Propaedeutic Year

Ryan Carlson, St. Michael Church, Van Buren

Attends Saint Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana

What opened my heart to even consider the idea of entering seminary occurred in October 2021. My sister, Allie, found something called the "Three Hearts Pilgrimage," an annual event dedicated to Mary and hosted by Latin Mass communities from all over the country. It's a 33 mile hike in just two days with some festivities the evening before.

It set in slowly at first, but I began to realize there was something so beautiful about the entire experience. I felt like I had walked into a different world, and I didn’t want to leave. We probably said the rosary no less than 15 times, far more than the rest of my life combined. Over the next couple of days I asked myself: "What happened back there?"

This strong pull towards God caused me to realize I had been resisting him. I decided after the pilgrimage that I was going to drop my guard and let him into my life with no reservations. I didn't know what that would look like, but I continued praying the rosary after the pilgrimage and my spiritual life improved in unprecedented ways.

Two months later, I was still pursuing my dream of becoming a military aviator. I was headed down to Little Rock the night before to take the qualifying tests for becoming a military pilot. I sat in an unusual silence for the entire two-hour drive. After months of intense studying, my mind was racing with the aspects of my life I had been putting off.

I wanted to be the very best pilot I could possibly be, but I knew that I could only be the best possible pilot with God’s help. However, I wanted to prove that I really loved him and not just the things he could provide for me.

So I told God, “Lord, if you’ll help me get the best score I can on this test, then if you want me to be your priest, then I’ll be your priest.” Immediately after that prayer, the nerves lifted almost entirely, and only the hum of focus was left. When all was said and done, I had scored in the top one percent of test takers.

To improve my application further, I joined the fire service. Aside from the fire training — which I enjoyed — I realized the culture was not something I wanted to embrace. Unlike the "Three Hearts Pilgrimage" experience, and despite moments of belonging, I felt a lot of isolation during my work in the fire service.

The things my peers wanted and the things I wanted seemed very different. I began to realize that military life would likely be much of the same. Throughout this time, I turned to God for answers. I realized that if the military was even a fraction of this culture, I couldn’t embrace it. I wanted to move closer towards God, not further away.

How could I get back to what I found on the pilgrimage? I asked God for strength and guidance and slowly, silently, began to wonder if maybe I could be a priest. One night while visiting with my sister and brother-in-law, I suggested a television series which she had seen years ago. I didn’t have a clue what it was, except I figured it might be good.

While watching, I was relating a lot to one of the characters. Then, out of nowhere, at the very end of the show, that character runs off to become a priest. I was dumbstruck. It felt like it was obvious to everyone in the room that God was calling me to run away on the same adventure. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to take such a big jump. After all, I had worked so hard to get where I was. Nevertheless, I began speaking to Father Omar Galvan and Father Jeff Hebert about my vocation.

After attending the "Come and See Retreat," I still wasn’t ready to take that jump to priesthood. I called Father Jeff and told him that I was certain that I wanted to be a pilot. Even as I uttered those words to him, I felt a strange and immediate sense of disappointment. It was the sensation that I was leaving behind a great adventure and an old friend, but who and what I couldn’t say.

So about a week later, I called Father Jeff back. This time, I felt conviction. I was ready to give my life to something awesome and greater than anything else imaginable. I was ready to give myself in service to God and his people.