Through God’s stirring, men answer call to priesthood

Pope Francis said there's nothing more beautiful for a man than to be called to the priesthood. 

There's probably nothing more nerve-wracking, either. But that was only momentary. Casting aside any early morning jitters, six men, under the shadow of the Holy Spirit, joy in their hearts, were ordained priests for the Archdiocese of St. Louis May 23 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. 

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson — who marked the 45th anniversary of his priestly ordination the same day — conferred the sacred Sacrament of Holy Orders upon Peter Fonseca, Daniel Kavanagh, David Miloscia, Alexander Nord, Zachary Povis and Edward Voltz. (A recording of the ordination is online at www.archstl.org/ordination.)

In his homily, Archbishop Carlson called on the men to seek the grace God that will allow them to be present to the people. As priests, "we stand in the person of Christ and reveal the face of the Father." In reverence, humility and obedience, the Archbishop called them to live the priesthood in "constant joy and genuine love.

"Be a model as you live out the priesthood of Jesus Christ," he said. 

Catholic St. Louis, meet your new priests. 

“What does God want from me?”

Father FonsecaIt was a typical Catholic life for the Fonseca family. Frequent Mass, praying together as a family — a regular routine. Looking back, Peter Fonseca has always been called to the priesthood, he just didn’t know it, at least until his junior year of high school.

One of the monks at St. Louis Priory School challenged him to go on a three-day silent retreat. There was resistance at first. When the monk bet Fonseca that he couldn’t keep quiet for that long, he accepted the challenge.

“In the quiet, this sort of interior feeling told me I was supposed to become a priest,” he said. But there were all these other plans: college, a career — resort management was a dream — maybe get married? Fonseca never gave much thought about the seminary or where priests come from. In his mind, he wrestled with what to do. “It would keep me up late at night,” he said.

He made a bet with God. Try the seminary for two years, and if it didn’t work out, Fonseca was going to pursue other avenues. When he entered Kenrick-Glennon, there was an attitude shift “from what do I want, but what does God want from me? I learned that as I spent time in prayer every single day … removing the selfishness of anything I wanted to a realization that God created me, loves me and wants what’s best for me.” After two years in the seminary, it became clear that he was to become a priest.

Fonseca said he realized that he always had a good relationship with Christ, thanks to how his folks fostered the faith at home. Every day didn’t have to be a great spiritual experience, but in a way, the relationship he developed with the Lord was like any other family member. A daily ritual.

As a priest, Fonseca wants to show the faithful that a relationship with Christ doesn’t need to include a “huge encounter. We sit down and pray and expect God to tell us whatever we want to hear. Prayer isn’t a check-in, it’s a relationship. It’s 'I want to be with you, and you want to be with me.' Over time, the communication comes and you’re not even looking for it — it just becomes a part of a relationship you have, like any other friend.”

“I came to the table with nothing”

Father KavanaghGrowing up in Toronto, Dan Kavanagh attended public schools. His family attended Mass on Sundays, but that was largely the extent of their Catholic faith. Upon high school graduation, Kavanagh applied to a small, Catholic liberal arts school and was accepted into the business administration program. The idea of being in a school where others freely talked about their faith was exciting to him.

One of the first classes he took was math. In the classroom, there was a crucifix on the wall. “I thought, ‘That is really cool. I’ve never seen a crucifix in a public room before.’” That was one of the first moments he realized he was integrating faith into his daily life.

Kavanagh’s parents came to St. Louis for his father’s job. When he was finished with college, he moved to be with them and got a job as a physician recruiter for the military. It was everything he imagined — he enjoyed working in the medical field and with people. One day on his way to the office, he drove past Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield. It was a Tuesday morning, and the parking lot was filled. Curious as to why, he looked up the parish online and discovered Mass was offered on weekday mornings. “This was all news to me,” he said. “I didn’t know churches had Mass during the week.”

Kavanagh stopped at church one morning for Mass. He started going once, maybe twice a week, and started noticing a pattern. “The time I spent at Mass was pretty much a highlight of my day … there was just something there, being at church.” He started praying more and asking questions of God. You could say it turned into a relationship. Kavanagh started feeling there might be a call to priesthood. “I was thinking, ‘Honestly God, I think this is the biggest joke you’ve ever played on anyone, because I really don’t know anything about our faith.'”

The pathway progressed naturally. He found the archdiocese’s website and a page for “vocations” — a word he’d never heard before. Kavanagh found the email address for the president-rector at Kenrick-Glennon, who got Kavanagh in touch with the vocations director, then-Msgr. Edward Rice. “I’m blunt with him — I really have no idea what’s going on. I feel like God’s calling me to something, but I really don’t know much about the Church.”

