Winter 2023-2024 – Conquer (Moving to Pennsylvania)

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! 

I have a new song for you. A little bit of a new style of playing guitar. I hope you enjoy it. 

Besides sharing this song, I look forward to giving you an update on our family as we have just moved! Read on to see where 🙂 It’s a long post because we’ve moved to an interesting place and I wanted to share as much about it as possible.

After going to Peru for a week, I rejoiced to see my wife and kids again. I enjoyed telling them more about my experience with the Servants of the Good Help and the Schmidt family. I was grateful that all had gone well on the trip. We continued to reflect and pray about God’s will for our lives. We asked ourselves, should we remain in Wisconsin? Should we pursue being foreign missionaries in Peru? Is there an option C?

We were open to the possibility of doing the three year training in Peru (three 9 month stretches) that Taylor and Katie have set up to be a full-time missionary family with the Servants of the Good Help. And we were leaning toward going in that direction. 

However, for the time being, God had other plans. Sonny, whom I became good friends with while studying at Franciscan University from 2009-2011, convinced us to visit him in Pennsylvania. He had just moved to a rural Catholic neighborhood just north of Pittsburgh near Franklin and Oil City, PA. We didn’t go into the visit with many expectations. We simply looked forward to seeing Sonny and his family, and to see what this Catholic neighborhood was all about. 

Since our cabin is very far north in Wisconsin, we were able to drive first east through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and into downstate Michigan instead of going south right away and through Milwaukee and  Chicago. It was a beautiful drive! We especially enjoyed traveling on the Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world as it spans 5 miles. 

We arrived at the St. Thomas More House of Prayer, but not before under going a small trial. We were around 35 minutes away (just after dinner time) when we noticed the van sounded a little bit funny. We were planning to take the next exit to check out the noise. It definitely sounded like something was going on but it wasn’t significantly loud. We were traveling on I-80 with a lot of semis. 

All of a sudden there was a loud noise. Luckily, I didn’t slam on the brakes or swerve. It was clear something had happened to one of the wheels. I thought it was a flat tire, maybe? I moved over to the shoulder and let the van come slowly to a stop as traffic whizzed by us. I got out of the van. It was the passenger rear tire. I looked in shock and saw that the lug nuts were gone. The rim of the tire had stayed on the axel but it was no longer attached to it. 

We had just got that tire patched up as it had been leaking. It is very probable that they didn’t tighten the lug nuts enough after fixing the leak. (It ended up working out that auto shop who fixed the leak reimbursed us for the repairs for the new rim).

We called for help and they sent a cop who parked behind us and put up some road flares to warn the traffic. It turned out he was Catholic and we had a good chat. AAA towed our van to a gas station. Sonny and Ryan, one of the dads from the Catholic neighborhood, helped transport us, our dog, and our stuff to the House of Prayer. It was a unique way of meeting them and we appreciated their help in our time of need.

Arriving at the House of Prayer, we got settled in and enjoyed our family suite, which had one big room of bunk beds, a separate bedroom with a queen bed and a nice bathroom.

Built around 2004, The House of Prayer is a unique place where prayer is the primary focus, specifically the Liturgy of the Hours. Combining the psalms, scriptural readings, Gospel canticles, intercessions, and the Our Father, it is the main prayer of the Catholic Church outside of Mass and Adoration.

The great thing about praying at the St. Thomas More House of Prayer is that the chapel is beautiful and the Blessed Sacrament is there. The House of Prayer is capable of hosting a large number of visitors. There are around 10-15 guest rooms and the rates are very reasonable! 

The next morning, we slept in a bit after a long day of driving and the van problems. Around 9:55AM, we heard a bell go off throughout the House of Prayer. It was a call to prayer. We joined a few other people in praying midmorning prayer, which took about 10 minutes. 

As we got settled into our visit, we got into a routine of hanging out at the House of Prayer and interacting with the people that came to pray throughout the day. We ended up staying more nights than we had planned, for our van took longer to get fixed than we anticipated. 

Sonny ended up driving us around to get groceries, Church on Sunday in Franklin, and to see more of the surrounding area. A few families invited us over for dinner. We enjoyed their hospitality and our time spent together.

It turns out that there is more to the Catholic neighborhood than just the St. Thomas More House of Prayer. There is also the Pope Pius XI Family Center. 

It is a beautiful facility with a full size gym and upper walking track, built very recently. There is a cafeteria space on the upper level as well as a small theater. On the lower level, next to the gym, there is a fitness/weight room.

On Sundays, the families gather for prayer and fellowship. It begins in the gym, where there is basketball and a potluck. Afterwards, the families head to the House of Prayer (about 1/3 of a mile away) to pray evening prayer. Very often, the parish priest joins the community to lead the prayer. It definitely makes Sunday feel like Sunday should, a celebration of the Resurrection of our King!

In the middle of the visit, we met Matthew and Hannah. They are a young new Catholic family who just moved to the neighborhood. I was talking with Matthew after one of the midday prayers and was sharing with him about our discernment. I told him about our cabin in Wisconsin, my trip to Peru, and how we were open to maybe living near the House of Prayer. Matthew encouraged me to talk to Wayne about the possibility of moving out here. He believed that a new house opening up in the area could be a sign that it was God’s plan for us to move here.

Wayne Hepler is the founder of the House of Prayer and the Pope Pius XI Family Center. He is a man of strong faith. He also owns a lumber mill and helped start the Hardwood Mall, which is now run by his son-in-law. They work with contractors and homeowners to supply high quality hardwood flooring, furniture, and construction. He also owns and oversees a number of Air BnB’s. Some of the houses owns he ends up renting out or selling to families who want to live near the House of Prayer.

