Answering his call in the diocese, around the world Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Nov. 01, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
emerson school students
Fr. Scott Emerson stands with students at a school in the Diocese of Nellore, India, who performed traditional dances.

You might need a map to follow along with while you are reading this story.

In just three years as a priest for the Diocese of Madison, Fr. Scott Emerson has always needed his suitcase, passport, or just a full tank of gas.

His seminary studies, which overlapped the start of his priesthood, took him to Belgium and Rome.

His priesthood took him to Wisconsin Dells; the combined parish community of La Valle, Lime Ridge, and Loreto; and Reedsburg, while still returning to Rome and back.

Now, as the priest secretary and master of ceremonies to Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Father Emerson travels throughout the diocese in all 11 counties.

“Whatever Holy Mother Church asks, you’re more than willing to serve her,” said Father Emerson.

“God’s call is very clear, it’s whether I want to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a given day,” he added.

“If I answer ‘yes’, then things go very well; if I answer ‘no,’ that’s when there might be a challenge that arises.”

Hearing the call

A native of Sauk County, the son of Diane and Steve Emerson, and the priest son of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spring Green, Father Emerson admitted, “As a young child, you think about the priesthood at least a little bit.”

These thoughts grew during his time at Marquette University in Milwaukee while finishing up a degree in Biomechanical Engineering.

Faced with the realities of graduate school, Father Emerson took the path of entering the seminary.

“I knew that God was calling me to something a little bit greater,” he said.

Father Emerson studied at both Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

He called his time in seminary, the time “you come to love your vocation and love the priesthood.”

He noted that the greatest part about being in Rome is “every time you step into St. Peter’s Square, you’re very much in the Universal Church . . . on a given day, you hear 20 languages within that square in a matter of five minutes.”

Father Emerson, along with five others, was ordained to the priesthood on June 26, 2015, by Bishop Robert C. Morlino at St. Maria Goretti Church in Madison.

“I loved the evening,” Father Emerson said.

“I prepared myself spiritually as best I could, so now it comes to the moment that I shouldn’t be overwhelmed by anything, but I’m just taking it in,” he added.

“It’s the day you’re changed, you can never go back.”

Answering the call

Following a short time serving as parochial vicar at St. Cecilia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Father Emerson returned to Rome to continue his graduate studies in Canon Law.

He returned to the Diocese of Madison in a few months to answer the new call of parochial administrator at the linked parishes of Holy Family in La Valle, St. Boniface in Lime Ridge, and St. Patrick in Loreto (now merged as Holy Angels Parish), following the death of Pastor Fr. Lorin “Larry” Bowens.

Father Emerson called his time there “the greatest year of my life.”

Growing up in the area, he knew most of the parishioners and their families.

“The situation was going in and proclaiming Jesus Christ as best I could,” he said.

“To lose a pastor is a very sad situation, [I had] to try to help the people grieve, but yet also help them to move forward.”

Following his time at those parishes, along with another stop in Rome to continue studies, Father Emerson was again back in the diocese, this time serving at Sacred Heart Parish in Reedsburg as parochial vicar.

He spent his time there filling in while Pastor Fr. David Carrano was on sabbatical.

Father Emerson called it “another tremendous experience” and another chance to serve families he knew well, coming from that area.

He also dealt with the challenge of the parish’s school being vandalized that summer, and finding some good that could come out of it.

“It allowed for the community to come together,” he said as the teachers cleaned up most of the damage the same day it happened.

“It inspired the school year, it inspired the work in the meetings leading up to the school year,” he said.

Father Emerson started the school year by blessing the classrooms and helping everyone with “a new school year, a new foot, and a new path forward.”

Serving the Universal Church

During Christmas break in his final year of study in Rome, following his time in Reedsburg, Father Emerson took the opportunity to go to India, both to see the country and the Church there.

There are several priests serving in the Diocese of Madison that are from India, and Father Emerson wanted to see where they come from.

Fr. Mathew Malapatti, from the Diocese of Nellore, hosted Father Emerson during his time in India, following more than two weeks of seeing the country and its people.

He called India “an entirely different world” and “very much a developing country.”

With Christians making up only five percent of the country’s population, “you’re in a very small minority,” he said.

Far from the rural lands and suburbia of the Diocese of Madison and apart from the busy city streets and historic Church life of Rome, Father Emerson got a close look at the lives of people in India.

He saw a variety of ancient houses of worship, street markets, crowded cityscapes, and sacred cows with painted horns.

He had a chance to experience other faiths, once having lunch in a Sikh temple, where everyone sits on the floor while eating and faces each other on “equal status” with each other.

Father Emerson also visited the Shrine of St. Francis Xavier and the tomb of St. Thomas, both of whom are either buried or have relics in India.

In Nellore, he visited St. Joseph Cathedral, along with the hospital that is part of the parish.

He recalled the Sister there who ran the hospital, along with supervising nine other Sisters.

Father Emerson remarked Sister Raji “controlled the place like you would not believe” where her requests were carried out by the Sisters almost immediately.

He also noted a hospital records room, also with a Sister in charge with only paper records of “everything that’s ever happened at the hospital,” with no electronic records.

He also saw a parish school that teaches more than 1,000 students.

Almost 95 percent of the students are Hindu or Muslim, but they learn at the Catholic school.

It also serves as a boarding school for some of the girls where two floors of 90 girls each all stay together in a large room, each student with only a trunk, blanket, and a bucket for washing.

Father Emerson concelebrated Mass and preached a few times during his time in India.

He noted English is one of the more prominent languages in India, so everyone understood him.

Saying ‘yes’

Now, serving as the priest secretary and master of ceremonies to Bishop Morlino, Father Emerson said, “It’s a great honor to serve the bishop as a priest” and “to be able to work with all the priests of the diocese, to visit all the parishes, to meet everyone who works in those parishes.”

He added, “You’re able to see the faith, not just merely in one parish, but across the diocese.”

This role is the latest in a faith journey that has found him saying “yes” to what God is asking him to do next.

Not everyone may rack up the travel miles and number of locations Father Emerson has in his short time as a seminarian and then priest, but there will always be blessings by giving your “yes” to God, even in discernment and, for a man, entering the seminary.

“You have nothing to lose. You have all to gain,” said Father Emerson.

“If you have a question about your discernment, your vocation, seminary is going to be able to tell you the answer very quickly, not over five years, but within the first year or two years, you’ll know.”

Father Emerson added that a blessing of discerning while at the seminary is “to have that gift, to know that God is calling you, whether specifically to be a priest or specifically to be whatever else in the world that God is calling you to, you have that answer . . . and if you don’t have a vocation to the priesthood, you leave seminary truly having a greater understanding of who you are.”

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