By Celine Klosterman
Every time Corey Close felt anxious about taking another step in his journey toward the priesthood, God showed his fears to be needless, the seminarian said.
While he at first worried about missing out on marrying and raising children, he later discovered the sense of family parishioners can offer. And though he initially hesitated to move to Italy for seminary studies, he’s found his time overseas spiritually and personally enriching.
“When I did finally accept God’s plans for the priesthood, it was so much better than I could’ve ever imagined,” Close said.
The 26-year-old is now nearing the end of a six-week internship at parishes in Riverside, Richmond and Wellman, where he’s involved in a ministry that a few years ago he didn’t expect to enter.
Though a seventh-grade friend’s suggestion that he’d make a good priest struck Close, he hoped to have a family. “I thought, ‘How could I live without a wife and kids?’”
God occasionally brought up the idea of the priesthood, “but I’d fight it off.”
After Close moved from his hometown north of Chicago to study computer science at the University of Iowa, entering a secular profession seemed even more likely. He completed what supervisors told him was a successful computer programming internship with State Farm Insurance after his junior year. “My future looked very set.”
But as he pondered life after graduation, he realized he wanted something more. His mom, a nurse; and dad, who served in the Air Force; had modeled a life of service, he said. “There’s something about giving your life to a cause.”
Hearing intercessory prayers for vocations during Masses at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City helped keep the idea of the priesthood in Close’s mind. In October 2005, he spoke to Father Ken Kuntz, then St. Mary’s pastor, about pursuing the priesthood.
The next month, he began the process of becoming a seminarian for the Davenport Diocese. In 2006, he began two years of pre-theology studies at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. In his second year there, Close received an unexpected opportunity. Father Marty Goetz, diocesan vocations director, told the student he’d be a good candidate to attend the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
Msgr. Robert Gruss, former diocesan vocations director and then vice rector for seminary life at the North American College, said he thought the experience would offer Close a wider view of the universal Church. “He’s a very bright young man.”
But fearing the difficulty of living in a foreign country, Close said he preferred to stay in Mundelein. Msgr. Gruss e-mailed him to ask why.
“Every morning, I had to answer to God about that question,” Close recalled. “The more I prayed, the more I realized it was selfish reasons.”
So, trusting God, he went to Rome. There he’s learned Italian, accepted an opportunity to study in Ireland and grown familiar with historic Catholic sites. Though he said being at Mundelein Seminary would be easier, he’s spiritually “unbelievably thankful for being at the North American College.”
Close will return there not long after his internship ends Sept. 3. During the internship he’s taken Communion to parishioners, helped teachers prepare for faith formation classes, visited Catholics’ farms and followed Father Rich Adam, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. The seminarian has learned that ministry isn’t just about how many events, activities and liturgies a parish has.
“The core of rural ministry is just being present with your people,” he said, citing a wedding anniversary party where Fr. Adam went from table to table visiting with guests. “That’s really beautiful.”
Being with people — especially in a tough situation such as the death of a loved one — is what Close looks forward to most about the priesthood. “You can be Jesus’ presence for people in their loss and pain.”
Fear of loneliness still lurks in the back of his mind, but he said he knows that even for a married couple, only God can fully “satisfy the heart.” And parishioners offer support. “People let you be a part of their family,” he said; one Wellman parish couple welcomed him on a trip to their children’s musical competition at the Iowa State Fair. “In the priesthood, your family is so huge.”
Fr. Adam said that for parish families, Close has been a “delight.” His presence represents the fruit of a prayer for vocations that Catholics have been praying at Masses for years, the pastor said. “My hopes and prayers are that youth in our parishes may be inspired by Corey’s presence and think more of their own vocation and consider the priesthood or religious life.”