Thank you for taking a moment to get to know more about our vocation committee. I am a native of the “sunshine state” of Florida, but have lived in Missouri for well over 30 years. So, I’m pleased to call central Missouri my home. I spent most of my grade school and college years attending St. Patrick’s parish in Laurie, MO. Immediately after high school, I entered Conception Seminary College thanks to the encouragement of our pastor, Fr. Fred Barnett. Fr. Barnett had noticed how I enjoyed serving at Mass on the weekends, and suggested that I had the qualities to be a good priest. However, I also had a strong interest in science, which did not diminish even after 2 years in the seminary. With the help of a spiritual director, I made the decision to leave Conception (in good standing) and pursue a degree in chemistry.
Ultimately, I would complete my studies for a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and spent a few years working for ABC Laboratories in Columbia, MO. Along the way, I remained good friends with my math and astronomy professor at Conception, Fr. Albert Bruecken, who also holds a doctorate degree in chemistry from MU. (Given that Pope Francis has a master’s degree in chemistry, there must be a connection here, yes?) Thanks to Fr. Albert asking me to consider a vocation as a Benedictine monk at Conception, I kept wrestling with the thoughts of pursuing priesthood or religious life. Although I didn’t experience a calling to the Order of St. Benedict, his efforts were not wasted. After prayerful consideration, and then visiting with our Vocation Director, Fr. Joe Corel, I chose to re-enter formation for the priesthood in 2007.
This time, I went to Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, where I found myself among many other men who were answering God’s call at a later age in life. It required a bit of an adjustment for all of us, learning to live in a small room and share common restrooms and showers. But the thought of turning back did not ever cross my mind, and on June 9, 2012, I was ordained a priest for this Diocese by Bishop John Gaydos. I have served as pastor of Immaculate Conception, Loose Creek, and St. Louis of France Church, Bonnots Mill. Currently, I am serving as pastor of St. Martin Church in St. Martins, MO and I am the Director of Seminarians for the Diocese of Jefferson City.
As you can see, my journey was anything but a straight path. Bishop Gaydos would occasionally remind me that with God, nothing is wasted. I don’t know what the future holds; only that it is certain to be an adventure. Life as a Catholic priest is anything but dull! I hope my story resonates with your own experience, and inspires you to trust in God’s plan. He never stops working to guide each of us to where we will be truly happy and at peace.
Rev. Louis Nelen