What attracted you to the priesthood?
It is not what attracted me to the priesthood but who attracted me to it. When I was young, I was attracted by the joy I would always see on my parish priest's face. This was especially prevalent when he was with his people and administering the sacraments. To top it off, he was also a Franciscan, so he lived a life of extreme poverty. I was in complete awe of how he could be so happy with so few belongings.
As I grew up, I encountered many more men and women with a similar look of joy as they served their fellow man, but no one seemed to have what Fr. Tom Vos, OFM, possessed. He truly set the standard for what I considered holy simplicity and joy. I wish I had known that it wasn’t his natural character that attracted me, but the grace he reflected from his priesthood.
Who or what influenced you to begin studying for the priesthood?
My positive interactions with priests in my hometown and college were definitely factors in my decision to begin studying for the priesthood. However, I didn’t start thinking of priesthood until I attended the University of Notre Dame’s summer youth program, “Vision,” when I was 17. That’s where I had an incredible and life-changing experience while interacting with other Catholic youth.
I grew up in a predominantly Protestant area of Tennessee and was never shown the beauty that the Church had to offer. At the very least, the beauty was never made visible in a way I could understand. This program at Notre Dame showed me new ways of praying, how to pray the rosary, how to approach the sacraments, and how the lives of the saints changed the world. It took a faith that I already considered quite strong and turned it into one that relied upon the communio of the whole Church and not just what I believed.
On the last night of the program, there was a massive penance service in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Everyone had the opportunity to go to confession. It had been a few years since my last confession, so I was naturally nervous and thought I would hear a stern lecture from my confessor.
But something incredible happened while I was receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In my confessor’s eyes, I saw the same fatherly look that Fr. Tom had shown me when I was a child. This young priest reaffirmed my identity as a child of God and welcomed me back into the state of grace. There was no lecture, no chastisement and no condemnation. There was only grace. That moment kickstarted the stirring in my heart to consider the priesthood. I began to think of how being a mediator for God’s grace in such a unique way would be a meaningful way to live. Unfortunately, it would take seven years before I made a move to actively discern this calling.
What were you doing before you came to the seminary?
Before entering seminary, I was a U.S. naval officer stationed at NAS Whiting Field to complete my naval aviation training. I was three months away from earning my wings of gold when God reminded me of the stirring He had placed in my heart at Notre Dame. It was difficult to leave after so much work and effort, but I knew I couldn’t ignore this calling any longer. Thankfully, I had a commanding officer who was a man of faith who helped me obtain an honorable discharge and begin seminary with the least lag time possible.
Favorite saint and why?
Recently I’ve been gravitating toward St. Damien de Veuster (St. Damien of Molokai). His story of abandoning himself to his ministry with the leper colony of Molokai challenges me daily, especially as my ordination date approaches. He was a precursor to the ministry that St. Teresa of Calcutta practiced, and he was never afraid of what the world thought of him. So long as he was ministering to his people and the benefit of their spiritual and corporeal needs, he was fulfilling his calling. That kind of heroic love for the people of God is what I hope to cultivate.
Favorite Scripture verse and why?
Luke 12:27: Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
The first three words, “Consider the lilies,” has become a phrase to center myself in God's promise to humanity. When things get hectic, when everything seems to be going wrong and I feel like the world is crushing me, this verse reminds me of my identity. It reminds me that I am a beloved son of God, and this title never needs to be earned.
I enjoy exercising and learning about how the human body can perform incredible feats of strength, endurance and stamina. Whether it’s strength training, endurance sports, or a mix of the two, I love trying new things and tinkering with biomechanics, nutrition and other longevity methods.
What aspect of seminary life has been most rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect of seminary life has been the amount of formation I have received thus far. I know I was already formed to a reputable level of professionalism by my family and my time in the Navy. Still, seminary formation has a specific goal in mind, and that is to form Christian gentlemen. Whether that gentleman stays through to the end and reaches ordination or he decides to leave and discern another call, he still possesses the foundation to become a man of God centered on doing God’s will.
What aspect of seminary life has been most challenging?
I’d say the most challenging part of seminary has been community life. It has been a tremendous blessing to meet and know such great guys trying to discern God’s will in their life. But when you spend as much time together as we do, you’re bound to experience conflicts or clashes of personalities. However, this presents us with the challenge of being patient with each other and seeing ourselves in the other more often than we may be used to.
Best advice you've heard in seminary?
“No one will care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” What separates a Catholic seminary from any other seminary or college is that we are not obtaining knowledge and skills for our own sake but for the sake of those we minister to. So this advice has helped me to form my studies, my interactions with my brothers, and my pastoral assignments around the care of God’s people. I aim to demonstrate the love and concern I’ve received from the many other priests who did the same for me.