Meet Our Seniors

Get to know each of our senior seminarians

The following are short stories about the senior men at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary. The stories highlight their own personal journey it IHMS, how it is God called them to be here, and how they've grown throughout their formation. Check back often as more stories are added.

Will O'Donnell - Diocese of Gary

From a young age, Will O’Donnell was fascinated by the Mass. Given the opportunity to become an altar server, he felt something special being that involved in the celebration and that close to the Eucharist. For most, their time as a server fades and lives move in another direction, but for O’Donnell, that simple service fueled a longing in his heart to serve God in more profound ways.

O’Donnell, a senior at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary from the Diocese of Gary, came from a devout home and attended Catholic school his entire life, so his formation around the faith started early. He credits that experience as a server with introducing the idea that his life could be used in special service to God.

“I didn’t totally understand it; I was still in third grade and I had just received communion for the first time,” he said of that early feeling. “I really wrestled with it, like being in greater communion with God, with Jesus Christ, and being a part of this mystery. Learning about it really increased my desire to learn more about how I can remain in this communion and grow in it.”

But like his peers, he grew up and out of serving at the altar, and his faith had cooled a bit when he entered high school and began to focus more on discovering who he was. Still, he attended a number of faith-based retreats, including the National Catholic Youth Conference, which reignited the fire in his heart once again, so much so that as a sophomore, he began working for the diocese on a retreat committee.

“It was really by working in the diocese that I really grew to want to work in a religious organization, so for a long time, I thought my call was to work for the diocese,” O’Donnell said. “I was really interested in computer technology, so I wanted to maybe be a source of help for the diocese. As the church was growing, there’s going to be more people and there’s going to be a need for understanding computers and technology and how to evangelize through that. That was my main plan.”

But as he later realized, God had different ideas. Those ideas became clearer for O’Donnell while attending a Kairos retreat, when he said he experienced the profound love of God through others – most significantly, through letters written to him by loved ones who expressed their deep care and love for him. In receiving that love, God told him he was to share that same kind of love with others.

“I heard His voice say to me, ‘I want you to share this love in how I intend for you,’ and how that love was shared was through an image of the priesthood,” he said. “That initial call in third grade was real, and this was the realization of that now.”

Recognizing the call was an exciting moment for O’Donnell because of the joy that swelled in him after the Kairos experience.

“I figured out that this is a way of life; I could live out of this love,” he said. “But there was some fear, with some misconceptions of the seminary.”

O’Donnell sought to clear up those ideas – including, for instance, that men did nothing but pray in silence all day or that he had to change who he was to become the ideal priest – by talking with some priests and deacons he knew. Once that was resolved, he knew entering seminary was the next step, a decision he’s yet to waver about.

While at IHMS, O’Donnell said he’s learned to better trust the Lord, which has been the theme of his journey through discernment. That includes trusting that his formation would continue while away from the house during the height of the COVID-10 pandemic.

“It was during that time that I saw the growth of the priestly heart inside of me,” he said. “During that time, people were separated from the church and couldn’t go to Mass or receive the sacraments. I was, in some ways, in agony because I was like, who am I to be so close to the sacraments? There are so many people who need the Word more than I.

“Even in that agony, I was experiencing the pity Jesus had for the crowds that were destitute, like a sheep without a shepherd.”

That feeling is evidence enough that God has put the call of priesthood on O’Donnell’s heart, one he knows he’ll fulfill despite any doubts that crept in along the way.

“Having gone through that time and wrestling with those doubts, and really just abandoning all of my hope to Jesus, I really found that there are things that are keeping me from greater communion with Christ, but that’s why I need Him. I need Him to carry me forward and continue to form me and shape me into the priest that He wants.” 

Andrew Mullaney - Diocese of Sioux Falls

Andrew Mullaney had a typical Catholic upbringing. He went to a tiny public school in the heart of South Dakota, but his family’s strong faith was such that he received the sacraments of reconciliation, communion, and confirmation, in addition to attending Sunday school and faith formation classes. He didn’t feel like he stood out from his peers who accomplished those same milestones, so when he felt God’s urging to consider the holy priesthood, Mullaney’s first thoughts were, “Who, me?”

