Father Dwight Schlaline
Hometown: East Berlin, PA
Education: East Berlin Elementary, Bermudian Springs Elementary and Middle School, Delone Catholic High School, Franciscan University in Steubenville, St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, North American College in Rome
Current assignment: Pastor of Our Lady of the Visitation Parish in Shippensburg and Campus Minister at Shippensburg University
Tell me about your experience in Catholic school.
I went to Delone Catholic High School, and I loved it there. I graduated there in 2000. The influence of the Catholic Church in school life made that environment much more peaceful. Most of my parishioners have public school kids, so I’m not trying to down public schools. But you go into school every day and there are crucifixes and uniforms, and there is religion class and a couple religious Sisters. I kind of felt bad for some of my classmates who had been in Catholic school their whole life, because they had never experienced public school and didn’t see the difference.
For me, it was very different walking into a Catholic school. There was a healthy discipline and Jesus was ever-present there. Frankly, the students were more kind overall. When I look back now, there were advantages to being in public school that, if all you’d ever been in was Catholic school. But there are disadvantages if you never really saw the difference.
Then I went to Franciscan University, which was like Catholic college on steroids. It was like an oasis in the desert. Your faith was constantly nurtured and there was positive peer pressure to go to Mass. I feel like I received most of my priestly formation at Franciscan before I went into the seminary. The dynamism of the Catholic faith there was so awesome.
When did you first give serious thought to the priesthood?
My parents took us to church every Sunday and I was an altar server at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Abbottstown. I thought about the priesthood as a little kid, but it was just an idea that I had. Really, it was when I was in seminary that I really discerned the call. It wasn’t until my third year in seminary that I knew for sure that I was called to be a priest.
After college, I looked at it from the standpoint, “Of the options of things in my life, what is the one thing I have to eliminate before I try other things?” I decided it was seminary, so I went, and I ultimately never turned back. I actually had a spiritual experience where I knew I was called to priesthood, and had no more doubts after that.
I happened after my second year in Rome. The first two years of study in Rome, you’re supposed to stay there. Father LaVoie, the Vocations Director at the time, said, “It’s like you just got engaged to someone you haven’t seen for two years.” I was seriously questioning things during those two years because I didn’t see myself as a Vatican bureaucrat or that type of mentality, although there was a lot I loved about being there.
One day, there was a busload of American pilgrims at our seminary, and we were providing hospitality for them. I just had this experience where I was looking at them and I had this peace that came over me that said, “This is my bride. My bride is the Church, especially the American Church that I was born into.” A great peace fell over me, and I had no more doubt. Before that, I had a lot of struggles with discernment and was ready to leave at one point, and considering the mission field because of a trip to Zambia I had taken as a seminarian. But I felt God was calling me to serve here. I see this ministry as more challenging than being a priest in Africa.
In places like Zambia, there is real cultural diversity. In Africa, you go from one town to the next, and there is a different culture, a different language, different ways of eating and dancing. There are all these different languages and customs, and each group has its own identity. In some ways, Europe and America and kind of the same with industrialization. In Africa, people live with the land and it’s a very stress-free environment with little societal expectations. In America, we kind of have a condescending attitude towards people in Africa, as if they have it worse off. In a sense, yes, but we are blinded by our wealth and our gadgets. We don’t have a simple lifestyle. In Zambia, I never felt stress. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems there, but everything was calm and relaxed. Flying back to Rome, I could start to feel my nerves tense up.
There are lot of advantages to the lifestyle in Zambia. I would love to go back and visit for a couple weeks or a year, but I don’t see that as an option. My call is here. It’s not always about what you want.
What did your time in Zambia teach you? Do you share those things with people in your ministry?
The things that we get so upset about here, like the college students will get so upset about classes and grades – and I did too – but at the end of the day, God’s not going to care if you graduated from college or not. That’s not part of our judgment. We have these worldly standards that society sets up, and if you go to another culture, none of those standards exist. Our standards here are more artificial than those in Zambia. The strong family ties, respectfulness, humility and looking out for each other are the standards that we can learn from that culture. The lies our culture is pedaling on our young people wouldn’t be thinkable in Zambia.
