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Here I am Lord
Fr. Richard Frank Sutter, LC

Fr. Richard Frank Sutter, LC
Fr. Richard Frank Sutter, LC

“That is how I am supposed to pray!” This was the inspiration that bowled me over as I participated in a directed meditation and witnessed the prayerful fervor of a newly ordained Legionary priest. Fr. Robert Presutti, LC, began the meditation with a simple, personal, and faith-filled dialogue with Jesus Christ that moved me to pray. I thought, “Kneeling here, at the foot of our Lord Jesus Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, is a man of God! Lord, is this the life you want for me?”

Before February 20, 1999, I had never met a Legionary of Christ. In fact, I had never even heard of the Legion, and yet this first contact was all God needed. Our Lord had prepared my soul prior to this “Test Your Call” retreat at our novitiate in Cheshire, Connecticut. I attended the retreat with an open heart to discern God’s will for my life. I listened, the Holy Spirit spoke, the Blessed Virgin Mary interceded with her motherly love, and I responded. What follows are some fruits from 11 years of reflection and prayer that attempt to describe the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in my soul.

First Thoughts about the Priesthood, then College

I first thought about the priesthood in the spring of 1986 when I was 17 years old and one year away from my high school graduation. A weekend visit to the Trappist monastery in Conyers, Georgia, with my cousin was the first time I remember seriously considering the priesthood. To this day, I still remember my father’s advice about the vocation after that monastery visit: “Son, you have nothing to lose and eternity to gain. Why not speak to the archdiocesan vocation director? If you want, I can set up the appointment.” My parents always encouraged my vocation from the first moment, and yet they did so in a way that enabled me to embrace this gift of Christ freely. Before continuing, I must say, “Thank you, Mom and Dad!”

After the conversation with my father, I had an interview with the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The result of this interview was that I should go to college first. Without question, I began to inquire about Catholic colleges and visited two in the Southeast. Attending college right after high school was the normal path among my family members and friends at the time.

In the fall of 1987, I began undergraduate studies at Belmont Abbey College, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Thanks be to God, I met a holy priest, Abbot Placid Solari, O.S.B., who was a spiritual guide and close friend throughout college and the years that followed. While at Belmont Abbey College, I was an Army R.O.T.C. cadet (I won the George C. Marshall award and was first on our Cadet Order of Merit List when I was commissioned), a member of the North Carolina Army National Guard, the co-founder and captain of the
Fr. Richard with his parents in St. Peter´s Basilica in Rome.
Fr. Richard with his parents in St. Peter´s Basilica in Rome.
cross-country running team, the student government class representative for my first three years, student body president my senior year, and member of a social fraternity. I graduated magna cum laude with a Business Administration degree and received a regular commission in the United States Army.

Several questions surfaced throughout those active college years: Why do I believe what I believe? Do I truly act in accordance with these beliefs? What am I supposed to do with my life? Will the military be my career? Will I find a wife? Is God calling me to be a priest?

Service as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army

Two weeks after my college graduation, I placed these questions on the back burner as I entered the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant. Those six years of military service were fast paced. I was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Drum, New York; and Frankfurt, Germany. Helicopter flight school, Ranger school, airborne school, air assault school, Bradley fighting vehicle school, along with basic and advanced infantry officer courses provided better self-knowledge in order to serve the soldiers entrusted to my care. I was assigned as an infantry rifle platoon leader, support platoon leader, and one star general’s aide de camp in Germany. My last year of service was with the 10th Mountain Division in upstate New York as a division operations officer and one star general’s aide de camp.

I periodically entertained the questions from my college years, but they were most prominent when I decided to resign from the military. I even put “look into the priesthood” at the bottom of my job options list as a possible alternative “if nothing works out” after the military. At this point in my life, I really lacked knowledge about the Catholic Faith and channeled most of my effort towards climbing the corporate ladder with a big salary in mind. Looking back on my high school, college, and military years, two important things were absent: constant prayer and sacramental life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it so succinctly, “We pray as we live; because we live as we pray” (No. 2725).

From Jump Boots to the Fast-Paced Business World

In March, 1997, I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army as a captain and began a career as an information technology project manager in New Jersey just outside of New York City. The job at the corporate headquarters of Quest Diagnostics was an excellent career opportunity. After two years, I had received two promotions and three pay raises.

