemingly still surprised at the chain of events.

He asked God to make known the plan He had for his life, and God did.

Mummert began the application process for the seminary, which meant that he first needed the Army to release him from active duty. By the end of the summer in 2015, Mummert had everything in order with the Diocese of Raleigh, the Archdiocese for the Military, and the seminary. Unfortunately for him, the Army was delayed ,and the academic year of the seminary began without him. Undeterred, Mummert spent the last year at St. Mark’s Parish in Wilmington, NC, gaining pastoral experience before finally arriving at Saint Charles Borromeo this past August to begin his time in seminary formation.

“The Eucharist is my main draw always, but I do believe I have a vocation within a vocation,” explained Mummert. “Knowing the shortage of Catholic priests for our deployed men and women – our people most in need – I feel a real desire to fill that void for them and bring them God’s sacraments.”

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I have come to know what is true. I will be obediently faithful to God and His Church, and I will not compromise what I know to be true.”

The kid who always needed a plan in his life has finally surrendered to the plan that God has for him.