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.

John Waters - Diocese of Sioux City

John Waters was headed down the wrong path. He hung around the wrong people who did the wrong things. But a Catholic youth conference – one he admits he was forced to go to – changed his thinking, and in doing so, changed how he lived his life, so much so that he’s now finalizing his last year at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary.

Waters, a senior from the Diocese of Sioux City, grew up in a typical Catholic household. His family went to church each week, prayed before meals – did, essentially, what you were supposed to do. But for Waters, as a middle schooler, he was “on the fast track to a life of sin and sorrow,” even though he knew there was something better for him out there.

“Even when I was living that life, I always really had a tendency to what’s good and what’s pure,” he said. “I knew, but we all have that deep desire to be seen and belong, and I couldn’t not do that without living a life of how the world wants you to live.”

But entering his freshman year of high school, it all changed thanks to a Steubenville conference his parents nudged him toward. To Waters, it was a fun trip to Colorado, but after he began to warm to the music and keynote speakers featured at the conference, he could feel something happening inside him.

“Slowly, things were starting to change and shift a bit,” he said. “My heart became a little more open to what God wanted.”

Then during Eucharistic adoration, something Waters said he’d never done before and had no familiarity with, he decided that rather than simply sit in silence, he would pray. During that prayer, he asked God, “Is this it? Is this all that there is to life?”

“Because if that’s what life is, then I don’t want to live this life. I don’t want this life,” he said of how he’d been living up to that point. “It was in that spot that I first kind of allowed Jesus to come into my heart.”

Later that week, during a prayer for all those considering the priesthood, Waters remembers every bone in his body wanting to stand up and identify as one of those with a vocation on his heart. But in the moment, he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge it. Still, the feeling he had, even the willingness to entertain the thought, stuck with him. And he knew things in his life needed to be different.

“I went back after that conference and I changed everything,” he said. “I changed my friend group … and I started hanging out with better people and I started doing acts of charity. All of these things were part of me growing in union with the Holy Spirit.”

As Waters began to pray more, the call to the priesthood began to take shape in his mind. Then one day, as he was driving a ball picker at the golf course he worked at, he was listening to a podcast featuring a pair of priests who were talking about their lives and the love they had for the Church. As he listened, he felt an overwhelming sense of peace wash over him.

“I thought, yeah, I think I’m actually going to start to discern this,” Waters said.

And he’s never looked back from that decision. Now, as he puts the final touches on his time at IHMS, Waters said he’s learned during these four years to understand the kindness and patience of Jesus, especially when it comes to the wounds we carry.

“We all have these parts of us that are wounded,” he said, “and that’s not something to run away from. It’s something to really let Jesus take you by the hand and let him see those places. Once you go to the deepest part of yourself, that’s where you can truly be alone with the Lord, because that’s the place that you won’t show anyone else.”

Next year, Waters is on track to enter a pastoral year before heading off the theology school. But beyond those set pieces, he hopes for a ministry someday that allows him to be with the poorest of the poor, be it financial or spiritual.

“People who have very deep levels of shame, hurt, and sin, and just to be with them,” he said, “because that’s where real agape love is. You can’t walk with somebody as they’re struggling and suffering and broken and not have that agape love.

“Part of my future is to bear the pain with others and help them carry their crosses, and to let them know that Jesus is always with them there, and he’s patient, gentle, and kind. He’s going to give them what they need.”

Just like He did for a young man who knew he needed a change.

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Mark Wagner - Diocese of Madison

Mark Wagner had an idea of what he wanted from life. He had every intention of following in his father’s footstep by joining the United States Air Force and becoming a pilot. Those plans were disrupted, however, when Wagner’s love for the Church and the priesthood grew into a calling he not only couldn’t ignore, but was excited about. Luckily for him, though, God didn’t forget about his other passion.

Wagner, a senior from the Diocese of Madison, entered IHMS straight out of high school in 2017, where he followed through with his discernment for the next three years. Then, as occasionally happens with some seminarians, he left for a Regency year, which is an optional formation program in La Crosse, Wis. It’s a year, he said, where he stepped away from education and out of the seminary environment to focus more intensely on his relationship with the Lord.