But Mullaney, a senior from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, had one more experience that really set the table for what could be, and much of the credit goes to his grandfather, who was also his confirmation sponsor. After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, Mullaney accepted an invitation from his grandfather to attend a 3-day Koinonia retreat.

“I was just open to what was going to happen and participated in the life of the group, especially the sacrament of reconciliation,” Mullaney said. “I just entered in considering where I was at in my life, what I wanted, what were my goals and my aspirations. I laid a lot of burdens, trials, and anxieties down, and from the sacrament, received a lot of grace, love, and mercy, and really encountered the living God for the first time.”

He also spent time in Eucharistic adoration, and once again feeling that mercy and grace, Mullaney, whose father spent time in seminary, said that God was beginning to open his heart to the calling of the priesthood, a deep love of Him, and a deep love of His people.

“There were a couple profound experiences in adoration where the Lord was calling me deeper, and seminary was the practical reality of what that looked like,” he said. “(The retreat) was the turning point, and you couldn’t look back from there. Once I encountered Jesus Christ, there was no going back. Now I found my fulfillment, I found meaning in life, and I found what I had been created for.”

Growing up, Mullaney already had a heart for people, especially the disadvantaged. He had hoped to enter education to teach special education. He enjoyed “teaching people, being with them, and encountering them daily.” That was affirmed by a teacher he once had who, after his successful care of a robotic baby, told him he’d be a great father someday. That made Mullaney wonder, what kind of father?

He also often found himself in prayer with elderly members of his parish, and on more than a few occasions, they’d mention to him that he’d make a good priest. At the time, Mullaney balked at the idea, but the more he heard it, the more he recognized God’s voice in theirs.

“This person is wiser than I am, so I have to take what they’re saying and try it out, see what God has in store,” he said.

Though willing, Mullaney remembers feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of the priesthood. It was emotional hearing the call time and again, seeing the invitation, and feeling God very quickly directing him toward seminary and a vocation.

“Unworthiness,” he said he thought of himself. “I just came to this retreat as a junior, I just went to reconciliation. Don’t You know who I am? Not this guy.”

But he recalls the story of another seemingly ordinary person who was called by God to do great things. This person ended up being the Mother of God.

“Even Mary herself thought, ‘How is this going to be done?’” Mullaney said. “How is this going to be done that You’re going to turn me into Your priest, into Your servant?”

Gradually throughout his formation at IHMS, that feeling of unworthiness has faded, and Mullaney now sees God forming him into the man he’s meant to be. No longer does that feeling of weakness affect him, but rather, he understands that God invites that dependence so it can be used for His greater glory.

And he’s also learned that if you can let go of other good passions, at least for the time being, God will use them and multiply the joy found in them. He hasn’t ruled out the hope that someday, he can meld the priesthood with his love of teaching.

“If you give those things over and you fully surrender, God never leaves you,” Mullaney said. “In the four years I’ve been here, God has repaid those a hundred-fold.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Thomas Kollasch - Diocese of Sioux City

Thomas Kollasch remembers the moment well. As he sat in the quiet of Eucharistic adoration, something he had done many times before, he felt this time that his gaze was met by Jesus himself. It was a profound feeling, and from that point on, Kollasch knew where God was calling him, and he knew he had to leave where he was in order to follow.

Kollasch, a senior from the Diocese of Sioux City, didn’t take the direct route to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary. Instead, after graduating from high school, he crossed the state to attend the University of Iowa, where his interest trended toward biology. He admits those classes didn’t interest him much, but during his time there, he had a roommate who held him accountable to his faith, attended church with him, and pushed him to meet new people – one of which was a catalyst for his entrance into the seminary.

Kollasch grew up in the Catholic school system, and he remembers enjoying weekday Mass when he attended with his classmates. He even, as a third grader, remembers be quoted in the newspaper telling someone he wanted to be a priest. But it wasn’t until the summer between middle and high school where he expressed that feeling in a more real manner. While attending a Steubenville conference in Denver, during a large-group evening session, those who were considering a vocation were asked to come to the stage so a prayer could be said over them. Something made Kollasch step forward.

“I’m not sure what my thoughts were,” he said about why he went on that stage. “I remember doing it, but I don’t remember, like, am I actually considering priesthood or do I just really desire a relationship with Christ?”

