By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CONCEPTION, MISSOURI — As his graduation from Conception Seminary College in 2014 approached, Nick Marie felt uncertain about the future. For four years, the Washington native had been working toward his goal of becoming a priest, but he began to wonder if this was truly God’s call for his life.
A summer spent working in parishes and the pastoral year that followed helped Marie realize that his skill set did not lend itself well to the administrative aspects of priesthood. “Management isn’t one of my strong suits. I realized that, as a diocesan priest, I wouldn’t have been able to give what a priest should (in this regard).”
He began to discern how else he might be able to use his gifts to serve the Catholic Church. He knew he had a love for prayer, peace and community and wanted to devote his life to God. After a lot of thought, the answer seemed clear: monastic life.
Father Thom Hennen, diocesan director of vocations, said he and the Diocese of Davenport supported Marie’s decision to discontinue as a seminarian. “Sometimes you start down a path of discernment and it leads you to places you hadn’t expected,” Fr. Hennen said. “In a diocese like ours, where there are few examples of religious life for men, I think a lot of young men, when thinking about serving the church, automatically gravitate toward diocesan priesthood because that’s what they are familiar with. But, that’s not everybody’s call.”
While the diocese does need more priests, the Vocation Office’s goal, first and foremost, is to help people discern God’s call for them, whether to priesthood or otherwise, Fr. Hennen said.
In August, Marie returned to Conception, but this time as a postulant of Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. On Nov. 9, Marie, 24, became a novice; he hopes to take first vows as a brother next fall.
He learned about and visited other religious communities, but in the end Conception Abbey just felt like home. “It’s a place where I feel a great sense of peace. I grew up in a rural environment and Conception is also in a rural environment. I love that it’s a place set away from distractions, dedicated to God.”
Marie said the Benedictine monks — a mixture of brothers and priests — are very active in the Conception area. Some of the priests work in parishes. Other brothers and priests work in teaching or administration at Conception Seminary. The monks host thousands of people each year for retreats and other events, serving out their charism of hospitality. In addition, they own a printery house in which monks and local employees work together to make Christmas and Easter cards. This is a ministry Marie has helped with in his time with the monks; he sees it as an excellent opportunity for the monks to employ local people and evangelize at the same time. “It’s another way to spread God’s word.”
The monks spend about three hours a day in prayer. Marie has relished this part of the experience and enjoys helping the monks set up for liturgy.
Marie isn’t sure what his role with the monks will be in the future, though he does have an interest in writing or teaching. “It’s whatever their needs would be first, whatever way I can best serve the community … just being here is a gift and I’m glad to take part.”
Even though Marie won’t be serving the Diocese of Davenport as a priest in the future, he is grateful to the diocese for encouragement and understanding. He said he felt supported from the first time he contemplated priesthood in high school to when he began to experience doubts later on. “It might be a surprise to some how quickly the transition came, but I owe a lot to and am thankful for the support of priests, laypeople and many other great people who helped me in the diocese.”
He feels his time in seminary as he contemplated diocesan priesthood was very important for his personal growth and discernment. He realized that, sometimes, a perceived calling to one thing can actually be a way for God to open one’s mind to something else. “If you’d asked me five years ago if I wanted to become a monk, I would have said no.”
Fr. Hennen visited Marie at Conception Abbey last month, noting how natural it seemed for Marie to be wearing the novice habit. “It looks right. He looks happy,” he said.