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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
In high school our Catholic ministry leader took the guys to see Father Stephen Gadberry’s ordination in Little Rock. Emotionally it was a powerful experience seeing an ordination ceremony.
It was a first for me, but it was a beautiful event. It moved me seeing men give up an ordinary life for the priesthood. Father Stephen Gadberry was assigned to my home parish as an associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul in Rogers. He called me one night right before I graduated high school.
He said that during his holy hour a thought occurred to him: “Phil is a good fit for the priesthood.” At the same moment, I happened to be at a stoplight facing three gigantic roadside crosses.
I did not pursue it at the time, but what he said would never leave me. With every powerful experience I had with God since then, Father Stephen’s words would echo within me.
I went on to study business at the University of Arkansas. I had had the opportunity to be in some leadership positions on campus; in my fraternity, student groups and student government settings. I was trying to fulfill an inner longing to see others grow, organizations thrive and to make people happy. Those were constant themes throughout my college experience, but the caveat was that it always tended to fall short of my expectations.
Later, some close friends would help me get more involved with the Catholic Church. They brought me in to serve and look to the Bible for guidance. That led to Father Jason Sharbaugh, our pastor at our university parish, and I growing close. Reflecting on great church leaders and thinkers, Father Jason helped normalize the intellectual side of the faith with scientific, philosophical and sociological beauty.
We would joke about me joining the priesthood, and I could feel my mind actually feeling drawn to the idea as we dove more into what his priesthood entailed. Father Jason has been my guide and someone with whom I can ask the hard questions, and I am thankful for his ministry.
I have always enjoyed people and have always enjoyed deep conversations. I love the inherent sense of belonging when I dive into the Catholic faith. The opportunity to spend my life diving into an individual relationship with Christ, sharing the Gospel, drawing people to the sacraments, and helping the sick have all been a part of my life. These opportunities were the happiest times of my life.
I think God has given me sneak peeks of the lifelong beauty of priestly ministry. The more I have followed that path of serving, the more peaceful I have been. Meanwhile, my desire to help my brothers and sisters who have left the Church for one reason or another grew stronger.
Sadly, being raised here in Arkansas, I have seen several people leave the Church. The world has become so enticing for so many people. On the other hand, it has been remarkable seeing, first-hand, the power of Jesus Christ bringing people home and giving them hope.
That experience has sparked deep prayer in my life. It sparked a deep love for the Church and the Eucharist.
While reflecting on my first year of studying philosophy at Saint Meinrad, the phrase “follow me” has continued to echo. I had no idea how fulfilling it would be to follow God's call, drop the nets and roll. Is this trust always easy? No. Is this trust always enjoyable? Yes!
Last year brought many firsts, including studying philosophy, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, participating in daily Mass and holy hour, learning Spanish and living with 125 people. Life changes in the seminary, but God's grace is present. God guides and forms you to be more like him.
I enjoyed my time in pastoral ministry, where my class served people experiencing homelessness in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. I could see the eyes of God when serving those in need, and these moments reassured my vocation.
Now in my final year of philosophy, I continue to enjoy being formed in the Benedictine charism present on this great campus.