The summer after graduating from high school, Kollasch joined his diocesan discernment group on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he met his future roommate at Iowa. At college, the two attended Mass together, and following their first visit to the Newman Center, Kollasch met a FOCUS missionary who, after a brief conversation, invited him for a meal later that week.

“After getting to know him and getting meals with him for awhile, he invited us to his Bible study,” Kollasch said. “Then I started having a separate meeting with him on top of that where it was just kind of a one on one. … We would talk about specific aspects of faith and where I was at with that. He played a huge role in my faith journey and my decision to enter seminary.”

That friendship, and the knowledge Kollasch gained because of it, gave him the freedom and confidence in himself to make the decision to leave Iowa City after his sophomore year and enroll at IHMS because “seminary is something that I want and the priesthood is something I am capable of, with God’s grace.”

His decision was further confirmed during that adoration encounter at the Newman Center. There, he felt an immense sense of peace, void of distractions or the pressure to say or do the right thing. Following that holy hour, Kollasch opened a book he’d been reading, and he was nudged to a paragraph that spoke directly to him about things he’d been praying about and experienced recently.

“In that, I sensed a call to be a priest as well, which is just a super beautiful experience,” he said. “It really keeps me going and desiring adoration.”

During Kollasch’s short, but fruitful, time at IHMS, he said he’s grown to more fully understand how God is calling him to love, which only came after experiencing that sense of freedom of identity in Christ as His beloved son “who can live as a man and, God willing, a priest in my own unique way.”

“Within that end goal of learning how I’m called to be a man is how I’m called to love and how I’m called to father in a parish,” he said.

Next year, that learning will happen away from IHMS, but Kollasch hopes to take with him that zest for the spiritual life that he developed during his two years here.

“I hope to maintain this newness and adventure in relationship with Christ,” he said, “and He has really nourished that desire in me.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Barry Meinholz - Diocese of Madison

Barry Meinholz had a steady job at a grocery store in his hometown of Cross Plains, Wis. As he began his post–high school career, it was the last place he thought he’d be confronted with questions about his faith. But as people came to him looking for answers, and as he found himself without the right words, he was forced to dig deeper, and that started him on an unexpected path to the seminary.

Meinholz, a senior from the Diocese of Madison, said the idea of priesthood was one he had as a child, though admitting it wasn’t very intense. By the time he reached high school, he figured, like many kids at that age, that he’d get married and start a family someday. He got confirmed, but mostly “went through the motions” after that – until the job at the grocery store, one he worked for 10 years following high school graduation.

Once his co-workers at the grocery store, many of whom were non-practicing Catholics, began presenting questions “because they knew I went to church,” Meinholz said he tried to bring them answers, and when he did, it felt good, like an accomplishment.

“The more I learned and the deeper I went, I just started falling in love with the faith,” he said. “Gradually, I saw the reason for confession. There was a six-year period where I didn’t go to confession just because I didn’t understand it. But I went back to confession, and that was a really great experience.”

Meinholz also discovered the reasoning and history of daily Mass attendance, so he more regularly made that a part of his day. But the most significant influence, he said, was his discovery of the saints’ devotion to the Blessed Mother. That led him to take part in a 33-day consecration to Jesus through Mary.

“After that, she kind of took control,” he said.

For Meinholz, there wasn’t a specific moment when he knew his life would take a detour from where he thought it was headed, but instead, a gradual realization. He was hearing once a week from people who told him he’d be a good priest (which is a sign, his vocations director told him), and his parish priest recognized something in him as he showed up more at daily Mass. Even his mom, a Catholic school secretary, left him a flier about a men's discernment group that met in Madison.

“She never outright said it, but she put it there,” he said.

He made the decision to enter seminary, and with it came some nerves about beginning not only discernment, but collegiate work, as well as hesitancy about making the right decision for his life. That, however, was tempered by an excitement about the possibilities. Since his arrival four years ago, he’s found that his prayer life has developed into something far deeper than he’d experienced before.

“Before coming here, I would do a Rosary everyday and various other prayers, but it was unfocused,” Meinholz said. “Coming here has shaped how I pray and also helped establish the general need for prayer.”

 He’s also come to understand the depth of God’s desire to be a part of his life.