“It’s really growing out of some of the brokenness that’s within us and kind of coming to terms with that and growing more in that human formation, that spiritual formation,” he said. “It’s taking a year to really just solidify your vocation.”

From a young age, Wagner has been around the faith, something his parents encouraged, particularly by sending him to Catholic school for his elementary years. During that time, he began serving Mass, an experience he treasured that made him fall in love with the Church even more. At about that same time is when he started ever-so-subtly hearing the Lord’s voice calling him to the priesthood, and he remembers how peaceful it made him feel.

“It never really went away, as much as I wanted it to,” Wagner said of that feeling. “I had better plans for my life. I wanted to be pilot. I wanted to join the military and fly in the military.”

But by the time he was a junior in high school, Wagner set aside his wishes to more intentionally discern the priesthood. He’d met and visited with seminarians who spent the summer at his home parish, and those encounters helped him envision himself as one of them.

“That piece from the Lord kept coming back, and I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind about the priesthood and going to seminary, so I figure I had to do it,” he said.

It was exciting to receive that call, even as young as he was, Wagner said, because it gave him certainty about what he was to pursue after high school.

“By placing my trust in Him, it made me at peace with the decision, and I wasn’t nervous or apprehensive about it at all,” he said.

And it’s a decision he still has never questioned throughout his time at IHMS. As he finishes up his final year, Wagner said he’s learned much about himself and how to receive healing from the Lord. That’s helped him to better shape his life to the priesthood and give his heart to Christ, he said.

“The conformity that I’ve learned here, that relationship and prayer, uniting my heart to our Lord’s heart, that’s been the biggest thing for me,” he said. “That’s the biggest takeaway I’ll always keep with me.”

Though Wagner is unsure where he’ll attend theology school next year, he has made plans regarding his future in another area. He’s in the process of applying to be a co-sponsored seminarian for the Archdiocese for the Military Services – a way to meld his call to the priesthood with his former desire to serve in the armed services. That, he hopes, will lead him to become a military chaplain for the Air Force.

During summer breaks from theology school, Wagner will do some training with the Air Force to learn how to be a chaplain, he said, and then once ordained, he’ll spend three years ministering in his home diocese. After that, his bishop will decide how long he’ll leave to provide for the spiritual needs of service members.

“The Lord has definitely led me down that path of conforming those two desires that I had from a young age of joining the military and also being His priest,” he said. “(There’s) that complete sacrifice, and then also taking it to the next level of being there for the men and women who give their lives for this country.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Paul Rupert - Diocese of Peoria

Paul Rupert was living college life to the fullest. He can check off a laundry list of clubs and organizations he was involved in or founded at Benedictine College. He filled every moment of the day with causes he believed in and activities he enjoy.

But he was miserable.

The one thing this small Catholic college in tiny Atchison, Kan., couldn’t provide was the one thing he yearned for the most, and so finally he decided, despite all the joy he found there, that he needed to leave to follow where his heart was leading him: to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary.

Rupert, a third-year senior from the Diocese of Peoria, grew up attending Catholic elementary school, but was then homeschooled for his first three years of high school. His senior year, he enrolled in a newly opened classical curriculum academy where he was able to get his first taste of philosophy, theology, Latin, art, and music.

“I was the senior class at the school. I was the only senior,” he said.

Then his first year at Benedictine, he took more philosophy and theology courses that he knew would transfer into the philosophy major. It was part of his plan – a plan that took shape from young age.

Growing up, Rupert said his mother was “the heart of faith life in the home,” while his father was a convert to Catholicism later in life. His father’s Protestant family, Rupert said, would challenge his mother about her faith, and it that way, made her dig deeper and discover more about it – knowledge she then she passed to her children. That made a big impact on Rupert and set in motion a goal for his life.

“I’ve always wanted to be a priest since I was a kid,” he said. “Priests, growing up, they were my heroes. I really enjoyed serving at Mass and being close to the Eucharist.”

Still, Rupert decided to wait until a call to the priesthood became very obvious to him, which is why he found himself a freshman at Benedictine.