Sonny was able to take us to the Hardwood Mall one afternoon. It is an impressive place. Beautiful furniture. The building itself (flooring, walls, furniture, framing, ect…) displays what they could do for your home. Here is a video a man made showcasing the Hardwood Mall. 

After that conversation with Matthew, I headed to the Chapel. I reflected on my trip to Peru. I thought about this new place in Pennsylvania. I thought about our cabin back in Wisconsin. Living in the woods of Wisconsin was beautiful and we had made a few good friends. But I had also been struggling. The combination of not having a strong Catholic community, being pretty far from family, and some other stuff was weighing down upon me. 

There was a peace that I felt with envisioning my family here in Pennsylvania in this unique Catholic neighborhood. I didn’t quite have that same peace in thinking about Wisconsin and Peru. I know that peace can be a good indicator of God’s will, but I also had a strong desire to not mess up this discernment. We had worked hard to set up our cabin into a small homestead back in Wisconsin. And being a missionary family in Peru is a very unique and special opportunity.

In our new house in Pennsylvania

So I prayed to God that there would be a house available to us that would have 3-4 bedrooms and be close to the House of Prayer. I didn’t specify but I had in mind that it would be really cool if we could maybe even walk to the House of Prayer once in a while. It had been very encouraging to see Blaise reading and following all of the prayers each day. 

The next morning, after morning prayer, I approached Wayne and asked him bluntly, “Is there by chance a house nearby that my family could possibly rent out or buy from you or one that someone else might have?” He said, “Yes. Its good timing that you ask. There is one that is opening up soon here that I own. It’s going to need some work though. If you want we can go take a look.” 

I hopped into Wayne’s truck and we drove for less than two minutes just down the hill from the House of Prayer. He showed me a house with three bedrooms. It was close to the House of Prayer, in fact the backyard is a 5-10 minute walk through the woods to the House of Prayer. 

Also, unexpected to me, there was an addition built onto the house back in the early 2000’s. It was originally built to be a small chapel. A priest briefly lived there but ended getting reassigned by the bishop. “Here’s your studio”, Wayne said as we entered the mini chapel. 

The house would need some renovating, including a complete new bathroom, water filtration system (high iron), painting, and sanding/refinishing of the wood floors. He said the house could be ours to rent or to do a rent to own if we wanted. 

We headed back to Wisconsin. Some of the men in the community that work for Wayne helped to renovate the house. I took a trip with Blaise in October to help gut out the bathroom and to move a bunch of our stuff. We debated over selling our cabin up north but for the time being we have decided to run it as an Air BnB. We installed new fans, put in new beds/frames, installed a new bathroom fan, updated some electrical, put in new artwork throughout the cabin. 

All of you are invited to rent it out! If you reach out to me, we would be able to offer you a discount.

On December 27th, 2023 we moved in. We have settled in, being very active wheeling and dealing on Facebook marketplace to furnish the house at an affordable price. 

We are grateful for our new home. We are taking it all in. We love visiting the House of Prayer. We are enjoying the new gym. I am getting into a good routine of prayer, work, exercise, and family time. 

Skating on our neighbors pond in Pennsylvania!

We are also excited that we will be able to continue to homestead here as it is a rural location. We are planning to have laying chickens, meat rabbits, and possibly dairy goats.

We are building a Hoop Coop for the Chickens and we purchased a few used rabbit hutches. 

In October, (on our visit) Blaise and I worked with Sonny to put together a video for Wayne. He ran as a write-in candidate for Cranberry Township Supervisor. While he didn’t quite get the victory, he did very well for being a write in candidate (receiving around 45% of the vote). As a team, we drove and filmed everything in this video. It was another way of meeting more people and seeing more of the area.

We celebrated Fabian’s 4th birthday. It was a great day. 

We are grateful for Clete (Calena’s dad) and Barb helping us out a ton in getting settled into our new place.

As far as my work goes, I feel more than ever a desire to continue to be a Catholic musician and missionary. By the spring, my goal is to have a new song for you and Fighting for the Kingdom officially released on all streaming platforms. 

I am also going to be dedicating more time to growing my Support Team. In Wisconsin, I had been losing confidence and feeling isolated as a musician. 

I’ve already met with Matthew (from our new Catholic neighborhood) and I am now ready to step it up. I am realizing that my music and work can actually make a difference in our culture. I am hoping that with the help of God, I can make more beautiful music so as to truly evangelize our broken world. In my estimation, that work is worthy of a full-time income to support my family. I do not expect to become rich, but I do pray that I can get beyond the stress and anxiety of just barely getting by each month.

Loving our new Lord of the Rings Board Game!

“I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated.” – Pope Benedict XVI 

With that in mind, I am hoping to focus my music more on the Saints (not entirely but for sure new saint songs are coming!). I have made my support team more simple to avoid losing more time doing administration. I am planning to now do a seasonal blog (instead of monthly), so that I can focus more on making the music, the most important part of my work. 

This blog was made thanks to my support team. If you are interested in supporting my work as a Catholic Musician, please consider joining.  

We are also excited to share with you that our Australian shepherd Lupe has had puppies. Not just four or five, but ten healthy puppies! Four of them have been accounted for and a few other people are interested in them. Lupe has been a great mom! If you have any interest please reach out to us about getting an Australian shepherd puppy. They are very smart, loyal, and athletic dogs.

Leave a Reply