St. Luke’s Beatitudes say “Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of God is theirs.” A lot of people don’t talk about that Beatitude. He’s not saying, “Blessed are the poor because those who have more are going to give them more.” He’s saying, “It is a blessing to be poor.”
We have pornography and rampant divorce, nobody can make a commitment anymore, and I see those things in campus ministry, where it’s hard for young people to even make a commitment. There is so much work to be done here.
Do you have a favorite aspect of your ministry?
That’s something that changes from year to year. When I was at St. Patrick’s in Carlisle, I was assigned to prison ministry. I was scared about it at first, but it actually became the easiest form of ministry. There’s always expectations that are overturned.
I like preaching a lot. I struggled the first few years to get into a groove, but I’m becoming so comfortable with the Scriptures presented to us in the Lectionary that I enjoy meditating on them. It seems like God is consistent in giving me insights to work with. The Holy Spirit is pretty consistent. If I’m open to hearing what he wants to share, I’m usually getting something. If I’m not getting anything, it might be because I’m not really opening my heart up to it.
I’m praying and meditating over the readings the whole week, after starting on Sunday night. I’ll read it three or four times, look at context, look at footnotes. And then I’ll let it sit. I start thinking about what I want to say, differences experiences come up, and things start to solidify. The 5:00 Saturday Mass crowd usually gets the worst of my homilies because it’s the trial run. It’s not exactly same for all three Masses because I’m not using a text, but I type homilies after Mass so I remember what I said and perhaps reuse some or build on them.
You have a parish and campus ministry. Talk about those dynamics.
It’s a big college and a small parish. It’s challenging because running a parish and being a campus minister are two very different ways of being a priest. There are a lot of professors who are parishioners. The parish is very devoted to the university and its campus ministry because we’re so close to it. I also have a lay campus minister, Nichole Schneider, who connects with the students very well and she’s full-time. The advantage of having someone skilled like her is that I can just show up and focus on relationships with students so that their faith grows. I have to divide my time between the parish and the campus, and it works out because Nicole is there.
The students being a vitality to the whole experience here. This parish has people from every age group, and I like that.
Tell us a little known fact about yourself.
My dad named me after Dwight David Eisenhower. My middle name is David. It’s always kind of made me a little more fascinated with Ike. I tend to like to read history, especially American history. For me, reading encyclopedia things and learning facts about people, presidents, historical figures, civil rights activists, I enjoy. I like to bring some history into my homilies, if it works.
I love the people of the World War II generation. There’s something I would have liked about being able to have the kind of satisfaction that my grandfather had in life. He turned 18 about 18 months before the war was ending, and was sent over to Europe. He was a fix-it man, so he was a tech sergeant. Then they invited him to be part of the Army, and he didn’t want to; he wanted to be a farmer. He farmed the rest of his life. There was a lot of satisfaction in life that I know he had, that I don’t see many people having today. He was very close to the land, worked hard, rested on Sunday. It was a standard, structured existence.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
I like to hike and get outdoors, ride a bicycle. I don’t have much time to do those things. What really relaxes me is reading encyclopedias. I don’t read them on the phone, I have an actual encyclopedias. A parishioner in Carlisle gave me a World Book Encyclopedia. People would consider that information outdated now, but what I like about it is the way they wrote things and how they talk about things.
I’m a nostalgic person, apparently. I feel that our world suffers from modern pride, this idea that we are so much smarter and so much more advanced than anyone before 1965. I think that is total bunk. When we talk about the Communion of Saints in the Creed, I don’t think there is enough written about what that means. Active members of our Church are people who have been for 1,000 or 2,000 years: Peter, James, John, all the saints. All of their perspectives and insights are important. We can’t, as Catholics, just throw out 1,960 years of Tradition and moral teaching and presume that we come up with is better or smarter than what millions of people over 19 centuries believed and held to. There’s this assumption that the way people conducted their lives in the 1950s is automatically wrong or old.
Is our family life better than it was in the 1950s? When I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “I Love Lucy,” yes it’s acting, but the way they talked to each other and the way men and women related in that style is much different than today. There is something very refreshing about the way they did it.