Giving up a prosperous life for religous call ‘liberating’

By  Anne Hanley, Catholic Register Special
  • October 6, 2013

COCHRANE, ALTA. - It began simply enough. JoachimOstermann “thought it would bea nice break” when his Vancouverparish said a retreat was being heldat Westminster Abbey.

“I had never been in amonastery before,” he thought. “Ishould check this out. I might likeit.”

But God had other plans forthis PhD scientist.

“During that retreat I wasstruck by the insight that I was notcalled to early retirement,” recallsOstermann.

So began Ostermann’s journeyto become a Franciscan brother.He took his solemn vows Aug. 23at Mount St. Francis in Cochrane.

Determining his life’s coursecame early to Ostermann, whowas born to a Catholic family inGermany.

“I knew as an adolescent thatI wanted to be a scientist” and hebegan his “search for truth in thesciences.” Ostermann’s universitystudies were accomplished inDüsseldorf and Munich where hereceived his PhD in biochemistry.He travelled to the United States in1990 and his career wound its wayaround the country.

During his time as assistantprofessor of biochemistry atVanderbilt University in Nashvillein 1999, Ostermann had difficultygetting funding for his research.Frustrated, he took a year offto become a visiting scientistin Germany and then came toCanada in 2001 to work in thebio-tech industry.

“After the struggle over fundingand money in academia, I wantedto be financially secure. I wantedfinancial security and independence.”

Ostermann worked for bio-techcompanies in Montreal andToronto, co-founding the secondcompany. Financially, the bio-techmove worked well.

“I reached the goal of beingfinancially independent, andI wanted to evaluate againwhat I really wanted to do,” heremembers. “My plan was toreturn to academic science. For asingle guy, I had enough money tolast and a friend offered me a jobin his lab as a research assistant.”

Then he moved to Vancouverand God stepped in when hewent on his life-changing retreat.After returning from the retreat,Ostermann sent an e-mail tohis pastor, saying, “Somethinghappened. What was it? I’d like totalk.” They started meeting immediatelyon a weekly basis.

“He heard me discern what hadhappened,” said Ostermann. “Heencouraged me to consider the callto religious life. He thought it wasgenuine and that I should exploreit.”

During his discernment processOstermann discovered he was notcalled to the monastic life, andthat he did not want to give up thecompetency he had in the world.

“That is how I came to the Franciscans.I can live my life as a Franciscanbut also keep the option ofworking.”

A Vancouver friend, on hearingof Ostermann’s decision to becomea Franciscan, asked, “You workedso hard to make money. What is itgoing to feel like to give it all up?”

His answer?

“Very happy. It is liberating.”

The journey to solemn vowstook six years and there werestruggles along the way. The 52-year-old Franciscan sighs, “Oh . . .lots. Does God call me to that? AmI personally equipped to live thisreligious life? God does not wantsomeone to do something He can’tdo.”

His answer to the understandablestruggles is prayer.

“Without prayer what elsewould there be? The choice tolive the religious life has to begrounded in prayer and trust inJesus Christ. Prayer restores innerpeace.”

During his Franciscan discernment,Ostermann studied atEdmonton’s Newman TheologicalCollege and graduates with amaster of divinity this fall. He wasordained a deacon by ArchbishopRichard Smith Sept. 14.

Ostermann’s immediate jobis at Our Lady of Perpetual Helpparish in Sherwood Park as apastoral assistant.

“It will give me an inside look atparish ministry without having tobe the pastor.”

Asked about his hopes for thefuture, Ostermann said, “I can’tanswer that in a few sentences.”After a minute or two, he shares,“What I really hope to do is to givea credible witness to the importance,viability, everlasting hope ofthe Christian faith, to people whohave been shaped by the scientifictechnological culture.

“Many see a conflict betweenthe scientific understanding of lifeand the faith understanding onlife. They try to live a dualism thatcauses unbearable tension.”

There is a contradictionbetween the materialistic understandingof the world, whichscience provides, and the faithunderstanding, which is based onChrist.

“How do you reconcile that? Ican’t answer that. But what I amhoping is that some way in my life,maybe this way (as a Franciscanbrother), I can be a witness to thesignificance of the Christian faithespecially in this scientific, technologicalculture.”

(Western Catholic Reporter)

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