“It was a perfect experience; it really couldn’t have been better, and I was miserable,” he said. “So I thought, maybe that’s something.

“There was so much going on,” he said of the clubs he was a part of, “and all of it was wonderful, and something was wrong. I was in the wrong place.”

All of his desires were being fulfilled at the time, Rupert said, but that one desire – to discern a call to the priesthood – was missing, and he realized that’s what was upsetting him. So one night, as he sat before a statue of the Sacred Heart, he asked God what he was doing wrong at that point. Then he realized what day it was: the Feast of St. Therese of Liseaux, the patron saint of vocations for his diocese.

“That was enough for me,” he said of that sign.

But the thought of entering the seminary, he said, was a bit intimidating. He’d always looked up to seminarians, considering them, too, his heroes. Now he was going to join their ranks. His face would soon be on the diocesan vocations poster. He’d go through and experience what they go through and experience.

And now, three years later, he has.

While at IHMS, Rupert said he’s come to a better understanding that God will never leave him destitute, and one way or another, His will for his life will come to pass.

“It’ll be less painful the less we thrash and work against it,” he said. “His will will be worked in our lives.”

Rupert said his experience in community with his brothers has been the most formative part of his time at IHMS.

“The formation from my brothers has been indispensible,” he said. “Their thoughts, corrections, and compliments have been the most important part of my formation here.”

One day, Rupert hopes to inspire other young men to trust in the Lord’s plan for their lives – something he, too, had to learn.

“There’s an awful lot of cynicism in the world that’s just from a certain wound,” he said. “There’s cynicism and skepticism that’s running far too rampant, and I think a message of peace and trust will change peoples’ lives.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Riley Becher - Diocese of Winona-Rochester

Riley Becher was at a low moment. Two of his grandparents were in the hospital, and his uncle had just been arrested. His mom had recently quit a job, and a friend had gotten into an elite college, which made him jealous. And perhaps worst of all for a junior in high school, he had just fought with his girlfriend.

It caused him, one night while working on an already late homework assignment, to ask in a moment of exasperation, “God, what am I doing wrong with my life?” But in his heart, he knew the question he really wanted to ask. “God, what do You want me to do with my life?”

That’s when he got his answer.

Becher, a senior for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, grew up not far from IHMS in a mixed-faith household in Rochester – his dad a Lutheran who more often than not attended Mass with the family. He credits his parents for introducing him to a prayer life, if not the intricacies of the faith.

“The biggest thing my mom and dad taught me in the faith was how to pray, which sounds like a simple thing, but how to pray authentically,” he said. “What (they) taught us was a personal relationship with Christ, and that was massively influential.”

Becher attended Rochester Catholic Schools all the way through, and he credits that daily presence of religion in the school with teaching him the nuances of the faith, something he knew was always there, but admits he hadn’t always tended to.

“I fell into a good state of indifference, like many people do, in middle school and high school, but the foundation was always there,” he said. “There was always the deeper knowledge that I could just talk to God whenever, that He loves me.”

At that time, Becher started to think about the bigger questions in life, and rather than just wondering, he began searching for answers. He poured himself into physics, reading all he could about the subject, including journals and lectures. But no matter how much he read, he said, he was never satisfied by what he found.

“There was a fundamental dissatisfaction that came about through that and the realization that I can’t actually answer these questions with this method,” he said. “So there was that openness to faith at that point.”

But what drew him back to religion and spirituality, though, was an experience at Midnight Mass and the ancientness that permeated the sanctuary that night.

“I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was going on,” he said. “It was obviously so far beyond me, and so it really broke a lot of the hardness of heart that I had surrounding religion itself. There’s a lot more to Catholicism than I can really grasp.”

From there, Becher began reading some of the great Catholic writers and theologians, and he started finding answers to those questions that had been, until then, so elusive. That, then, opened him up to deeper prayer life while at Lourdes, and all of a sudden, much was coming together and making sense.

Which brings him to that night of despair.

After asking God what He wanted for Becher’s life, His answer couldn’t have been more clear.

