What drew these Alaskan men to the priesthood?

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It may not qualify as a raging river yet, but the ranks of Alaskan men discerning, training and being ordained to the Catholic priesthood is growing into a steady stream.

After nearly a decade without any ordinations to the priesthood, over the past three years two Alaskans have been ordained priests. Five more young men are in formal seminary training and several others have visited seminaries in recent months to consider the priesthood.

This vocational uptick is not limited to Alaska. Last year, for the first time in 14 years, the Catholic Church ordained more than 500 men to the priesthood. That is expected to continue in 2015, according to Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), which tracks Catholic trends nationally.

While this news may encourage the faithful, the overall number of priests in the United States continues to drop. According to CARA, “the bad news is the church needs 700-800 ordinations of diocesan priests alone each year to stem the decline in these clergy. So while ordaining 500 or more total priests in 2015 would be a significant increase, it is still insufficient in the broader context.”

CARA reports there are now 37,574 Catholic priests in the United States, down from 41,399 in 2005 and well below the 58,632 priests in 1965.

As part of the Catholic Anchor’s regular coverage of religious vocations, the five seminarians for the Anchorage Archdiocese were asked to write a short reflection on how they wound up in the seminary. Their responses follow.


Altar boy service key to discerning priestly calling


I first began thinking about the possibility of the priesthood when I was a little boy, shortly after receiving First Holy Communion, I had become an altar boy and serving at the altar with good and holy priests in my youth was certainly the most important influence on this thinking. While always being open to the calling, I did not think much about priesthood during my high school years and it was not until my last year at the University of Idaho that I began to consider this calling anew. Active discernment for the priesthood did not begin until after I had returned to Anchorage and was teaching in local schools.

Especially during this time Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, who had confirmed me, was a great priestly and fatherly influence. The moment of decision came during a talk by the late Francis Cardinal George at the Serra Conference being hosted in Anchorage in 2010. After that moment, I no longer had any serious doubts concerning the authenticity of my vocation to the priesthood.

I am currently in my fifth year (Theology III) at St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota. Life at the seminary consists of prayer, study, work, outreach and fraternity. Having five seminarians for the Anchorage Archdiocese here also gives us a great sense of community life and our common mission. The Anchorage seminarians prepare weekly meals and get together quite regularly.

As a candidate for holy orders, and having gone through the minor ministries of lector and acolyte (which are necessary steps along the path to priesthood), I am now preparing for my ordination to the diaconate which is projected for June 3, 2016 — the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. God willing, my ordination to the priesthood will be the following year, June 2017.


Eucharistic adoration enkindled calling to priesthood


From a young age, I was definitely very attracted to the priesthood. This desire was enkindled by many influences, the most memorable being my First Holy Communion and the hours of eucharistic adoration to which my dad would take me. This was a special time spending the last hour of adoration on Holy Thursday with him and Our Blessed Lord. The next time that this vocation became explicit was immediately following the Mass in which I was confirmed. I felt an inclination to go to the adoration chapel to give Our Lord thanks for this increased gift of the Holy Spirit. This is when my relationship with the Lord became much more active — I was overwhelmed by his goodness. This was really a turning point in my life. Saint Bruno adequately describes it: “God gives the peace which the world ignores and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

A couple years later, a similar grace was given to me. Several months later, during a visit to a seminary, I fell in love with the way of life — daily Mass, daily holy hour, daily studying of the faith. This love of God has gradually been strengthened over time. I have come to see that one of the greatest joys of this way of life is the special mode of companionship shared with Our Lord: “And you are they who have continued with me in my temptations” (Luke 22:28).

I really cannot comprehend a greater joy than hearing this from Our Master, Jesus Christ. Now, I am in my first year of theology, which means that, while discernment is still a live reality, my classmates and I are preparing ourselves for the sacred ministry of the priesthood, with Mother Church discerning us.

My projected ordination to the priesthood is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 28, 2019.


Meeting, devout, joy-filled Catholics prompts priestly pursuit


I can distinctly remember laughing when St. Elizabeth Ann Seton pastor Father Tom Lilly asked me if I’d thought about being a priest.

“Thanks Father, but that’s definitely not for me.”

The Lord has a funny way of turning our plans around. I had never really considered priesthood until I was in college. I thought of a priest like schoolchildren think of their teacher; someone you’re grateful for, but who lives at the school and doesn’t do anything else all day. Maybe that’s not far off for a priest (living in a rectory and all) but nonetheless I had never considered priesthood because it was scary, it was strange, and it sounded lonely. That all changed when I got involved with some devout Catholics in college. They were normal college kids, but on top of that, they were different. They had something that I didn’t — joy.