With such a limited experience of faith growing up, it was as if Kavanagh came to the seminary with a clean slate. “I came to the table with nothing,” he said. “This was a blessing.” With a limited knowledge of some of the rote prayers, he’d resort to having conversations with God, which in turn helped him develop a relationship with Him.

“He’s not some infinite distance from you, but imagine Christ sitting right next to me, and the presence of hanging out with a good friend. You don’t always have to talk to Christ, but be in His presence and He will speak to us.”

“I felt peace in my heart”

Father MilosciaThe question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” elicits a variety of answers from the mouths of babes. Policeman, firefighter, teacher, doctor. For David Miloscia the kindergartener, it was priest. “The priest, he talks to God … I want to talk to God,” Miloscia recalled thinking.

He grew up in a home saturated with the faith, as one of 12 children. He lost sight of the priesthood by the time he reached middle school. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. After high school graduation, Miloscia wanted to do something with his life right away, so he went to ITT Technical Institute and got a job as an engineer. He became more involved in his faith, taking it on as his own, rather than leaning on the faith experiences of his childhood. Reading the catechism, praying the Rosary and listening to Catholic radio became part of his regular routine.

“The more I got involved in my faith, the more it was like filling a void in my life,” he said. His mother noticed and encouraged him to check out the seminary. Several months later, then-Archbishop Raymond Burke visited his parish, St. Joseph in Imperial, and during a brief encounter suggested that Miloscia consider the seminary. “I told him I would think about it with no intention of following through,” he recalled.

At this point, two of his brothers were considering priesthood — they invited him to come along to an evening prayer at the seminary. “The seminary was nothing like I expected,” he said. “It was more like a home, and I knew I had to seriously consider this. For the first time in a long time, I felt peace in my heart.” He signed up for a retreat, and the rest became history.

The seminary helped him foster a relationship with Christ, and that’s something he looks forward to sharing with others as a priest. “I began to realize how God is involved with us, how He’s very close to us in every moment and focuses on us as if each of us is the only person in the world. I want everyone else to have what I have — this joy, this knowledge of knowing God. I want to bring Jesus to others as only a priest can.”

“A loving relationship with other human beings”

Father NordFrom the get-go, Alex Nord was up against some pressure. His older brother, Aaron, was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 2006. As a student at De Smet Jesuit High School, people would ask if he was considering priesthood, too, just like his big brother. He was far more generous than most would have been in his situation. A coy “maybe” was the response he’d often give to others.

The Nord family homeschooled their children and taught them straight from the Baltimore Catechism. The seminary entered his mind at one point, but it wasn’t that appealing at first. There was still time to consider that, along with other vocations, such as married life.

For college, he chose Truman State University in Kirksville. He knew he’d get a good education, and besides, Truman had a pretty solid Newman Center. “I started spending a lot more time in prayer before the Lord there,” Nord said. He met a whole new group of Catholic friends and discovered not everyone was formed in their faith the same way. “A lot of friends had a desire for the Lord and Church … there was a love of God, but a lot of confusion there and difficulties from not knowing the faith very well at all.”

He began to want for his friends what he had in the faith department. A struggle returned — priesthood or married life? He saw the goodness of both. It got to the point where he became impatient with God. He made a deal: Since God hadn’t made His will clear enough, Nord decided he was going to make his own path. But if he chose wrong, he asked God to set up barriers.

On a retreat, Nord said God spoke to him in a way he hadn’t experienced before. It was an interior voice that was God asking Nord to care for His people. It sounded very much like a call to the priesthood. He started spending more time in prayer and adoration, dedicating each hour to a different friend at Truman. “There was a great love of my friends, and a great desire to give them the faith. I thought I could probably do that as a priest.” After graduating from Truman, he entered the seminary.

His time at Truman was not lost, because it “enabled me to see the priesthood as a loving relationship with other human beings. Jesus did call me to care for his people, and I recognize completely that in the priesthood that’s exactly what I will do with my whole life … love my friends and help them. He’s given me the place to do that, namely in the Church as a priest.”

“Do I buy all of this?”

Father PovisZac Povis was the average Catholic kid. Mass on Sundays, prayers before meals, you name it. Before bed he’d go to the crucifix hanging above his bed and kiss it. Maybe it was a foreshadow of things to come? No one knew at the time.

In sixth grade, Father Brian Fischer, then an acolyte, was assigned to Povis’ parish, St. Blaise in Maryland Heights. The two hit it off, and Povis was invited to attend Kenrick-Glennon Days, a summer camp for young men interested in the priesthood. He liked being with his peers, praying the Office with the seminarians and just the general sense of peace he felt there.

