God at work in silence, people, conversation
April 18, 2019
Transitional Deacon Patrick Moser first heard Jesus’ call in the silence of a farm field, fixing fence.
Deacon Taylor Leffler responded to another person’s happiness and confidence in the Lord and turned away from his own doubt about God’s existence to an openness that culminated in a special moment during adoration of the Eucharist.
And just eight years ago, Deacon Padraic Stack turned away from an empty life of work and parties without any religious involvement to be baptized, confirmed and receive first Communion in the Catholic Church.
All three will be ordained as priests June 2, at a 10 a.m. Mass with Archbishop George J. Lucas at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.
“The Lord can work quite quickly when he wants to,” said Deacon Stack, as he and the other deacons shared stories of their calling to the priesthood.
SLOW AND STEADY
The call to priesthood built up relatively slowly for Deacon Moser. A member of St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater with actively engaged Catholic parents, he graduated along with his six siblings from Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School in Elgin, but was not heavily involved with the church.
That began to change in his second year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, when he joined a Bible study and other activities with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
“That got me asking questions about where I was headed with the faith,” Deacon Moser said. During the summer after sophomore year those questions began to be answered, including an encounter while he was working for a neighbor, fixing fence in the middle of a field with no radio and no other distractions.
“As I was working on the fence, I heard this voice, kind of in my own mind, ‘Have you thought about being a priest?’ I even looked around to see if there was anyone talking to me,” Deacon Moser said.
After talking with priests and others about his vocation, graduating from college and working two more years on his neighbor’s farm, Deacon Moser decided it was time to enter the seminary.
“It took a little while,” he said. “But at the same time, it probably happened the way it was supposed to. … In a way, that time on the farm was sort of a retreat time. I really benefited from being able to hear the Lord speak to me and establish that relationship in my life.”
Deacon Leffler also grew up in a Catholic family, at St. Mary Parish in West Point, and he attended Guardian Angels Central Catholic Schools. But he had strong doubts, and struggled with any belief in God.
“A lot of the religious stuff didn’t seem real,” he said. “It made a lot more sense to me that God wasn’t real. I really lived for several years under that assumption.”
Then in high school a family moved to West Point, whose daughter was “joyful and fulfilled, one of the happiest human beings I’d ever met. She came out with a different answer,” Deacon Leffler said. “My answer was God was not real. She said, ‘Oh no, God is very real. And he loves us so much!”
When he opened his own heart to that possibility, the world opened up, Deacon Leffler said. A youth group started in the parish, encouraging friendships and faith, and retreats became more common. At one retreat, during adoration of the Eucharist, Deacon Leffler felt Christ’s presence, and asked for validation of that feeling.
“I felt it in my bones, I knew somehow in the depth of my being that I was kneeling before Jesus, who was there in that host. I think that was a real gift of the Holy Spirit for me.”
That led to a meaningful confession and asking what God wants of him, Deacon Leffler said. Ultimately, those things led to studying for the priesthood, a spiritual year living in community with priests in St. Paul, Minn., and an excitement about leading others to Christ, he said.
TURNING TO CATHOLICISM
Deacon Stack was raised by loving parents who lived Christian values but didn’t claim any one faith. While he was exposed to Catholicism through his mother’s parents, he sought fulfillment through school, work and parties. “I wanted things of this world,” he said.
Graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and then working for an architectural firm in Omaha while living in Lincoln, he sought joy and solace in alcohol and other diversions, but none of it was fulfilling, he said.
“It was a dark time in my life, a complete lack of inner peace,” he said.
And then he began commuting with a colleague whose wife was urging his friend to rediscover the Catholic Church. Their conversations gradually veered away from politics and sports to center on religion, and Deacon Stack decided to join the church.
“I flipped it on him, and asked him to be my sponsor in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults),” Deacon Stack said about joining the church as a member of St. James Parish in Omaha in 2010.
He got involved with the retreat movement Christians Encounter Christ, had people tell him he might have a vocation to the priesthood, and prayed that God’s will be done in his life.
Last summer, Deacon Stack baptized his friend’s eighth child.
His parents have supported him through it all, and his wayward ways, forgiven by Christ, have helped make him a particularly strong proponent of the sacraments, he said.
“I look forward to celebrating the Mass and reconciliation,” Deacon Stack said of his upcoming ordination. “I am hoping to help people encounter their Lord, to encounter God who wants to love them and live with them in all eternity.”