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Discerning the Possibilities; Elder High School Student Prioritizes God’s Will

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Discerning God’s call for us, be it to the priesthood, a religious community, marriage or single life, is truly a journey of faith. Nick Hinkel, completing his junior year at Elder High School, has embraced that journey with a desire to deepen his own spirituality, as well as provide opportunities for his fellow students to do so, as he discerns a possible call to priestly ministry.

Hinkel, the youngest of five children, attended grade school at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Monfort Heights. He recalls developing an interest in the priesthood as early as the second grade, particularly inspired by the late Father Donald McCarthy, who served at the parish after retiring from active ministry. “I think it was just how kind he was. He was such a spiritual uncle to me and helped me to really love my faith,” Hinkel said.

He followed in his siblings’ footsteps to Colerain High School, but realized after two years there that the faith and values of a Catholic school would better nurture his vocation. Last summer as he prepared to begin the school year at Elder, Hinkel considered ways to help his fellow students draw closer to Christ and come to know Him at a deeper level, which led to the creation of Catholic Leaders of Elder. Currently composed of about 15 students, the group has gathered twice monthly since November for “food, fun, talking and  reflecting on the Gospel passage for the coming Sunday. We focus on the moral lessons the Gospel presents for our lives and in the classroom,” Hinkel said.

Catholic Leaders of Elder also hosts Play and Pray events, featuring games and guided Eucharistic adoration. Hinkel’s greatest hope is that the club and its events help Elder students “grow into good fathers, whether it’s of a family or in the priesthood. Brotherhood and fellowship create good men, wise men, spiritual men,” Hinkel said. “That’s what the world needs: more fathers.”

Actively involved in campus ministry at Elder, this faith-filled young man serves at all class Masses and has been a server at St. Ignatius and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains for many years.

“There’s a specific closeness with the Lord that goes along with being a server,” he said. “I always think of the Last Supper and Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet. I love being part of that in a close- up way and Jesus’ example of servant leadership.”

Albert Kovacic, Elder’s campus minister, said he has been inspired and impressed by Hinkel’s deep faith and leadership ability. “Jesus invited people to follow Him, and that’s exactly what Nick is doing,” Kovacic noted. “And he’s very serious about his vocation. He’s doing all the right things: becoming actively involved in religious activities and seeking a spiritual advisor. He’s doing all things that other Elder students do, but staying focused on what God may be calling him to do. In a lot of ways, Nick is motivating me to create more initiatives to strengthen Elder’s Catholic identity.”

Hinkel expressed his gratitude for how his faith and vocation are being strengthened at Elder. “At Colerain, I often felt like I was walking in my faith alone,” he said. “Now I don’t have to hide my faith, and I have opportunities to develop as a leader in my faith. You can’t run away from the realities of teenage life, the sin and temptations, but being in a big group and walking with my brothers has helped. The priesthood is still a big question for me, and for now I’m still dating. This is all part of my journey.”

Father Andrew Gronotte, LC, is Hinkel’s spiritual advisor, with Bishop of Columbus Earl Fernandes also having a strong influence. They met when Bishop Fernandes was pastor at St. Ignatius. Hinkel said, “He always made time for me, whether it was for spiritual advice or just to talk. I think that’s one of the most important qualities of a priest: to be there for their people. I went to Bishop Fernandes’ ordination, which was a real honor, and have been to Columbus a couple of times to have lunch with him. I remember him telling me that it took a while for him to go to the seminary, and that if ‘God wants you to go, you will go, but it will be on God’s time.’”

Heeding Bishop Fernandes’ advice, Hinkel is not making a decision on the priesthood until after much prayer and discernment. “I’ve thought about the Pontifical College Josephinum and the Athenaeum of Ohio, but really need to take the time to mature and discern what God is calling me to, whether it’s the priesthood or something else,” he said. “I definitely want to study theology somewhere.”

His advice to others discerning their vocation speaks to wisdom beyond his years: “God is the author of life, and His plan is the best plan of all,” Hinkel said. “Through your discernment, Christ will open the doors, and you just have to walk through them. He will help you walk through them if you ask. God will send you people in your life, put you in places and in situations that will help you find your vocation.”

This article appeared in the June 2024 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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