“I had a tendency to leave God out of it except when there was a big decision involved or I needed something,” he said about his former mindset.

And although his time at IHMS is nearing its completion, Meinholz said he’s not finished learning more about himself and the faith, and “being at a place where I can be there for people, in whatever aspect they need, as a priest.”  

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Josh Johnson - Diocese of Crookston

Josh Johnson didn’t know what God wanted from him. He was certain it was something special, something beyond just weekly attendance at Mass, so he listened and he prayed. And then one day not unlike any other, his calling became a bit clearer, and he decided this was the place he needed to be.

Johnson, a senior at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary from the Diocese of Crookston, grew up in a family with an active parish life, and that faithfulness was reinforced with his attendance at a Catholic high school. As a result, the faith was woven into each day, but beyond that, Johnson hadn’t much considered what it meant to give your life to the Lord. Not unlike his peers, he was focused on other things – things deemed important to normal high school–aged kids: grades, athletics, and social standing.

“I never really considered seminary when I was younger,” he said. “Like in elementary school, middle school, and even into high school, I was like ‘seminary? No.’”

Johnson was, as he put it, “very good at being good at high school.” His grades were solid, he played a role on the football team, and he had friends all around. But despite that wealth of good fortune, something was missing. He wasn’t satisfied. And that led him to think harder and deeper about what he could find that would fill that void. So, he turned to a constant presence in life: his faith.

“It was in the process of … encountering the Lord in a real way in some prayer experiences and being like, huh, maybe this God thing is important,” Johnson said.

An article he read during his junior year by C.S. Lewis made it all the more clear.

“The basic premise was, if what should be most important in your life isn’t most important, then everything else will lose its meaning,” he said. “And I was like, yes, this makes sense. This makes complete sense because that is what I had been living out.”

That revelation set him on a trajectory of discovering how he could most effectively put God first in his life. He made more space for daily prayer, and he did so at the expense of things he once loved.

“I decided to quit football my senior year,” he said. “My coaches weren’t happy.”

It was then in the summer of his senior year, while reading an article about living without fear and anxiety, that he became awash with inner peace, and those negative feelings left him.

“In that moment of them going away, what entered my mind was, ‘Josh, you’re going to enter seminary,’” he said. “It was pretty direct and pretty big.”

So that’s what Johnson did, though he admits that even during his first two years at IHMS, that desire to enter the priesthood hadn’t developed. He just knew he was responding to God’s beckoning.

“I was like, ‘Alright Lord, you’re going to have to deal with me,’” he said, with a laugh.

But as he journeyed through formation, he began to develop that sense of purpose, and finally, during the summer before his senior year of college, that desire took root in his heart, and everything God had done to prepare him for that moment came to fruition.

“It’s something where it’s not just the Lord’s will, but my own will, being able to say yes, let’s continue, let’s go for it,” Johnson said.

And in that sense, Johnson has come to accept the idea that it’s God who’s in control, which, for someone who likes to understand why things happen the way they do, was a stretch because seminary is a time of exploration, and answers aren’t always readily available.

“It was as process of learning that I don’t need to be in control,” he said.

And Johnson will have to continue allowing God to lead beyond his time at IHMS. Wherever the journey takes him, his wish is that God provides him the ability to love well and serve others.

“To be able to do that practically in my day-to-day life in the encounters I have, especially as a priest, and being able to have Christ be present to others through me, that’s my ultimate hope.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Peter Danner - Archdiocese of Milwaukee

There had been signs along the way for Peter Danner. As he went about his life as a typical college student, he experienced gentle nudges from people around him to explore the possibility of a higher calling. At times, he tried ignoring those prompts, but eventually, he concluded that they kept recurring in his mind for a reason, and it was time to take them more seriously.

Danner, a senior seminarian at Immaculate Heart of Mary from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, headed off to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee following high school graduation with dreams of becoming a choir teacher. Leading up to that point, though raised in the faith, he didn’t pay much attention to church, living “a pretty secular life,” as he put it. But that began to change in college.

“I found it hard to make good, real friends – friendships that weren’t based off of stupid worldly stuff – in college, and I saw my sister had these great bonds with people at her Newman Center at UW-La Crosse, so I thought, ‘Alright, I’ll see if they have something like that here,’” Danner said. “That’s kind of how I got into my faith originally, like a social thing.”