Seeing the Christian life actually lived out was attractive and compelling. I was invited to a retreat, and that’s where my life changed. I heard a priest talk about a day in his life, which involved hearing the confession of someone for the first time in 30 years. While he was talking I heard the word “priest.” Now, this wasn’t an audible thing, but something in my heart and something insistent. I knew I needed to start praying to see if it might be the Lord’s will, but I still didn’t even desire what I felt called to until later. It took prayer and seeing the joy that other seminarians and young women religious had for me to realize that it might not only be what I’m called to, but a life where I would be most fulfilled. I still have a good ways to go in formation, and lots of time for prayer. I have four more years after this year and, God willing, would be ordained in 2020. For now I feel free to invest fully into seminary formation and can follow wherever Jesus leads as he says to me, “Come, follow me.”


Star athlete gives up gridiron to train for the priesthood


The thought of priesthood had never entered my mind until I attended confirmation classes during my junior year at Chugiak High School. After watching the video “Fishers of Men,” the idea of becoming a priest was planted in my mind. I was very attracted by the thought of helping and serving others. At that time, I was just learning how to really pray. I would bring the idea of being a priest to prayer, and without fail I always heard the call of Jesus, “Come and follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”

I tried running from the idea of becoming a priest. It is, after all, uncommon for the typical 16-year-old to consider such a call, especially for a person so absorbed in the workings of the world. I was the typical jock in high school, playing football and track and field on the varsity level. My identity, though, changed over the course of my junior year, especially during confirmation. I developed a love for Christ and began to slowly conform my life to his. After confirmation, I began an adoration hour and sought out spiritual direction. I was motivated by my love of God to find the purpose and vocation he had for me. As senior year rolled around I had a choice to make: play college football and live my dream, or become a seminarian. After many holy hours, fasts and sleepless nights spent grasping my rosary and staring at my crucifix, I decided to become a seminarian. It was not an easy choice, but the best one I’ve ever made.

Seminary is a structured environment, and I have become a much better man, devoted to serving the church and God. Seminary is also very difficult. Daily I am expected to push myself to improve in all pillars of formation. These include pastoral (how I serve others), academic (passing my classes and learning the material expected of me), human (exercising enough, eating well, interacting well with others), and most importantly spiritual (uniting myself more fully with Jesus and deepening my relationship with him). None of these are easy to do, but it makes me a better man and prepares me for priesthood.

I am now in my second year at seminary, meaning I am projected to be ordained in the summer of 2022. God willing I will be serving the Archdiocese of Anchorage, in six-and-half years.


‘Healthy skepticism’ & sacraments aid Air Force aviator’s discernment


The Hound of Heaven has resounded steadily in my heart since growing up as a military dependent in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From a young age I enjoyed the military community’s close-knit composition of retirees, active duty members and frequent visitors from surrounding parishes. My early development was molded by these people and the spiritual example set by our military chaplains. After joining the U.S. Air Force to serve as an enlisted aviator, my vocation discernment intensified through the guidance of these uniformed shepherds. It has led me to seminary in preparation for the Roman Catholic priesthood.

The most significant part of my early discernment was simply opening my heart to the possibility that God may be calling me to serve him as a priest. A healthy skepticism is necessary, so naturally wrestling with God actually helped verify that I had the right intentions. Before coming to seminary, I worked through a lot of questions with my spiritual director and also with my friends and family. Honesty and transparency are necessary when discerning priesthood. Also necessary for my discernment was daily Eucharist and spending an hour every day in silence with God, through eucharistic adoration if possible. Going to regular confession, praying the rosary, and asking my patron saint to intercede for me daily also were important.

I am now in year one of six before priestly ordination. This year I am taking Old and New Testament courses, ancient and medieval philosophy, an in-depth study of the Catechism, logic and epistemology, and my favorite – Latin!

In addition to my studies I rotate between different apostolic works. This semester I am doing a jail ministry, visiting inmates. I do a lot of listening and encourage inmates to have hope despite their circumstances. I also visit a local shelter which houses more than 100 families. There I tutor kids, mostly from Somali refugee families, who speak little to no English but are expected to keep up with the other kids in public school. Also at the seminary we have a day of recollection once a month where we dedicate the entire day to prayerful reflection.

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