By Emmaline Jurgena
The Catholic Messenger
Seminarian Johnathan “Johnny” Blauw, a summer resident at diocesan headquarters in Davenport, is making his way along a journey of faith and discernment with the help of prayer, community and a perpetual cheerful attitude.
Blauw, a lifelong Catholic who was born and raised in Pella, began exploring his vocation when he was in high school. He knew he was attracted to a lifestyle that encouraged discipline and commitment, and briefly considered the military. During his junior and senior year, he began to consider the priesthood. His feelings became more serious after receiving what he considers a sign during a vocations Mass in 2012. Father Thom Hennen, diocesan vocations director, had given a homily about the oft-referenced “fishers of men” story found in Matthew’s Gospel. Blauw realized that the fishing-themed shirt he was wearing related to the story and felt that it was more than a coincidence.
“I feel like that was casting out the line, and I took the bait.”
Positive role models in his parish, St. Mary in Pella, helped Blauw during his discernment: current pastor Father Jeffry Belger, and Bishop Robert Gruss of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D., and Father Ron Hodges, both of whom previously served at the Pella parish. Blauw calls them outstanding examples who give him something to aspire to. Their guidance, and Blauw’s frequent correspondence with Fr. Hennen, helped affirm his sense of calling.
Blauw’s family also supported his decision, although two of his four brothers, who were already married, questioned what he was sacrificing.
“They didn’t understand why I would want to give up the opportunity for a family, but I feel like it’s not necessarily giving up a family, it’s getting a bigger one,” Blauw explained.
He entered Conception Seminary in Missouri in 2013, when he was 18 years old. He found an additional support system in his 25 classmates, and felt a sense of community among the 95 seminarians at Conception. He was happy to find a close-knit group that offers support, dialogue and solidarity.
Blauw arrived at the chancery in May, and is working with the maintenance staff. He can often be found outdoors doing manual labor.
“He’s been a real asset to us, a good young man, and very talented at what he does. It’s been fantastic having him work with us,” said Dave Wolfe, maintenance supervisor for the diocese.
Others also appreciate Blauw’s presence at the chancery. Fr. Hennnen describes him as “cheerful, enthusiastic, excited about his faith and curious to know more about it,” and notes that the seminarian is always smiling.
Blauw is happy to have the opportunity to spend time with chancery staff and retired priests, while doing work he enjoys. “I was gardening with the bishop the other day,” Blauw said. “When else would I ever be able to do that?”
Blauw engages in a multitude of activities to fill his spare time. He enjoys working out at the local YMCA and sharpening his talent for drawing. He says that he is most adept at sketching crucifixes, and likes to explore them through different angles and perspectives. Blauw is also working on a project combining his love of Liturgy of the Hours with his appreciation for the rosary. He has begun correlating mysteries of the rosary with different psalms, creating a different take on prayer.
“Praying is the one thing that really helps you to listen to what God is saying to you. It’s not always you talking to him, and it’s really important,” he said.
Although Blauw acknowledges that he has several years and a lot of self-discovery ahead of him, he hopes to someday be a military chaplain. Wherever his faith journey takes him, he believes that having the opportunity to be instrumental in different people’s paths to salvation will be one of the most rewarding aspects.
(Editor’s note: read about other diocesan seminarians who have completed summer internships in future editions of The Catholic Messenger.)