In the spring of 2012, I had the opportunity to go on my first real retreat, the 8th grade retreat put on by the high school youth group. I went because my friends were going, and I thought it was going to be a fun time. Honestly, I don’t remember much of what we did over the weekend, nor do I remember what most of the talks were about, but I do remember the Saturday night Adoration that we had. We had just heard a testimony and the lights were dimmed. I was sitting front and center as Father Bill Koenigsknecht processed into the room with the Blessed Sacrament. He then put the monstrance on the makeshift altar right in front of me. As a group, we sang praise-and-worship songs with intermittent silence, so we could just look, talk and listen to Jesus. At the end of Adoration, Fr. Bill got up, and began benediction. As he reposed the Blessed Sacrament, I distinctly remember hearing the words, “You could do that,” in my head, almost like a whisper. This shook me! I felt different for the rest of the retreat, and even after getting home.
After the retreat, the words that the Lord said to me left me feeling confused. “You could do that,” he said. What’s that supposed to mean? Was God calling me to be a priest?! In order to get answers, I went to Andrew Halfman, my theology teacher, and asked to meet. In our meeting, I told him what happened in Adoration, and I asked him what I was supposed to make of it. He kindly told me not to worry about it. If this was a call from God for me to become a priest, since I was only in 8th grade, I had plenty of time to think about it later. This is not what I wanted to hear. I wanted a definite answer: did God want me to be a priest or not? I’m a planner; if I knew what God wanted me to do, I could take intentional steps to prepare myself for that. Looking back, I should have tried to deepen my prayer life to strengthen my relationship with Jesus, and in doing this, over time, my vocation would have become clear. Instead, I tried to learn more about God and Catholicism. If God was calling me to be a priest, I needed to know as much about the faith as I could.
For the final months of 8th grade and into my freshman year of high school, I asked my youth minister for any and all media that would teach about the Church. I wasn’t completely sure who God was, or what the Church specifically taught, so I wanted to know all about it. I read things like The Essential Catholic Survival Guide, Walking with God: A Journey through the Bible, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth and The Angels: In Catholic Teaching and Tradition. I also started listening to Catholic Answers Radio and to Lighthouse Catholic CDs. At this point, I felt God wasn’t someone whom I could have a relationship with. He was merely someone who I could know about, so I did my best to learn all about him.
In the fall of 2012, I went into my freshman year of high school. In high school, instead of being segregated by grade like in middle school, students from different grades would intermingle. This is actually how I got involved in youth group. During lunch, there was a group of seniors who regularly played cards, and they welcomed younger students to join them. Over time, I became friends with two guys in particular: Josh Hamilton and Grant Feldpausch. They both made it a point to invite me to youth group events. Josh would also invite me to go out to the movies, out to eat, and even play laser tag. These guys were super nice, and such great role models for me! They were both into their faith, made school a priority and didn’t party on the weekends. Because of how genuine they were, I wanted to be like them. Throughout high school, I chose to be be involved in youth group, try my best in school, and to not get caught up in drinking and partying.
During my freshman and sophomore years, I kind of assumed that God wanted me to be a priest. I wanted to be holy, so I went to every youth group and church event I could; I went to Bible studies, social nights, movie nights, and Holy Hours. I also made it a priority to go to every retreat I could. If there was something going on at my youth group, I was there. Although I had good intentions, I didn’t really pray often and God was a distant figure in my life. Despite everything I went to and how involved I was in youth group, I still didn’t know that I could have a personal relationship with God.
During my sophomore year, my youth minister, Adam Halfman, noticed how involved I was. He asked a classmate and me to join a leadership group, made up of mostly upperclassmen who were into their faith and helped to plan retreats/events. Something different about this group was that Adam, who led it, wanted it to be centered on the model of intentional discipleship. This challenged me to not only be involved in youth group for the sake of my own faith, but to go out and bring others too. I also realized that Josh and Grant had used this model on me, and how successful it could really be.
The summer after my sophomore year, I attended Franciscan LEAD (A week long retreat that stands for Leadership, Evangelization And Discipleship and is held at Steubenville). This was a week where I met people my age who also loved their faith, and wanted to grow closer to God. Coming into the retreat, it was on my heart to think more about the priesthood and to gain a personal relationship with God. One night, it was announced that teams of two adults would come and pray over each of us. As the praise and worship session started, I was one of the first to be prayed with. After praying for a few minutes, prayer leader said he got the sense that I had things that needed to be “pruned away;” that some things in my life were keeping me from a close relationship with God. Immediately, the thought of becoming a priest came to mind. In that moment, it was clear what God was saying to me: “Stop thinking about becoming a priest.”
Surprisingly, this was a big step in my faith. At first I was upset. Why would God have put it on my heart to think about becoming a priest when he was just going to rip it away from me?! I had spent two years thinking about seminary and the priesthood, and I had nothing to show for it. Looking back now, I can clearly see that I didn’t really have a relationship with God. I was never honest with God in prayer. I would use my thoughts of becoming a priest like a shield of sorts. I assumed that I was already holy because, hey, the Lord wants me to be a priest. I don’t need to make any efforts in my relationship with Him; it’s perfect (because God only calls the elite to be priests, right?). I also thought, “Since I am being called to be a priest, I don’t need to talk to those “sinners” in my class, who partied on the weekend.” I thought the way I was living, with a ‘holier than thou’ mentality, was what God wanted from me and that needed to change.