“Once I started taking it seriously, I kind of realized there’s something to this, and as I started to get to know the Lord a little more and pray, He placed the call on my heart ever more closely,” he added.

While in Milwaukee, Danner got to know his diocesan vocations promoter well, and he suggested Danner attend a retreat at the discernment house not far from the campus. The silent retreat left an impression on him, and he was told that if he felt the call to deeper discernment, he should consider doing so in seminary.

“I had had some inklings before, but I kind of convinced myself, no not really,” he said. “There was kind of like a tension for awhile about what I really want … but I kept having to fight it.”

But as the semester of his sophomore year wore on, it became more evident that Milwaukee was no longer where he was supposed to be. He spoke once more with his vocations director, picked up an application, prayed with it, and sent it in. The next fall, amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Danner entered IHMS to begin his junior year.

Though he’s only completed one formation year thus far at IHMS, he’s come to understand and appreciate the need for communal discernment with his brothers in the house.

“I’ve come to discover the importance of community,” he said. “As an individual, you can’t truly live out your faith, at least to begin with. We’re social creatures, and community here has been important. That’s what attracted me to the faith in the first place.”

“That’s been wonderful for me, to see the unifying power of the church and the life it gives to us in a culture that’s a little more individual focused,” he added.

Danner’s also grown in his prayer life, integrating that aspect of discernment into his life after communing with his brothers. It’s something he knows will set him up well for entering Theology I studies next year.

“I’m hoping to keep at a good pace in my formation, never trying to grasp for any progress on my own, never trying to make my own way,” he said, “but to always follow God’s call and to be a vessel for Him.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Nathan Budde - Diocese of Green Bay

For awhile, Nathan Budde tried to run away – not from a place or a person, but from a feeling. He tried by filling his mind with other ideas for his life, by choosing the college life as a typical undergraduate student. But God never let him stray too far from His plan, and now, Budde is joyfully following through in this, his final year at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary.

Budde, a senior from the Diocese of Green Bay, grew up in a devoutly Catholic home. His family, which includes four siblings, said the Rosary every day and attended Mass each Sunday – and sometimes during the week. So it’s no surprise that he was attracted to the Mass at a young age. He also shared a birthday with his parish priest, and they’d celebrate together, which Budde enjoyed.

But as middle school approached, the pressure to fit in took hold, and Budde tried to push aside the inkling he felt for the priesthood. However, a men’s conference he attended summoned again his desire to consider a vocation.

“Even if I’m trying not to listen or trying to say that I want to do other things, you can’t really explain why, other than that God’s working there,” he said.

A retreat he attended his senior year of high school solidified the calling for him. It included a night of adoration in which the Lord spoke very clearly to him, saying He was calling Budde to the priesthood. Budde countered, asking if the Lord might change His mind.

Following high school, Budde was considering a number of areas of study, as he put it, “trying to avoid seminary.” So he enrolled at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wis., but God followed him there. During his first semester, Budde encountered God again during a time of adoration. This time, it wasn’t so much a message as it was a sense of peace and confidence with what God was asking of him.

“I was definitely more apprehensive or resistant because I had other plans,” Budde said about first receiving the call. “But then once I found more peace at St. Norbert, then it became exciting. Now I’m finally doing God’s will, and this is giving me life.”

Budde can look back at his time at IHMS and clearly see that believing the idea of relying on himself – to be the perfect person, the perfect seminarian or to simply do something the right way – was a mistake.

“That’s a lie from the evil one, and actually, Christ is doing everything for me,” he said. “That was a big eye-opener from my time when I was at St. Norbert and very self-reliant, to coming here when I thought I was doing everything right.

“Self-reliance leads to unhappiness, and reliance on Christ leads to consolation.”

But the same could be said for his brother seminarians, who he’s also leaned on for support through his journey.

“That’s just a consolation itself, knowing there are actually other college-aged guys going through some similar things that I’m going through, and being able to share with them is definitely is something I never experienced (before),” he said.

When Budde moves on to the next step in his formation, he hopes to deepen his prayer life even further, as well as grow a more intimate relationship with Christ.

“Continue surrendering to Christ, continue embracing formation, and continue to try to do His will.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

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