Terry Witherell

St. Paul says that “Faith without works is dead.” Father Gale Hammerschmidt seems to live by these words. A native of Kansas, he was ordained just a year ago, the day before his 40th birthday. We met Father Gale, one of the finalists for Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi Award this year, on a recent visit to the Diocese of Salina.

Father Gale Hammerschmidt standing outside Sacred Heart High School in Salina, Kansas.

When he was younger, Father Gale couldn’t imagine that one day he would become a priest. During high school and college, he wasn’t really engaged in his Catholic faith. But after graduating from college, he became a teacher at a Catholic high school, and he started hearing God calling him to consider the priesthood. A  friend of his who was a priest helped him decide to enter the seminary.

“He told me, ‘You don’t enter the seminary to become a priest, you enter the seminary to discern if God is calling you to be a priest,’” said Father Gale.  So that’s what he did. The generosity of Catholic Extension donors helped support Father Gale and continues to support other seminarians in Salina.

One of the experiences that led him to the priesthood was a service trip he went on with some of the teens and parents from Sacred Heart High School. This experience of serving others and reflecting on his faith had a real impact on him. Not only did it help him begin to hear God’s call to the priesthood, but it also inspired him to begin organizing other service trips as well.

As he was trying to convince parents to support their students to go on a service trip to another country, one of the dads said, “These service trips are expensive. Why should we send our children to these far-off places when there are poor people right in our own community who need help?”

Fr. Gale said he began to wonder if perhaps it might be possible to organize service trips right in the Salina area.

The "Prayer and Action" experience lasts beyond the one-week service trip.

So Father Gale started offering students the opportunity to spend a week sleeping in local schools on the gym and classroom floors and going out all day to serve people in the local community by painting houses, cleaning up yards and performing other community service. This experience is now known as “Prayer and Action,” and what began as one week became so popular that now there are service opportunities seven weeks each summer, with one week designed specifically for college students.

While we were in Salina, we talked with some of the teenagers who’ve been part of “Prayer and Action.” One of the teens said, “It’s the first time I took my faith seriously... and when you think about it, you’re sleeping in a hot classroom, in a small town in the middle of Kansas, eating ‘ok’ food and working in the hot sun all day. You think, ‘How? How can this be fun? How can this bring you joy?’ But it does! ”

Another teen teared up as she talked about her own faith and explained that because of her experience with “Prayer and Action,” daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration have become an important part of her prayer life. These teens said that being Catholic now means more to them than it did before.

Recently, Father Gale handed over the summer service program to other seminarians and has become more involved in Hispanic ministry in the diocese. He said that the seminarians are able to engage in ministry and service during the summer, which is a wonderful opportunity in the midst of their academic studies.

A quote from Mother Teresa covers the back of a "Prayer and Action" shirt.

The T-shirts that students wear to promote “Prayer and Action” quote the words of Mother Teresa:

“I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next door neighbor – Do you know who they are?”

That’s what they are doing. And that’s what Catholic Extension does, by supporting the mission dioceses right here in our own country. We are grateful that there are priests like Father Gale who show us just what it means to be “the Light of Christ.”

- Terry Witherell, National Director of Strategic Initiatives, Catholic Extension

PS: View a full photo album from the trip here!