I still remember walking up the stairs to the front door of Notre Dame Seminary in late summer of 1998. I was a new seminarian, eager to dive into theological studies and discern my vocation. In the middle of the flight of stairs, I paused to read the words carved into the stone over the entrance to Shaw Hall: Deus Providebit. I vividly remember the calm sense of security I felt in that moment, knowing that no matter what might occur after I walked through those doors, God would provide for me.
Fast forward to a Thursday afternoon in August 2020. I’m at home in St. Louis, watching the live-streamed Episcopal Ordination of Robert Marshall, a priest of the Diocese of Memphis, who will soon be installed as the Bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana.
Bishop Marshall and I attended Notre Dame Seminary at the same time. My two years of pre-theology coincided with the end of his formation and we both left in the summer of 2020. He graduated, was ordained to the priesthood and began his ministry in Memphis. I stuck around New Orleans to finish up my undergraduate degree at Loyola University and figure out my next steps.
My time in the seminary was pure gift. Recognizing that most people do not have the luxury of discerning their vocation in this way, I often reflect on how fortunate I was to even be a seminarian in the first place.
I like to say that I had the best of both worlds. As an undergraduate at Loyola, I had many friends with whom I could enjoy the music and atmosphere of New Orleans. At the same time, I had a community of people who were also discerning their call to the priesthood. In this rich environment, I had people to both pray and play with - I was thriving!
Many of the lessons I learned in the seminary stick with me today: The rector reminding us to “get over ourselves.” The value of dragging myself to the chapel for liturgy, even if I didn’t feel like it. The importance of healthy relationships.
I remember my annual evaluations as both affirming and challenging. A pivotal experience was when the rector asked me why I wanted to be a priest. I knew this question was coming. Luckily, I was prepared. With all the confidence I could muster, I told him that I wanted to use my gifts and talents to serve others, facilitate liturgies and teach people about our faith. He said that was great, “But why do you need to be a priest to do any of that?”
That question set me on the path to discern my way out of the seminary. I was uncertain about the idea of celibacy and this allowed me a fresh perspective.
Looking back, leaving the seminary was the correct decision. While I believe I could have been a good priest, I think I would have been unhappy as a priest. It would have been difficult living a vocation that wasn’t right for me.
Since leaving the seminary, I’ve continued to study theology and serve the church. I’ve earned graduate degrees in Theology and Bioethics. I taught high school theology, served as a parish pastoral associate and currently serve in Catholic health care as a mission leader. My career has allowed me to use my gifts and talents in service of the church, which was always my intention.
More importantly, my wife and I have been married for over 18 years. Our amazing 9 year old daughter is beginning fourth grade. Marriage has been a fantastic experience. My family keeps me on my toes, encourages me and calls me to grow in so many ways. On this day, 20 years after moving out of the seminary, I still have people to pray and play with.
Deus Providebit, indeed.