Something else that I got from LEAD was a real prayer life. At LEAD, we were taught how to pray and how we should use our time in prayer to simply converse with God. We don’t need to say the right thing, or sound holy in our prayer. God wants us just as we are. This was huge for me. I could come to God with my worries my struggles and not worry about doing it perfectly. Also, knowing that God loved me in spite of whatever I was going on in my life was freeing. Again, I didn’t have to worry about living perfectly, praying perfectly or being perfect; God wanted me to be myself.
In August, I went on service retreat and had a life-changing conversation with Chris Feldpausch, a guy close to my age from our parish. As we talked, I was vulnerable with him about struggles that I was going through. I had never revealed such personal things to people my own age. Not only did I share about myself, but he opened up about past and current struggles that he had. This was the start of an accountability group. Each week after that retreat, Chris and I would get together and discuss how our week had gone, struggles we may be facing, and anything we needed prayers for. It was really a blessing during my junior year in high school. This group actually grew, too. First, we had Josh Luttig join, then we asked seven others who had just come back from LEAD to join. This men’s group was a way in which I grew in my faith during my junior and senior years. Being held accountable, I was challenged to pray more, but also to grow in virtue, especially during my senior year. I was the oldest member, so I would lead meetings and I was the guy to whom people came when they needed help outside of our group meetings. This was powerful for me because these guys trusted me to pray and talk to them even when there wasn’t the privacy of a meeting. I found that I enjoyed supporting them through the tough moments that they experienced throughout the week.
My last two years of high school went by quickly. I continued to do pretty well in school and stayed involved in youth group. In May 2016, I graduated from high school, and the following fall, I went to Central Michigan University to become a physician assistant. At this point, my faith was very important in my life. I finally knew that I could have a personal relationship with God, and I did my best to pray regularly and let Him know what was going on in my life. I was also interested in being involved in the Catholic parish on campus. After being in the men’s group in high school, I saw how effective a group could be at strengthening the members’ faith lives. I wanted to have people who I could be vulnerable with while I was at college.
I spent a year at CMU, but it was rough for me in the beginning. I had to adjust to ordering my own schedule in things like going to bed on time and waking up when I was supposed to. I would go to Mass on the weekends, but found it difficult to talk to the people who were at the parish—it seemed cliquey. I became disheartened from this bad experience at St. Mary’s. In mid-October, I went on a retreat at the parish. Although it didn’t do much to strengthen my relationship with God, I did make friends there. After that, I found my niche at St. Mary’s. I would go to Mass as often as my schedule allowed, go to the chapel to pray between classes and cook for meals that St. Mary’s hosted on Sundays. There were FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students)missionaries on campus, and I actually became “discipled”, or mentored by one of them. I again became excited about my faith and to bring others to Christ.
The following summer, in 2017, I started working at a nursing home to get patient care hours needed for my major, and through this experience, I saw how much of an effect I could have in the residents’ daily life. Because of this, I chose to change my major to nursing. As it turns out, CMU did not have a nursing program, so I had to change schools. I ultimately decided on staying home and commuting to Lansing Community College to complete the necessary prerequisites.
Being back at home was not great for me. At CMU, I was seconds away from friends and always had someone to talk to. At home, most of the time, I was by myself. This really wore on me. Over time, I started having feelings of depression. I would feel alone, unloved, and even unwanted. There were times in which I felt like there was no point to go on with my life. I was in a really bad place, so I ended up talking to my mom and a counselor at LCC and I brought it to confession. The people who I talked to all gave me great support and helped me through this difficult time.
In December 2017, I was the emcee at a high school retreat that was put on by the youth group. It was an incredible experience because I had a big part in planning and putting these plans into action. During the retreat, I loved seeing how the Lord was affecting the participants through talks, prayers, Adoration, Mass, small groups and prayer teams. The biggest part of the retreat for me was Saturday night. After Adoration ended, Adam Halfman and I talked about how the retreat was going. Towards the end of the conversation, he paused and said, “Brian, you seem to have a heart for ministry. Have you seriously considered the priesthood since high school?” When he said that, I remember that my heart felt like it was on fire. I had a strong desire to be a priest, and to do God’s will for me. Shortly after the retreat, I made the prayer to God saying, “If you want me to go to seminary, let things fall into place.”
From there, I met with Fr. John Linden (the Director of Vocations for the Diocese) and had a conversation about where I had been and where I am in my faith. Through this conversation, Fr. John said it seemed like I might have an authentic call to the priesthood. He encouraged me to apply to seminary, so I did.
From there everything has seemed to fall into place. My parents have been very supportive of me taking this step, and Fr. Dennis agrees that I should attend seminary. Just a week ago I received the final approval in a meeting with Bishop Boyea so I am excited to announce that I am now officially a seminarian and will start classes in the fall. Although there have been fears in becoming a seminarian, I have felt a certain lasting peace throughout the application process. Looking back, it’s easy to see the ways that God has worked in my life over the past six years as he has prepared me to take this step. I’m very excited to start seminary and see what he has in store for me next!