“Immediately as I said it, it hit me like a bag of bricks in the face,” he said. “The words very clearly came to me in a very tender way, ‘Riley, be a priest; serve Me and My Church.’”

“I just sat there and wept. I was absolutely overwhelmed.”

In those tears were all the emotions: joy, relief, fear of inadequacy, and, somewhat surprisingly, genuine sorrow.

“Somewhere in my heart, I knew that the priesthood means the Cross,” Becher said. “There will be sacrifices, the obvious ones of celibacy, obedience, and simplicity of life, but to give one’s life is a big deal.”

“The best and the worst part of the whole experience was, I knew that it made so much sense.”

Knowing, then, the sacrificial nature of the priesthood, Becher said that while at IHMS, he’s learned to live that sacrifice in an intentional way, and he’s come to know more about what that way of living means.

“The priesthood is the Cross. It’s absolutely sacrificial in nature, it’s incredibly powerful, and it’s a contradiction,” he said. “Outside of God’s providence, it makes absolutely no sense. It’s beyond our capacity to understand. And more than that, it isn’t mine. It’s isn’t mine to seize, it’s only to receive.”

“And the understanding that it’s God Himself who’s offering individually, it’s baffling to me.”

Next year, Becher will study theology at St. Paul Seminary in the Twin Cities, but beyond that, he hopes to one day minister to the Hispanic population in the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, as he has learned Spanish and has spent time with the people of Honduras.

“I would personally love to work with the Hispanic community. That’s something that I’ve always loved,” he said. “But I’m very hesitant to propose my future, because at the end of the day, it isn’t my future. It’s about what the Church needs.”

“The Church will need a lot of things, and I hope and pray that Christ can be those things through me.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Luis Reyes - Diocese of Madison

Luis Reyes had a decision to make, and he knew there was risk involved. He could stay at home in his native Colombia, surrounded by a loving family, and seek to fulfill his desire to serve the Lord where he was, or he could accept the invitation of a family friend, a priest, to travel thousands of miles to Madison, Wis., to begin his formal discernment in the United States.

As hard as it was, he knew where he heart was leading him.

Reyes, a senior at Immaculate Heart of Mary from the Diocese of Madison, felt a call to the priesthood during his junior year of high school in Colombia, so he begin meeting with his spiritual director, an Opus Dei priest from Spain. During that time, he began to learn more about what God wanted of him, and for Reyes, that service, he determined, was a life in the priesthood.

“Then I started looking for, where is the place for me?” he said. “Back at home, I went to the seminary in town, but it did not seem compatible with my vocation, so I was getting discouraged.”

With that discouragement, Reyes asked God for a sign, showing him where he should go to be formed for the priesthood. The very next day, a priest from Madison, also a native of Colombia, was back home for a visit and asked Reyes if he’d consider studying for the diocese in the United States.

“I took that as a sign,” said Reyes, the youngest of four children. “This is a sign from God to come, so I took that as a risk. I came (at 18 years old) without the language, without anyone who I knew.”

His human response to accepting God’s beckoning, unsurprisingly, was fear. Where is this place? What’s going to happen?

“Knowing myself and my weaknesses, I was afraid of the outcome,” Reyes said. “But the confidence, through the intercession of the Holy Family, was what kept me going to say, you will not be alone in this process.”

With that in mind, and knowing he had received the sign he asked for, Reyes committed.

“This opportunity came, and it was like, ‘Alright, if you want me to do it, it’s risky, but I’m going to do it,’” he said. “I don’t have any idea. It’s so unknown, but I’m doing it.”

It was a hard transition. Reyes knew no English, so he couldn’t talk to anyone. The food was different, not to mention the weather was unlike any he’d encountered in South America. Put bluntly, he was suffering. But he put that suffering to use.

“Prayer was the consolation, that you can embrace this suffering, you can endure this suffering,” he said. “Then the diocese decided to send me to IHM here, and I’m just completely grateful because of the continuous formation of knowing myself, knowing my vocation.”

This calling, this invitation, that Reyes received years ago in high school “to be My priest” is the anchor of his discernment. The more he’s learned about himself, the more he’s realized he’s “not worthy of this.” Yet, he responded freely, and God has provided him with blessings that carry him through the difficult times, he said.

