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HomeArticleSt. Louis’ Seminarian Stronghold: Bonds of Brotherhood Bear Vocational Fruit

St. Louis’ Seminarian Stronghold: Bonds of Brotherhood Bear Vocational Fruit

St. Louis’ Seminarian Stronghold: Bonds of Brotherhood Bear Vocational Fruit

Left to right: Quinton Durer, Joseph Inserra, Jack Nowak and Thomas Hashbarger meet with Archbishop Rozanski after Mass in high school. (photo: Courtesy of subjects / Courtesy of subjects)

 

Holy friendships in a high-school youth group lead one parish to sending six men to seminary.

In sixth grade, Jack Nowak was volunteering at a summer camp at St. Clare of Assisi grade school in Ellisville, Missouri. He was paired to work with Quinton Durer, a freshman in high school. They quickly moved past small talk, and Jack asked Quinton what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Quinton said that he had no idea.

Jack blurted, “I want to be a priest!”

Fast-forward seven years, and both are seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.

But they are not alone. Four other men from St. Clare of Assisi parish are also in seminary, each with their own discernment story.

But their collective story has a common theme: They relied on one another throughout high school as they prayed about their individual vocations.

N owak, the youngest seminarian, will be a college sophomore in the fall. Joseph Inserra, Thomas Hashbarger and Joseph Corrigan will all begin their junior year. Ben Borgemyer just concluded his propaedeutic year after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2023. And Durer will begin the next phase of his formation as he enters “Theology I” in the fall.

“It was huge to have older brothers that entered seminary before me,” Nowak said. “We could talk about it pretty openly. It was just amazing to be able to go up and ask all the questions that I had, especially my senior year, when everyone else was in seminary.”

In high school, they each began regularly attending the parish youth group. Even though they were friends in grade school, the youth group made them brothers.

 

St. Louis Seminarians
L to R: Joseph Corrigan, Jack Nowak, Joseph Inserra and Thomas Hashbarger partake in the annual St. Clare of Assisi parish festival as high schoolers. (Photo: Courtesy of the subjects)

 

“Not only did the youth group have a strong Catholic foundation, but we were all always together,” Hashbarger said. “We would always hang out outside of the youth group, such as every Saturday, when we would have fun and talk about our faith and what’s going on within us. Having these friends made it a lot easier for me to process and talk about discernment.”

Soon, the young men began opening up about their own struggles with discernment, a struggle they soon discovered that many young men encounter.

“Discernment in high school is often stigmatized, with misconceptions such as being too young to make serious decisions like attending seminary or fearing the celibate priesthood,” Corrigan said. “There is this notion that you’re missing out on so much if you don’t go to college.”

The guys would share these fears with each other. But they also frequently turned to the parish’s then associate pastor, Father Andrew Auer, to express their worries and concerns about discernment. Father Auer, who now serves as associate pastor at St. Thomas More Newman Center parish at the University of Missouri at Columbia, shared that these fears are commonplace among young people discerning a call.

“Young people struggle to talk about discernment because of fear,” Father Auer told the Register, “fear of others thinking it’s weird; fear of being the ‘Jesus freak.’”

But with prayer, Father Auer told the young men, God will help them sort through the anxiety and help them listen for his voice.

“So often I have to tell the guys, ‘Hey, you’re 17. If God wants you to be a priest, he’ll make it happen. Let’s just take the next step and keep praying.’ If I’m praying, the Lord takes care of the rest: He convicts; he helps fight sin; he opens doors; he puts away fear. Anxiety and fear will suffocate vocations,” Father Auer said.

When they entered seminary, the men found a new appreciation for the community they had in high school, as they heard stories of other seminarians struggling to find groups that were open to talking about discernment.

“You hear a lot of stories about the guy who, in high school, has to work up a lot of courage to tell people that he’s discerning the priesthood because he feels very alone in this process,” Inserra said. “That was most certainly not the case with us. It was really helpful to be able to know that there are other people that are going through the same thing and have a lot of the same questions, fears and hesitancies.”

What sparked these conversations, however, was the culture of the youth group. Under the guidance of Father Auer and the then youth minister, Alyssa Norberg, a vibrant community was formed centered around fun, formation and prayer.

“Young people love to be challenged,” Norberg, who serves as a communications specialist at Kenrick-Glennon, told the Register. “It really took a culture of praying for vocations at the parish. But we were also intentional in creating an actual space for young men and women to ask the question about vocation. But, really, we just placed a high call before the students to be saints, and they responded.”

To form the students as future saints, the ministry focused on two things: creating a culture of love and teaching the teenagers how to pray.

