The following is an interview of seminarian Michael Isenberg 99 conducted last year by Catie Bergmann for Setons school newspaper. It is reprinted here without any permission having been given.
Inquisitor: Tell us about the impact Seton had on your vocation.
Mike: When I started at Seton as a freshman in 1995, I did not have priesthood in my mind at all. I went to public school before Seton, receiving a good education, but I just was not happy with the friends I had. I was looking for a school where I did not have to be embarrassed about living a moral life. I did very well in math and science, but struggled in English and history! Religion I had only been taught in CCD; therefore, I only had a basic understanding of theology before Seton. I cannot say that religion was my favorite subject, but it definitely changed the way that I think and make decisions. I began to understand why the Church teaches what it does. This allowed me to think with the Church, which helped me when I left Seton. Seton left me with the impression that the Faith is something reasonable and not just made up. This later would prove very important because I am a systematic thinker and things need to make sense before I can understand or believe them. One of the great inspirations that I had to the priesthood came in the form of a guest lecturer in senior religion, Fr. William Most. He demonstrated a thorough knowledge and love for Holy Scripture, which I have not seen in anyone else. I remember him reading his Greek Bible, translating it on the fly for us, and then explaining what it meant and how it applied to our life. I still remember his explanation of the downward spiral of sin, which led to a great reflection later in my life. I had a fleeting thought that maybe God was calling me to something similar, but I quickly dismissed it. I wanted to be an engineer who lived the American dream. I was content with this and planned college around it. Simplicity of life was a constant theme that I found at Seton, from the appearance of the school to the low tuition. Mrs. Carroll and the other teachers sacrificed many comforts in their lives in order to educate students in the Catholic Faith. In my later quest for wealth, they provided opportunities for me to contemplate where true happiness is found. I was living for the fleeting happiness of this world and not the eternal happiness found in God alone. They all lived the Gospel and were not ashamed to do so.
Inquisitor: You went to Virginia Tech after Seton. What was its importance in your life?
Mike: I graduated in 1999 and began the Engineering program at Virginia Tech. I had made many good friends while at Seton some went to Tech with me, and others went to nearby universities. Having these friends was helpful because I was not completely alone in a world of misunderstood freedom. I had a group of moral friends with whom I could begin this new experience. We would quickly realize that the Newman Center at Virginia Tech was not what we were used to from Seton. As a group, we went to St. Marys in Blacksburg every Sunday. In college it is extremely easy to slip away from the Church because it is not the cool or easy thing to practice the Faith. Actually, I found that people make fun of you for not living on the wild edge of life. I had a wonderful college experience despite the religious hardships that I went through. I could not appreciate this until much later, but Seton prepared me to deal with all the problems in life because they taught me how to think with the mind of the Church. I think the other thing that helped me stay out of trouble at VT was that Engineering was so difficult that I did not have much free time. I was in the labs until 1 or 2 a.m. most weeknights, and classes resumed early the next morning . One of the most valuable things that I learned while at Seton was how to study effectively. I do not think I would have been able to manage my time and studies otherwise.
Inquisitor: What happened after college? Obviously you didnt go right into the seminary.
Mike: I had some great summer internships in college. For a couple summers, I worked at Micron Tech right here in Manassas. But my last internship offered me a great job upon graduation. Everything in the plan of my life was falling into place. I now had a consulting job that involved traveling and an amazing salary. I bought my first sports car while still in college with the down payment from the signing bonus. My first project was in Manhattan. My company paid for all my travel expenses including airfare, housing and food. I lived in an apartment in Times Square. During those six months, I was supposed to be happy and loving life; however, I was completely miserable. I tried everything to fill a void within me. I was making it to Mass on Sunday and I was living a moral life, but I was filled with the love of money and everything the world offered. I did not have God in my life. That project ended and I was sent to Tampa, for two years. There I lived in a beautiful island in Tampa Bay. The money began to pile up, so I decided that I needed a bigger, more expensive vehicle and a condominium next to Dulles to make traveling easier. Life was supposed to be fantastic, but the HDTV and the fast, expensive cars were not making me happy. I had a wonderful girlfriend and I still had this emptiness. I was obviously missing God and prayer in my life, but I did not want to admit that I needed anyone but my possessions and myself. I truly tought that I could buy my own happiness!
Inquisitor: What happened to change things?
Mike: Before my 24th birthday, I started to think back to all the times I was happy and why. None of this happiness was due to anything I owned but was from my experiences in prayer while at Seton and the friends I made there. I knew that I needed to start praying again and started to go to adoration a couple evenings a week. It was hard to do because I had to drive 30 minutes to find a Holy Hour. My entire life changed at that point and material things began to mean less to me. I had a compulsory feeling to go to daily Mass and found a church right next to my office. I kept feeling drawn into the church through prayer and I could not explain why but I loved it. This is probably the only time that I actually gave the priesthood any serious thought without immediately dismissing it. In high school, my excuses were that God did not make me a good writer or public speaker; therefore, I could not do the job! Through college and work I knew that I could do both of those well, so that was no longer an excuse. My list of excuses was running thin, so I gave it some good thought for months and kept debating it. A strange transformation happened and I began looking forward to the priesthood before I had even decided to enter the seminary. It was not an escape from my life or job because I liked the work that I was doing and I was good at it. I made a big jump, but I trusted in Divine Providence the whole way. I cannot say that it was an easy transition from having everything to having nothing, but it has definitely been rewarding. During Adoration in Tampa, I met a great friend who was there to help me through many of the tough decisions I had to make. After theology, one of the most important things I learned from Seton was about what a true friendship is. True friends are what got me through Seton, Virginia Tech and supported me on my journey to the priesthood.
Inquisitor: You are now a seminarian in Rome what is it like?
Mike: Living in Rome as a seminarian is an indescribable experience, but I am going to attempt to do so for you. The North American College is right next to Vatican City and from our roof there is a magnificent view of St. Peters and all of Rome. When I was working, I traveled in the United States, but I never had a chance to travel anywhere else in the world. It was incredible and overwhelming to arrive in Rome to the foundations of the Catholic Church and the home of the Ancient Roman Empire. Even though I never did well in history class, I always found it thoroughly fascinating. I have found it a tremendous blessing to be able to be able to attend a history or archeology class and then walk right down the road to where it all happened. In this year of St. Paul, I have been able to visit the jail where Paul was imprisoned, Tre Fontane where he was beheaded and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall where he was eventually buried. At the Angelicum where I attend class, we have Dominican professors and religious students from all over the world. Despite all of our differences, it is wonderful to gather in class to learn the one true Catholic Faith, which does not change, no matter where you are from or where you are going. I cannot forget to mention Pope Benedict XVI. While I had not had an opportunity to meet him personally, he has had a great impact on me. I love going to the Sunday Angelus to listen to him and to see pilgrims who have traveled around the world just to see him. During the Easter liturgies, some pilgrims eyes were filled with tears at the sight of Benedict. Seeing the faith of the pilgrims inspires me never to take for granted the incredible opportunity that the Church has given me.