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.

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 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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