While in New Jersey, I participated in several triathlons (swimming, biking, and running) and completed the Boston Marathon in less than 3 hours. Despite the fast-paced business world and daily physical training, my spiritual life was more active. I often prayed my entire Rosary or spoke spontaneously with Jesus while running. I used to wake up around 5 A.M. to pray and exercise. I started to be more constant at prayer, and I attended Mass at least on Sunday, and if possible on other days as well. I frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly. This was a decisive moment, because grace and constancy in prayer prepared me for God’s call.

The Holy Spirit was always present throughout the previous years, even when I paid little attention to him, and yet the difference was I had made it a priority to listen to God and bring my daily life more in line with his will. Little by little, I shifted my focus from “having” (accumulating things) to “being” (becoming who I am called to be) in an attempt to break away from the fleeting happiness of this world and embrace the true fulfillment found only in Jesus Christ.

Who Will Bring the Sacraments to These Young People?

The opportunity to teach seventh and eighth-grade Confirmation classes at my parish was a special moment of God’s grace, along with regular spiritual guidance from my Franciscan pastor. Questions from the young people and my lack of answers led me to a more in-depth study of the Catholic Faith. In moments of prayer, I often asked myself this question from

deep within my soul: “Who will bring the Sacraments to these young people?” When this question arose, I often recalled the many priests in my life that heard my confessions, brought Jesus to me in the Eucharist, and guided me with spiritual direction.

I experienced this question above all while running early one morning near my apartment. The five-mile route passed three Catholic elementary schools. I would often see the children with book bags in tow on their way to school. This question tugged at my heart: “Who will bring Christ to them?” My response in prayer was, “Here I am Lord. I will go if you lead me.”

The Holy Spirit and a “Test Your Call” Retreat

In January, 1999, I went on a business trip to Pittsburgh. This trip enabled me to visit my cousin at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Because of the witness of the students and the spiritual experience I had that weekend, I resolved to pray morning and night prayers, attend daily Mass, and pray the Rosary every day. This resolution, inspired by the Holy Spirit, helped me to be ready for the February 20 Test Your Call retreat that year.

By day one of the retreat, after Fr. Robert Presutti’s directed meditation, I knew God wanted me to decisively and definitively “test my call” in the summer 1999 candidacy program. The significant moment of confrontation with this vocation came on the last day of the retreat after breakfast. Fr. Robert asked if I wanted to speak about the weekend. In all honesty, I wanted to get packed, jump into my shiny black 4x4 Jeep and depart unnoticed. In our meeting, the question came up:

“So what did you think?”

I responded, “Do you really want to know the truth?”

Father responded, “Yes.”

My response: “I feel sick to my stomach. I have all this….” I unfolded a piece of notebook paper, on which I had written the pros and cons of possible career moves with the priesthood option way at the bottom.

Fr. Robert responded, “This is a great plan, but it is missing something. I see what Richard wants to do, but what does God want? Did you ever think about asking God in prayer what he wants of you?”

It hit me like a ton of bricks, and the following thought came to mind for several days after that final encounter: “I have to be generous. I have to give God a shot at my life. If he gave everything to me, then I have to give him at least a year. If he doesn’t want me as his priest, he will give it back to me, and more besides. There is no way I can outdo God in generosity. I need to trust in God! The rest is Salvation History!”

The Best Years of My Life

The three summer months of candidacy and two years of novitiate were the most spiritually enriching years of my life. With the help of God’s grace, this time of prayerful discernment resulted in my total consecration to God on September 1, 2001. The greatest thing we can discover in our life is God’s personal call for each one of us. The greatest thing we can do in this life is to follow that call with joy out of love for the one who loved us first. True fulfillment in this life and the next is only found in Jesus Christ.

Fr. Richard Sutter was born April 17, 1969, in Montgomery, Alabama, and baptized 10 days later at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. After professing his first vows, he completed one year of humanities studies at our seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut, and two years of philosophy studies in New York. He served for two years in St. Louis, Missouri, as an instructor of formation at Gateway Academy. He made his perpetual profession on October 7, 2007, at our Center of Higher Studies in Rome, Italy, and completed his bachelors in theology there in June, 2009. On Monday, May 11, 2009, he was ordained a deacon at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians on the Campus of Belmont Abbey College. He currently works in Louisiana with the Conquest boys’ clubs and with the college-age Regnum Christi young men in the area, and serves as the chaplain Christian Brothers School in New Orleans.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained on December 12, 2009 have been published in the book "I Call You Friends". During this Year for Priests, let us pray for all priests, so that their self-giving to God and to people will bear abundant fruits of grace and blessings.


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