By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
On Friday, May 26, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki will ordain three men to the transitional diaconate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. The ordination will take place at 6:30 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
A few weeks ago, seminarians Alex McCullough, Daniel McGrath, and Jayke White took time to share their thoughts and feelings about their ordinations.
Alex McCullough, who calls Immaculate Conception in Mattoon his home parish, first felt called to the priesthood during his second year at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where he was studying microbiology. He says it was his Lenten practice of contemplating the daily readings for Mass that helped him to deepen his faith.
“While I had never really stopped going to Mass when I was younger, I was pretty apathetic about it. I knew it was good to go to Mass, but that was about it,” he said. “But it was in these moments of reading the word of God that I first experienced conversion. I started feeling a small tug to the priesthood after that, so I eventually mentioned this to my pastor, Father John Titus. Father John quickly became a great mentor to me as I navigated my early days of discernment.”
McCullough eventually transferred to Eastern Illinois University to study biology so he would be closer to home while he became more serious about discerning the priesthood. In the fall of 2016, he transferred to Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis where he completed a Catholic studies degree with a focus on philosophy, as well as a biology degree, in 2018.
“After graduation I took two years off. These two years were really a time for me to work on a few areas of growth and maturation for me,” he said. It was during that time that he first worked at Decatur Memorial Hospital and then spent a year teaching theology at St. Teresa High School. “In the fall of 2020, I came back to seminary formation, and I have been studying theology at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology ever since,” he said.
McCullough, who is the son of Chris McCullough and Angie McCullough, says his family might have been initially surprised, even “a bit shocked” about his vocation, however they have been very supportive and will be with him for his ordination. He says several priests have been true examples of the priesthood, especially Father Titus, Father Steven Arisman, and Father Zach Samples. He has asked Father Arisman to vest him and notes that Father Arisman is not only a fine example of a good pastor but was instrumental in guiding him as he “navigated the two years between times in the seminary.”
“I also thank Father Brian Alford as the vocation director as well as Bishop Paprocki for their guidance and their openness to discerning my vocation with me,” he said. “Above all, I thank all the people who have prayed for me over the years. I could not do it without their prayers.”
There is a point in the Rite of Ordination that McCullough will kneel in front of Bishop Paprocki and promise respect and obedience to the bishop and to his successors. Then the bishop will say, “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.” That prayer can be meaningful in many ways, McCullough says. “I think this prayer best captures the entirety of our lives of faith, but it is especially true for those who seek to hear God’s call. God calls every one of us by name. He calls us personally. It is truly God who does the good work in us, and He brings all of our good work to fulfillment. All we must do is be willing to say ‘yes’ to God.”
Daniel McGrath, who calls Sacred Heart in Virden his home parish, describes himself as excited, confident, and grateful to be ordained to the transitional diaconate. “I definitely get the sense that it is the fruit of a long time in prayer and formation, and that it is exactly where God has been leading me all these years,” he said. “I see it as a great gift that He plans to give to me, and I look forward to receiving it from Him.”
Although he began to realize his priestly vocation between his junior and senior years in high school, McGrath said at first his desire for a family and other academic interests made him choose another direction. As God would have it, he started college at Eastern Illinois University and “very quickly found a small group of men who were discerning the priesthood.” Two of those men were now-Father Zach Samples and Alex McCullough, who will be ordained with McGrath. It was Father Samples, who was not a priest yet, who saw something in McGrath. “One evening he asked, ‘Are you discerning priesthood?’ I had been,” he said.
McGrath studied for just one year at EIU before entering college seminary at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. He spent three years in college seminary, then two years at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. “I then spent a year at Our Lady of Lourdes in Decatur, on a pastoral internship,” he said. “Finally, I finished a third year at Kenrick before ordination to the diaconate.”
He is grateful to so many people, he says. “I would, firstly, like to thank my parents, Mark and Catherine McGrath, for everything they did to raise me and form me into the man I have become,” he said. “I would also like to thank my siblings, grandparents, and extended family, who have been so instrumental in forming me through my childhood. Also, every seminarian knows the great blessing that the Knights of Columbus councils are throughout the years, so a grateful ‘thank you’ to the K. C. councils around the diocese as well.”