“The most important thing in the youth group was to give them the language and tools for prayer as well as authentic experiences of love,” Father Auer said. “The core team, youth minister, and I all loved them. We accepted the teens in all of their goofiness and didn’t run from it. But once you get them into a routine of prayer, I’m really not worried. If the Lord is calling, they’re prepared to listen and obey.”

Even with this intentional framework, both Norberg and Father Auer know that God’s hand was at work in bringing so many young men who were discerning their futures to St. Clare.

 

St. Louis seminarians at St. Clare parish
L to R: Joe Corrigan, Quinto Durer, Joseph Inserra, Thomas Hashbarger, Ben Borgmeyer and Jack Nowak attend a St. Clare fundraiser. (Photo: Courtesy of the subjects)

 

“There’s something just supernatural about that time that we all had together at St. Clare; the parish was truly anointed during those years,” Norberg said. “Part of that, just like the Lord’s preference, and bringing people together for that time, and those are things that are all out of the youth ministers’ control; it’s all out of, yeah, the men, even their own discerning hearts.”

Soon after the young men joined the youth group, it became more than simply a group of young Catholics who would meet twice a week; it became their friend group. They would frequently hang out on Friday and Saturday nights with each other; and after youth group, they would hang out together, too.

 

St. Clare youth group fun
L to R: Thomas Hashbarger, friend Ian Steele, Jack Nowak, friend Matt Windler and Joseph Inserra enjoy some youth-group shenanigans in high school. (Photo: Courtesy of the subjects)

 

But they did not keep this joyous community to themselves; they began inviting younger students to join them.

“The youth group started out as my friend group. I was going to these events to have fun,” Hasbarger said. “But then, as we transitioned from sophomore to junior year, I asked Quinton for advice on how to be a good upperclassman, and he said that the youth group is not about me anymore; it’s about giving yourself to others. So we all had to learn how to serve the underclassmen and actually go outside of ourselves and form a community.”

The youth group gave the now seminarians more experience than just how to be a leader and help form dynamic communities. It taught them how to live amongst one another, and it also exposed the guys to another reality: women.

“In high school, I had a girlfriend that I met at a youth group,” explained Inserra. “Dating somebody helped me to come to know others as well as myself on a deeper level, so that when I finally started to recognize that call to seminary, I had the capacity to discern and understand what was going on in my heart.”

Even as the guys navigated relationships and friendships, the biweekly Wednesday and Sunday youth group gatherings served as a constant foundation for their faith life, a foundation that helped support the deep community they formed.

“The steady, simple stuff at St. Clare, like the ‘Sunday Life Nights’ and ‘Wednesday Gatherings,’ served as a foundation for my faith life,” said Durer. “It just kept my faith life going.”

This brotherhood the men formed not only inspired the younger students but even some of the older volunteers. In the summer going into his senior year at Mizzou, Borgmeyer decided to serve on the youth group core team, a group of adults that assists the youth minister in leading the community. During that summer, seeing the younger guys discern their own call to seminary more seriously left an impression on the then college student.

“It was just nice to be around guys who were discerning and wanting to pursue a relationship with the Lord in a deeper way and possibly give their lives over to him and through the priesthood,” Borgmeyer said. “Being at St. Clare made discernment more normal for me and allowed me to start considering my own vocation more seriously.”

For Norberg and Father Auer, watching the six seminarians grow in their friendship and faith left a deep impression, reminding both of them that friendship is critical to the spiritual journey.

“The St. Clare men are great evidence that we need holy friendships in our walk with the Lord,” Father Auer said. “I would see how they encouraged each other. They went to pray because they knew the other guys were doing it. They weren’t alone in their journey, so discernment never became this very fearful or wild thought.”

 

Brotherhood
L to R: Jack Figge, Joseph Corrigan, Jack Nowak, Joseph Inserra and Thomas Hashbarger serve Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception after the 2022 March for Life.(Photo: Courtesy of Jack Figge)

 

Now that these six men are in seminary, they continue to be grateful for the brotherhood and friendship they formed in high school, a brotherhood that continues to bear fruit as they all pursue Christ and discern where he is calling each of them.

“Having these men here in seminary is like bringing a little piece of home with me,” Inserra said. “Especially coming into seminary, where it is a different and challenging environment, with a lot of pressures and struggles, these guys are the people who I can feel at home with and who help me remember past times. But in the present moment, they provide me a space with a lot of support and familiarity and a community that I know I will not be judged in.”

 

St. Clare youth group
Joseph Inserra and Jack Nowak (back left) and Quinton Durer (back right) meet with younger St. Clare students after the chrism Mass. (Photo: Courtesy of subjects)

 

 

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