By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Father Ron Hodges, OSB, has returned to the Diocese of Davenport to discern whether God is calling him to parish ministry or monastic life. As he discerns, he is serving as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport until new diocesan appointments are made July 1.
“This is where I feel God is calling me,” says the 46-year-old convert to Catholicism who worked for Marriott Management Services before becoming a seminarian for the Davenport Diocese. After completing pre-theology studies at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and beginning major seminary studies at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana, he chose to enter monastic life.
He entered the novitiate of the Order of St. Benedict at St. Meinrad Archabbey in August 2001 and professed simple vows a year later. At that time he received the name Gabriel and the title Brother. He continued his studies for the priesthood at St. Meinrad, earning his Master of Divinity degree in 2004. After professing final vows in 2006, he was ordained to the priesthood.
The Benedictine motto, he noted, is “prayers and work.” He embraced both aspects, having served as program coordinator for the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates; archabbey master of ceremonies; assistant archivist; associate coordinator, Office of Group Accommodations; and assistant refectorian. He also was involved with food service, the physical plant and a coffee shop. He was instrumental in resuming brewing at the Archabbey in 2001 when he built a five-gallon homebrew system to produce beer for feast days, picnics and retreats. He began a new hobby in 2006, experimenting with making soap, which has become a cottage industry.
During an interview with The Catholic Messenger, Fr. Hodges admitted that he tends to overextend himself. “One of my goals in being here as I am discerning diocesan priesthood is to remain focused on what a diocesan priest does.”
He said he was first attracted to monastic life because of the possibility of stability and being part of a good community, something that had been missing in his secular job which required frequent moves. One of his assignments in hospital food service management brought him to Clinton, where he eventually enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at Prince of Peace Parish. He became good friends with Father John Stack, a hospital chaplain in Clinton whose counsel he sought concerning a vocation to the priesthood. Fr. Stack encouraged him to pray for the Lord’s guidance. A couple of years later, Fr. Hodges began pre-theology studies at St. Ambrose.
During his major seminary studies at St. Meinrad, “I was attracted to the monastery’s community life and prayers.” He asked for and received permission from Bishop William Franklin, then bishop of the Davenport Diocese, to enter monastic life. The bishop told him that if things didn’t work out, he could resume his studies to be a diocesan priest, Fr. Hodges said.
Later, in his ministry with the monastery’s Institute for Priests and Presbyterates, Fr. Hodges worked with newly and recently ordained priests to address their needs, and with presbyterates to help them enhance unity and effectiveness. Along the way, he began to question whether being a monk priest was what God was calling him to do. “I was looking for a more active role in my priesthood.”
While he received a blessing from the abbot when he left the monastery, some of his fellow monks were disappointed by his decision to leave. Fr. Hodges said he’ll miss the relationships he’s built and many aspects of monastic life, including the way in which the monastery celebrates liturgy. But he also believes “I would get a lot of energy from being in a parish.”
“God calls each of us along different paths and sometimes asks us to make turns that we hadn’t planned on. Listening to what God wants us to do is discernment,” said Bishop Martin Amos, bishop of the Davenport Diocese. “Fr. Ron is at one of those places where he and we are listening.”