“To receive that invitation to move on to senior year, it’s a reality now,” Reyes said. “He wants me to continue.”

Without a support system of family nearby, the other men, as well as his formators at IHMS, have become Reyes’s family away from home.

“It feels very homey and very welcoming for everyone,” he said, “and you can flourish with the help of the spiritual fathers like the faculty here. They really love us.”

Reyes admits to his brokenness, but he’s learned at IHMS that the Father is always willing to share forgiveness and healing, and despite imperfection, God is calling every individual to do great things.

“You will be anointed by all the goodness you see and the struggles you have, too,” he said. “The Holy Spirit gives you more wisdom and more love to encounter those moments.”

Next year, Reyes will be assigned to theology school, and following that, when asked if there’s an allure to returning to minister in Colombia, he said, instead, that he wants to stay and shepherd the people of Madison.

“I’m doing formation with them and for them so, one day, I can be a priest for the Diocese of Madison,” he said. “That’s the hope, to stay in Madison and serve because I have received so much from them that I’m waiting to see the time to give back for everything I have received.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Todd Vandermay - Diocese of Rapid City

Todd Vandermay was on the edge. Following his graduation from high school, he had decided he was headed off to college – but his faith wouldn’t be making the trip with him. Had it not been for an insightful group of sixth graders, Vandermay may never have found himself here, finishing his final year at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary.

Vandermay, a senior from the Diocese of Rapid City, grew up on a farm in rural South Dakota, where he helped out with a variety of chores. His early schooling was spent learning in a two-room schoolhouse, but then eventually he made it into a larger building. He spent a lot of his free time with his grandmother, who lived just down the hill from his farm.

“She was very religious and first planted the idea of being a priest when I was five or six,” he said. “When I was there, she’d be playing EWTN, Mother Angelica and praying the Rosary. It was always something dear to her heart, to have someone in the family become a priest or sister.”

Vandermay enjoyed going to church and serving at Mass, but once he reached middle school, he put the idea of a vocation aside. For him, it was all about sports. Vandermay was a three-sport athlete in high school, but he focused mostly on wrestling, with the goal of compiling 100 career wins or going to the state tournament, which would earn his spot on his school’s photo board.

“That was my goal in life,” he said. “That’s all I was living for.”

He missed state by one match during his senior, so he turned to other vices to numb that disappointment, he said. Still, he had his eyes turned to the future, and after high school, he planned to enroll at Black Hills State University to become a history teacher. To do so, however, he needed scholarships, so he found one he could earn by teaching catechism at his local church, which he did throughout his senior year.

He was learning about his faith as he went, right along with his sixth-grade class. He didn’t allow that new knowledge, though, to impact him, and he decided that this experience with the Church would be his last.

“I had no intent of keeping (regular Mass attendance) up in college,” he said.

But that all changed on the final day of catechism class. The students requested to watch the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” so they did. It moved Vandermay profoundly.

“It just tore my heart out, to be given that grace the entire year of learning the faith with the kids, but not allowing it to affect me,” he said. “Then I started realizing, there had to be more to life than having to amplifying everything up to get some kind of enjoyment.”

So rather than going to college right away, Vandermay took a year off to ponder what else could be out there for him. That thought he had 13 years early about becoming a priest resurfaced, so he starting visiting with his vocations director and making seminary visits. Still, he wasn’t convinced, but he was willing to explore.

“I knew that if I didn’t give it a try, I wouldn’t know for sure,” he said.

So Vandermay made the decision to enter IHMS, and he discerned for two years, but still, something wasn’t clicking, so he discerned out and returned home to work on the farm for a year. But God tugged back, and a year later, Vandermay asked his bishop if he could return to seminary, which he granted. But first, Vandermay spent a Regency Year at the Mater Dei House in La Crosse, Wis., and has since returned to IHMS to finish out the final two years of his formation. He credits God with not giving up on him.