He stayed on with the camp through high school. By then, he was thinking of his future — maybe a cop or the FBI or teaching? In junior year, he went to his parish’s Good Friday service. The crucifix was being venerated, and Povis remembers thinking, “Do I buy all of this? That this Jesus Christ is God?” Deep questions ensued.

From that moment, he realized the seminary was the next logical step.

He promised to give it two years. He rocked his philosophy coursework, so much that seminary officials approached him about attending the Pontifical North American College in Rome. “I really liked philosophy, which is funny, because I hated school. But it’s been an outstanding opportunity to meet guys from all over the country.”

Povis is grateful that God gave him the grace to see that he was put on the path to priesthood for a reason. As a priest, helping Catholics develop a relationship with Christ will come naturally through the sacraments, but he also hopes teaching will be in his future. “I fell in love with the faith — there’s a centuries-long heritage there.”

“God puts His finger on you”

Father VoltzJust like his mother, Eddie Voltz became a teacher in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. In college, he fell away from his faith. One summer, he signed up to help at a Lutheran summer camp. It was a random move, but “that is what triggered all of my thoughts about God strongly for the first time in my life.” He started attending non-denominational Christian churches and considered becoming a Lutheran.

He’d pick up books — one by Catholic author Scott Hahn, another on Mother Teresa. The memories of his Catholic upbringing started to come back. It was a sinking feeling at first, because he had great experiences at Lutheran summer camp, where he started developing a relationship with Christ. But the more he read and prayed, the more he was being drawn back to Catholicism.

After four years of teaching, he enrolled at Steubenville University in Ohio. He committed to studying the faith, but any consideration of the priesthood was out of the question. After earning a master’s in theology, he moved to St. Louis and got a job as a youth minister at Sacred Heart Parish in Troy. That ended up playing a part in his future vocation. “I think that God put me there in many ways, because that really helped foster love for the priesthood,” Voltz said. “I saw that working for the Church and with people could be a rewarding, joy-filled experience.”

Four years as a youth minister pass by and by now, he had the feeling that “God puts his finger on you, and He says, you need to go now.” There was another powerful moment: Voltz was staying with his grandparents, where he found a book on St. Padre Pio. Reading about his life and seeing the pictures of the stigmata was a trigger. “If this is true, if this really happened, then I have to be Catholic.”

Intense prayer and a silent retreat followed. He begged God for light, grace and direction. At the end of the retreat, Voltz felt these quiet words from God fall upon his heart: “I have been patient with you. Why will you not be patient with Me?” It was as if God was saying, “I’m going to give you an answer, but not today.” That fostered his intellectual and prayer life even more.

Voltz said he credits many people for his return to the faith. His mother’s books, his father in how he taught him to put Christ first. “There’s many things that go into a vocation — sometimes even Lutheran summer camps.”

THE NEW GUYS

Peter Fonseca

Hometown: St. Louis

Age: 26

School: St. Louis Priory

Interesting tidbits: He is one of 11 children (five brothers and five sisters)

Assignment: Queen of All Saints Parish in Oakville

Daniel Kavanagh

Hometown: Toronto, Canada

Age: 28

School: Markham District High School, Ontario

King's University College, Ontario (degree in business administration)

Previous career: Physician recruiter

Interesting tidbits: Became a U.S. citizen in 2014

Spent two summers living within a deaf community in Washington, D.C.

Enjoys hockey and Olympic curling

Assignment: St. Alban Roe Parish in Wildwood

David Miloscia

Hometown: Barnhart

Age: 28

School: Windsor C-1 High School, Imperial

ITT Technical Institute (associate's degree in electrical engineering)

Previous career: Engineer

Interesting tidbits: One of 12 children

He has two other brothers in the seminary

Enjoys crossfit, martial arts and marksmanship

Assignment: Assumption Parish in Mattese

Alexander Nord

Hometown: Chesterfield

Age: 27

School: De Smet Jesuit High School

Truman State University, Kirksville (bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics)

Interesting tidbits: His older brother is a priest (Father Aaron Nord)

Enjoys reading fantasy and science fiction

Assignment: Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie

Zachary Povis

Hometown: St. Louis

Age: 26

School: De Smet Jesuit High School Pontifical North America College, Rome (will graduate with a licentiate in dogmatic theology in 2016)

Interesting tidbits: Served Mass with the Holy Father twice

Was present for Pope Francis' election and St. John Paul II's canonization

Enjoys reading, jogging, St. Louis Blues hockey and fishing

Assignment: Further studies at North American College in Rome

Edward Voltz

Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.

Age: 35

School: Orchard Park High School, New York

Geneseo State University, New York (degree in elementary education)

Steubenville University, Ohio (master's degree in theology)

Previous career: Spent four years as an elementary school teacher and four years as a youth minister

Assignment: St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood

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