McGrath says he has had many mentors while in the seminary. “I would like to thank Father (Brian) Alford for his service to me and the other seminarians as vocation director. For their service to me very early on in my process at EIU and beyond, I would like to thank Father Steve Arisman and Father John Titus, as well as everyone at the Newman Center at that time. I would also like to thank Father Jeff Goeckner, Father Michael Friedel, and Father Michael Trummer for their mentorship in my parish assignments,” he said.
He has picked Father Trummer to vest him at his ordination. “I am so grateful to have been assigned so often at the same parish Father Michael has been assigned. … I have seen him grow in boldness and a desire to serve God’s people and have personally benefited greatly from the ways he has put these desires into action. I look forward to that moment in the ordination and pray that I may grow in those same virtues.”
He added that the people at Our Lady of Lourdes in Decatur (where he served a one-year internship) and at St. Boniface Parish in Edwardsville (where he has been ministering with the PSR classes) have all been welcoming. “I am also incredibly grateful for all who taught me and taught with me during the Totus Tuus program … over the three summers I taught in the diocese,” he said.
McGrath concludes that he looks forward to his ordination day and the work he will do beyond that. “I am so grateful for all the Lord has done in my life to lead me to this day, and I look forward to continuing to serve the diocese with Him afterward.”
A seminarian who now calls St. Mary Parish in Edwardsville his home parish, Jayke White says looking forward to his diaconate ordination just seems right. “There is a rightness to stepping into this role that is simply natural,” he said. “It’s as though I’ve been holding my breath for so long and will finally be able to sing.”
White’s desire for the priesthood goes back to when he was a very little boy. “When I was 3 years old, I was sitting in Mass at St. Cecilia Parish (Glen Carbon) when I suddenly grabbed my mom’s face and said, ‘I want to do what Father (Steve Pohlman) is doing.’ She was understandably surprised and asked, ‘What is he doing?’ I replied very seriously, ‘He’s talking about Jesus, and everybody is listening.’ I thought there couldn’t be a better job in the world than that, and while my desire has grown and developed over the years, that simple desire to share our Lord has remained at the root of it.”
White says he entered seminary right out of high school in 2015. “I left for a year from 2017-2018, got a bachelor’s degree in business management, and then re-entered seminary formation in the fall of 2018. He just completed his third year of theology at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind.
White says he has been blessed with a family that supports him and loves him. “I’m very grateful first to my parents, Tami and Leon White, for showing me what the Christian life is meant to be through their examples of love and support,” he said. “My grandparents especially have always been some of my biggest fans and I can’t thank them enough.” He also acknowledges his siblings, Jenna and Mitchell, and a number of very good friends, including Aaron Johnson, Eric Ouellette, Delaney Dodson, and Kate Timmermann, as well as his seminarian friends who are being ordained with him, Alex McCullough and Daniel McGrath.
White says he considers Father Pohlman, Father Dan Bergbower, Father Dean Probst, Father Bob Jallas, and Father Zach Samples to be mentors, as well as Father Brian Alford, who has assisted him greatly in the seminary formation process. “I’m also extraordinarily grateful for Father Denis Robinson, OSB, rector at St. Meinrad. His compassionate leadership has shown me how to lead as a spiritual father,” he said. “I’d also like to thank our bishop, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, who has not only been my bishop throughout my time in formation, but also confirmed me way back in 2011.”
White has asked Father Samples to vest him at his ordination. “During his time with me at St. Meinrad Seminary, he showed me what it means to be a deacon through his service to the community and kindness of caring for those who needed care,” he said. White said he admires Father Samples’ wisdom, gentleness, and good humor.
White says that he fully believes in letting a person know if he would be a good priest or deacon. “If you know someone in your life who might serve well as a priest or deacon, tell him,” he said. “Encourage him. Annoy him with your suggestions. But above all, support him when he does enter. It’s not an easy road, but the people of God make it worth it.”