By Fr. David Endres, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Cincinnati, and Fr. Al Lauer's nephew
Fr. Lauer in his youth
At the time of Albert's birth, the family attended St. Veronica Church in Hamilton where he was baptized on 3 August 1947. Within a short time the family began attending St. Ann Church in the Lindenwald neighborhood of Hamilton. Albert, Sr., worked as a carpenter, helping to build many of the homes in the area; Antoinette cared for the home and the children. Both modeled well the Christian life. Reflecting on the faith witness of his parents, Albert said that he was "blessed by having great Christian parents who prayed in the home everyday. My dad led the family in praying the rosary and my mom was praying all the time and we children were constantly hearing about Jesus. "Devotion to the Blessed Mother was emphasized through a nightly family rosary and special Marian devotions including a "May altar" that was placed in the home. Antoinette recalled, "We always prayed the rosary as a family since the children could first talk. "As Albert, Sr., was a carpenter, the family also had a strong devotion to St. Joseph whose prayers the family credited for Albert's safety during his working years.
Albert, Jr., was enrolled in the first grade at St. Ann School in 1953. There he attended Mass every morning before school began. He received his educational and religious instruction from the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg, Indiana who staffed the school. He made his first Holy Communion on 8 May 1955 and remained committed to the Eucharist, receiving communion each day thereafter. Sensing a vocation to the priesthood around the time of his first communion, Albert recalled feeling God's grace in a particular way at that time in his life. He remembered his second grade teacher asking her students if any of them were going to become priests. Albert raised his hand in the affirmative and later wrote it was then he decided to become a priest based on his response to sister's question: "[But] when I put my hand up I didn't do it just because I knew it was the answer sister was expecting, I did it because I really meant it."
Growing up in Hamilton, Albert recalled having a "very blessed" childhood free from any serious difficulties. He excelled as a student and an athlete, playing football and baseball. He helped his parents around the house and in their vegetable garden. Albert continued at St. Ann School, graduating from the eighth grade in 1961. After graduation, he enrolled at Hamilton Catholic High School, an all-boys high school under the sponsorship of the Society of Mary. In his early high school years, his sense of vocation remained, though he was too young to enter the seminary.
After completing two years of studies at Hamilton Catholic High School, Albert entered St. Gregory Minor Seminary in Cincinnati in the fall of 1963, the earliest that one could enter seminary at that time, to begin studies for the diocesan priesthood. He completed the high school curriculum in 1965 and continued with college studies at St. Gregory. Known at St. Gregory's for his athleticism and academic success, Albert received his Bachelor of Arts degree on 22 May 1969. In his first years as a seminarian, Albert recalled sensing both a peacefulness and firmness about his vocation to the priesthood, later seeing this as the work of the Holy Spirit. These years were "free from all the confusion that you normally see in those times," he would later recall.
Fr. Lauer in his seminary years
On 25 May 1974 in St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin ordained Albert to the priesthood. Fr. Al celebrated his first Mass at his home parish of St. Ann later that day. But what should have been a time of rejoicing, was muted by interior turmoil. He would later reflect, “I was spiritually at my lowest, when ordained to the priesthood. I had waited and prepared almost twenty years for ordination day. Bishop Bernardin, several other bishops, and over 200 priests laid hands on me. However, I did not receive God’s power because the Spirit was stifled in my life.
Through God’s grace Fr. Al experienced a life-changing outpouring of the Holy Spirit during his first year of priesthood. “Almost a year after my ordination, one week before Pentecost, I preached on the Scripture: ‘Together they devoted themselves to constant prayer’ (Acts 1:14). In the homily, I challenged the parishioners to apply this teaching by coming to church for prayer throughout the week. I didn’t expect anyone to come, but about a dozen people met Sunday evening for prayer. [Unexpectedly, we continued to pray together on a regular basis for over a year.] No one realized what God was doing until much later.”
Fr. Al’s prayer was enlivened by a rediscovery of the Scriptures. He and the others looked to the Scriptures for an explanation of what had happened. As Fr. Al recalled, “The words almost jumped off the page. We would read four or five chapters without a pause.” He remembered that even though he had been trained in the Scriptures and could even read them in Greek and Hebrew, he rarely had a desire to pray over God’s Word: “I would read it for business purposes, meaning I had these sermons to give and these classes to teach, but I would never just read the Bible to read the Bible – that seemed such an odd thing to do. But after those prayers for the Holy Spirit, it was like as Jeremiah said: ‘When I found your Word I devoured it, it became the joy and the happiness of my heart.’ I just started reading the Bible and reading it constantly.”
Fr. Al saw this as the major turning point in his life: a renewed focus on the power of prayer through the Holy Spirit and a focus on the Word of God.