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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Brian Schmisek

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.

Brian:: My parents raised us in North Dakota. When I was about 8 years old we moved to the big city of Fargo, which had a Catholic School. My parents had said that if Catholic education were an option, they would send us. So I entered Holy Spirit Catholic school in fourth grade. We went to Mass each week as a family, prayed together most nights, and my grandfather was one of the first deacons ordained in the Diocese of Fargo in the late 1970s. So, faith was part of the fabric of my upbringing.

Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.

Brian:: I attended a Catholic High School run by the Christian Brothers at that time. My years in Catholic school were formative and reinforced what was taught and lived at home and with my extended family. My teachers spoke openly about faith and its role in one’s life. We had regular Masses with scholarly and thought-provoking homilies for a high school.

Dr. Knight: You went to graduate school at Catholic University of America. How did you make that decision?

Brian: To make a long story short, I had many questions in college about the meaning of life, philosophy, theology, and more. I eventually pursued a doctorate in Biblical Studies because I wanted to get as near to the ipsissima vox (the very voice itself) of Jesus as I could. I chose CUA because of the professors there at the time, including Rev Joseph Fitzmyer, SJ, who eventually directed my dissertation.

Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be His follower. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Christ and to be the Provost and Vice President of Development and Marketing at the University of St. Mary of the Lake?

Brian: I had been in higher ed for more than 20 years at the time I accepted the role at USML. My wife and I raised our four children, and the youngest was just starting college. We live not far from USML, and I had been at Loyola University Chicago for a time. I also knew Cardinal Cupich, and some of the faculty at USML, including the late Fr. Thomas Baima who had served as Provost. When Fr. John Kartje (President/Rector) and I spoke about their need for a Provost I was attracted to the opportunity. Now, having just completed my first year here, it’s been even better than I had imagined. The faculty are top-notch, friendly, and mission driven. The seminarians and other students here are inspirational.

Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally in fulfilling your new role?

Brian: I consider ‘discernment’ to be a nuanced term, balancing the interplay between our own desires and the movement of the spirit. Ultimately, when our desires are aligned with the spirit good things often happen. We sometimes call what results from this alignment ‘providential.’ After my first meeting with Fr. Kartje, I met my wife for dinner and told her that I thought this could be providential


Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts focusing on the future Church with both its joys and problems?

Brian: That’s an interesting question. I think of the church as the community of believers down through the centuries. There was a time when I gave tours of Rome for graduate ministry students, and some of the most profound moments were visiting the catacombs and also the ‘scavi’ or excavations beneath St. Peter’s. Those visits made me feel connected to the countless generations of those who went before us in the faith. At the same time, those visits made me think about the generations who would come after us. Faith is passed on from generation to generation. It’s profoundly moving to me to consider ourselves in a continuum of Christians living their faith in the midst of daily life.

Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a person who works in Seminary work? About living as a mentor for collaboration?

Brian: Seminary work and particularly the work of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake is deeply rewarding. It’s humbling to be surrounded by those who are being formed to be future leaders and priests in the church, as those people tend to be self-giving and idealistic. The vision of Cardinal Mundelein is a reality here. The grounds are spectacular, the faculty and staff are outstanding, and the seminarians and other students are committed to their faith.

Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?

Brian: One challenge is that fewer people are self-identifying as Catholic, or even religious. Catholic faith and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition are gifts that many are choosing not to accept or simply ignoring altogether. Ideally, in every age the church presents its message in terms that age can understand and accept. Truth does not change, but the way it is expressed does develop. We do not present the faith today in the same way as the church did in the year 1288, 1488, or 1788. That challenge—presenting the faith anew to present and living persons—is essentially what the church has been doing throughout its entire 2000-year history. Today, a significant challenge is to present the faith in compelling terms that modern people will hear, and not merely parrot formulas that are dismissed as being irrelevant.

Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a follower of Christ working in a Seminary?

Brian: The mission of USML animates me and it’s a pleasure to be here every day. In addition to being around the students, faculty, and staff, one of the greatest joys is seeing how committed our friends and supporters are. There are countless people invested in the success of our mission.

Dr. Knight: What are some of the duties that you perform/pray each day?

Brian: It seems that no two days are the same here. Though in addition to meeting faculty and working with staff, I communicate with friends and benefactors nearly every day. A long-term goal is to grow the awareness of USML to a broader audience nationally and even internationally.

Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the Archdiocese does for us all and specifically your gifts.

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