Renaissance man Deacon Douglas Ebert, 62, is moving on to a new vocation that has been calling him for a long time.
After working as a commercial airline pilot for 30 years, while simultaneously designing and restoring executive railroad cars, playing guitar with the Flying Boxcars rock band, writing and producing music for himself and jazz guitarist Boday, cooking meals in a railroad dining car in Seattle and waiting tables at the Lexington in St. Paul, Deacon Ebert will be ordained a priest at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 30, at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Long, winding journey
The fourth son of Vernon and Betty, Deacon Ebert wanted to follow his own path after graduating from St. Thomas Academy, just like his older brothers. Although he had considered attending Nazareth Hall high school seminary, Deacon Ebert also considered a vocation with the Jesuits while attending Regis College in Denver, where one of his classmates and friends was a North Dakota farmer and crop duster.
“I got to go fly with him and got interested in [flying],” Deacon Ebert said. “I went by way of the U.S. Air Force and flew transport planes in Vietnam,” flying many wounded and dead soldiers from 1968 to 1973.
“I was in my 20s and I’d see somebody born in ’52 or ’53 and see a casket going back, and I’d think of the families,” he said. “It was distressing to see what was happening to these young people.”
When Deacon Ebert was hired by American Airlines in 1973, he knew that airline pilots often pursued second careers during their off time, in part, to be prepared for a possible career-ending health issue.
Since he had started working in the railroad business in college, Deacon Ebert continued his interest in private railroad cars, serving as president of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners. During the 1970s, he broke into the music business, writing, producing, playing and recording with the Flying Boxcars and owning a music store.
Deacon Douglas Ebert
“I get royalty checks once in a while, but not enough to live on,” he quipped.
Deacon Ebert quit going to Mass for about 20 years during his 20s and 30s. But, his prayer life never died, he said.
“Even while I was away from the church, the call was still there,” he said. “I decided in my mid- to late-40s that I would continue my career and focus on becoming a priest.”
He started reading Scripture on his own during layovers from flying, and he began attending daily Mass whenever possible, before officially returning to the Catholic Church in 1988.
He also attended an annual retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, where “being around other men in different careers and seeing their faith” nourished his vocation, Deacon Ebert said.
He began getting out of his many businesses as opportunities arose, so when he was offered an early retirement from American Airlines in 2003, he took it.
He began taking pre-theology classes at the St. Paul Seminary while still living in Chicago, he said. The Jesuits helped with his discernment and advised him to talk with Archbishop Harry Flynn, who allowed him to enter the seminary.
As the “senior citizen” of the group, Deacon Ebert said seminary life is “fatiguing, but it’s a matter of pacing yourself.” Although it may take him longer to complete assignments, he brings experience in both finances and service, he said.
While serving in his teaching parishes, Deacon Ebert learned that he likes working with people and sharing his faith.
“I learned that sharing faith empowers faith,” he said. Also, he is committed to finishing, but not always completing a task. “The task I’m entering into is not mine to finish. You just do what you do and try to bring faith to people.”
Waxing philosophical, he said, “Life is a journey. In the transportation business, you’re thinking about where you’re going more than where you’ve been. . . . I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. I’ve lived in the country. I’ve lived in the city. I’ve been well and I’ve been sick. I really don’t care where I go [to serve as a priest]. I just want to be with people.”