“Ultimately, it’s God,” he said as to the reason he’s here. “I have tried pushing it all away, but he’s drawn me back multiple times. It’s just the full process of realizing the immense love God has for us, and it isn’t always an easy breakthrough to realize that and to accept that.”

Vandermay has come to realize that everyone has gifts, and they have brokenness, and all of it is used to determine God’s plan for our lives. He’s seen that same unfolding happening in his life up to this point. Once he leaves IHMS, he hopes to continue learning to trust God’s plan.

“The first thing I hope for is hope itself. To be able to trust in God that no matter what is ahead, it’s going to get better and keep getting better,” he said.

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

Anthony Richter - Diocese of Cheyenne

Anthony Richter grew up surrounded by Catholicism. His grandfather, once a seminarian, ended up raising a family of 14 children, including his father, as well as two uncles who became priests. His mother’s side was no less impressive, as she was one of 13 kids. Everyone, to some degree, is still practicing the faith, so it should be no surprise that Richter, a senior from the Diocese of Cheyenne, is discerning a life in service of the Lord. But his road to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary wasn’t a straight one.

Richter, the only Wyomingite at IHMS, admitted that as much as he identified as Catholic, early on, it wasn’t personal to him. He likened it to identifying with a political party.

“I knew all the talking points to defend the faith, to provide the right answers,” he said. “But I listened to a talk a few months ago, saying that the truth isn’t a collection of arguments or the right positions to hold in a certain argument. Rather, the truth is a person, and I don’t think I understood that for a long time.”

Ever since the third grade, Richter loved science, so following his graduation from high school, he enrolled in a community college in his hometown of Gillette for a year before transferring to the South Dakota School of Mines to pursue his goal of becoming a mechanical engineer. However, the summer before the move to South Dakota, Richter took “a gigantic step” in learning to make his faith more personal and not, as he said, “something you just do on Sunday.”

That summer, Richter attended a retreat organized by his uncle (the priest) for he and several of his cousins. It’s one each man in the family experiences sometime following high school graduation, and it was a chance for him to get to know his other relatives and simply spend time in fraternity.

“The example from a lot of my older cousins and my uncles is really good,” he said. “It’s a fantastic and beautiful experience to be a part of. I love the big family experience.”

While in college, he agreed to take part in a seminary visit, mostly because he was part of a discernment group. He didn’t think much of it; after all, he was dating a young lady at the time. But he wanted to be a leader for the younger men who attended, so he followed through on the commitment.

“I was thinking, ‘no, this isn’t what this is going to be,’” he said with a laugh. “I’m just here for the other guys.”

But halfway through the visit, he received a text from his girlfriend, asking jokingly if he’d become a priest yet.

“I was just like, ‘no,’ and she said, ‘well darn, because you’d be a good one,’” Richter said. “That was kind of a freeing moment.”

Still though, there wasn’t that instance of clarity for Richter, but instead, a more gradual realization that he should apply to enter seminary, so following his sophomore year of college, he took that important step. Once he made that decision – and really committed to the idea – the excitement and anticipation grew.

“There was so much peace about the decision and prayer,” he said. “This is what it is, and it’s going to be great.”

While discerning at IHMS, Richter is mindful of something a pastor from his home parish once told him.

“You’re a son before you’re a father, and especially at this level (of formation), it’s about learning to let yourself be loved,” he said. “I think that’s the lesson I’ve really had to learn, that I can’t really do much of anything to earn it. I’ve had to sit with and accept my identity as a beloved son.

“It’s taken almost a year of just slowly working through and breaking down your preset ideas of who God is, and your image of God has to be broken down to realize that He is all-loving, and you’re loved no matter where you’re at or where you’re from.”

As it is, Richter, though considered a senior, will return to IHMS to finish his studies at Saint Mary’s University and IHMS. But he’s not complaining. IHMS has been a special experience that he’s all too happy to continue.

“The fraternity and community of the seminary is unlike any other,” he said. “The authenticity of men when the central focus is the same, when you’re all coming to love Christ in a deeper way – the depth of relationships that comes from that is just incredible. … Being around these guys has helped mold and shape me.”

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

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.” 

~ Ryan Henry, IHMS Communications

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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