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Chance Encounter Leads to Vocation

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By John Stegeman

When 21-year-old math and secondary education major Aaron Wessman would clean the halls of the theology department at St. John’s University, a certain priest would often be in the way. Time after time, young man and the priest met in the hallways, and eventually, the seed of a vocation took hold. Now 37, Glenmary Father Wessman credits God’s providence with putting a Glenmary priest in his path and starting him on the journey of a lifetime.

“I did not consider priesthood for the first 21 years of my life,” Father Wessman said. “I met a Glenmary priest, Father Jerry Dorn, and through that relationship, a number of things started to happen. My faith was growing. I was getting more involved in volunteering at the church… God could have sent anyone into my path, a Dominican, an Augustinian, it could have been a Jesuit. For whatever reason, it was a Glenmarian.”

Why Glenmary?

The Glenmary charism resonated with Father Wessman. He grew up in a predominantly Protestant area in Cokato, MN, and enjoyed activities associated with rural life like hunting and fishing. Glenmary missioners go to rural areas of Appalachia and the South and establish mission parishes where no formal Catholic presence exists. Often less than a dozen people will attend Mass in the early days, but the missions grow over the years until they can be returned to the care of the diocese. Glenmary missioners then move on to new territory.

“I think I would have loved teaching mathematics, or having a family and my own kids,” Father Wessman said. “After I entered Glenmary, I saw there were other ways in which I can love human beings and give life in the world. Everyone has to find that.”

Crossing Cultures

Since his ordination in 2012, Father Wessman has experienced priesthood in a variety of ways. He’s been a mission pastor in rural North Carolina, a doctoral student in Belgium, and he now serves on Glenmary’s Executive Council as first-vice-president. In just seven years of priestly service, he’s managed to experience ministry across various cultures.

“We don’t have to fear the cultural diversity that exists in the Church,” he said. “I wish that we as a Church would do better at first and foremost seeing ourselves as members of the Body of Christ which unites us with all these people throughout the world before we see ourselves as a person of a nation-state or a country. I think we would be so much kinder to each other and there would be less violence in the world.”

Leading the Future
The wisdom gained from his experiences, perhaps in conjunction with his relative youth, helped Father Wessman get elected to Glenmary’s leadership team. In the time leading up to the election, several members of the Glenmary community encouraged him to remain open to leadership.

“I was surprised because I was very comfortable and loving the missionary work I was doing in North Carolina and surprised because I was somewhat on the younger end of things,” Father Wessman said. “It’s humbling, in particular at my age. But I really trust the community, and I trust the guys I’m working with. It allows Glenmary to have a person on the council who is from a younger generation and thinks about the questions or concerns about the younger people in our society.”

One of the ways Father Wessman is reaching out to younger generations is a weekly “Missioner Moment.” Each week, he records a short video reflecting on either the scriptures or current events in the Church. Glenmary then shares the video on their Facebook page.

In his short time as a priest, Father Wessman’s experiences have prepared him to connect with young men considering a vocation to religious life. His advice to them is simple: Take steps forward and trust in God.

“I always found in my own discernment, the more I was willing to take a step in the direction of investigating the possibility, the more I was rewarded,” he said. “You have to call, you have to ask, you have to investigate, and you’ll come to know. God is so loving that, I believe, He shows us in our own hearts what He wants for us.”

After reading this article, please pray the Prayer of Vocations

Almighty Father, You have created us for some definite purpose.
Grant us the grace to know the path
You have planned for us in this life and to respond with a generous “Yes.”
Make our archdiocese, parishes, homes and hearts fruitful ground for Your gift of vocations.
May our young people respond to Your call with courage and zeal.
Stir among our men a desire and the strength to be good and holy priests.
Bless us with consecrated religious and those called to a chaste single life, permanent deacons, and faithful husbands and wives, who are a sign of Christ’s love for His Church.
We commend our prayer for vocations to You, Father, through the intercession of Mary our Mother, in the Holy Spirit, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

– Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr

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