If you’ve ever driven US 52 westbound through New Boston, Ohio, you’ve probably seen a little church on the corner of Pine Street with a statue on the facade under a darkening copper roof. That is St Monica Church, a tiny yet healthy parish of 100 or so families. 2016 marks its centenary as a mission parish. It’s also the parish I call home.
I grew up the son of a steel worker and a homemaker. My parents, Steve and Patty, have lived in southern Ohio their entire lives, now working at the local housing authority and a charitable organization. My siblings, Stephanie and Brian, still live just a few miles from the homestead with their families, six little nieces and nephews in all — I’m the youngest. Even my grandparents are just a short drive away. It makes all the birthday dinners quite reasonable to get to.
When I was very young, I loved dinosaurs. I had all these books and figurines and toys. I decided very early that when I got older, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Then my sister went to college to study engineering; math and science were my two favorite subjects, and once I found out what engineering was, it seemed very appealing. But what about my dream? I considered that if God made me, and if he loves me, then whatever he had in mind for me when he made me would be the best thing for me to be. So I began to ask him what he wanted to do; this was probably around middle school or so. And one day, the thought came to me: what if I’m supposed to be a priest?
At first the idea was unappealing: I’d always been close with my dad, and wanted to have little tots of my own to show the love he had shown me. But gradually, one aspect after another of priestly life and ministry began to seem quite attractive. I went on a couple of live-ins at the Josephinum and was quite taken with the place. But when it came time to choose the path of my secondary education, I chose to attend Notre Dame because I felt I had some growing up to do and interests to explore. I always remained open to the possibility of a priestly vocation, but I figured it was easier to go from Notre Dame to seminary than the other way around. Every semester I’d ask myself: is it time to take the plunge? And the answer was always: not just yet.
Upon graduation I moved to Chicago to work as an IT consultant, for largely the same reasons I went to a traditional four-year college. I had never, for example, kept a checkbook, and a priest is, after all, an administrator — among many other things. And this small town boy greatly enjoyed his time in the Big City. I had a cherished circle of friends, a short drive to ND’s campus for gameday, and an active role in my parish. But after a year, I realized it wasn’t enough. I was happy but unsatisfied. I wasn’t really doing what God created me to do. I realized the time was right, and I entered seminary in the fall of 2013.
As I’m currently in my second year of graduate studies in theology, I can’t imagine being more excited about the priesthood. Three years down, three to go. It’s true what our bishop likes to say: unless you follow your vocation and answer God’s call courageously and generously, you will never be truly happy. I’m a seminarian. I’m going to be a priest. And I couldn’t be happier about it.