| By Renee Lapham Collins

Building Our Future

Seminarians Offer the Promise of a Vibrant Diocese

Since he calls his visit to Our Lady of Knock Shrine his “Galilee Moment,” Deacon Seamus Kettner could say the Blessed Mother had a hand in expanding the ranks of the Diocese of Lansing’s seminarian cohort.

This year, there are 28 men attending several seminaries across the country, a number that has been holding steady over the last several years. While the large number of priests “in training” is a blessing, it also comes with a sizable price tag for seminarian education and formation, support for which comes directly from the annual Diocesan Services Appeal. In fact, the DSA is the primary source of support for the program.

Seamus, a fourth-year seminarian, is set to be ordained in June, and he could not be more grateful for the support he has received through the generous contributions of thousands of diocesan families. This year’s DSA theme comes from Psalm 50, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” and it sums up Seamus’ experiences as he has contemplated his own call.

“The generosity of people is humbling,” Seamus said. “The gift of discernment—freely discerning that God is calling me to be a priest—and being supported by other members of the church through education and housing, well, their generosity is so important. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Seamus, born and raised in Pinckney, grew up  at St. Mary’s. Although he was not consciously discerning for the priesthood in his high school years, parish pastor Father Ken Coughlin had a strong influence on his Catholic life.

“I was baptized at four, and went on to receive the sacraments,” Seamus said. “In ninth grade, I was confirmed and it was Bishop Boyea’s first confirmation class. I was always around Catholicism.”

He attended St. Mary’s Catholic School and then went on to Catholic Central High School in Wixom, graduating in 2011.

While he never considered the priesthood, when he went off to college, Seamus chose Wittenburg University and found himself exploring faith, God, eternity, and other “big life questions” of philosophy that would come together when he visited Knock.

“Before college, I just had never actively thought about those before or talked with someone about it,” Seamus explained. “But it hooked me, I was drawn to it. And it was shaking up my foundation, my roots so to speak.”

In his junior year, he had an opportunity to study abroad for a semester and he chose Ireland.

“Father Ken caught wind of what I was planning to do and gave me a Celtic rosary and told me to pray it,” Seamus said. “I had never done it by myself, so it was a new challenge. And he told me to visit Knock, the Marian apparition site.”

Seamus’ mom also was keen to have him visit the shrine.

“Every week when I talked to her, she pestered me,” he recalled. “She asked me did I go there. I finally decided to go for her sake, in appreciation and gratitude for all she’d done for me up to that point, and then I would tell her about it.”

Seamus set out on a 3-1/2 hour bus ride April 4, 2014, a date he said he will remember the rest of his life.

“I strolled into Knock, and I went to Mass,” he said. “Then I had a nudge from the Holy Spirit to go to confession.”

The priest hearing his confession “walked me through my whole life.

“He wasn’t just hearing my sins and giving absolution, but asking me those life questions I’d first thought about three years ago, asking me where I was, where I saw life going.”

The turning point for Seamus was the deep sense of healing he experienced. He said his parents had divorced when he was still in middle school and the wounds remained.

“It was a very painful part of my childhood,” he said. “I felt it was a stigma, Catholic families don’t divorce. We moved 35 minutes away from Pinckney, to a more affluent area and it was a very difficult time for me to navigate. I had a lot of frustration about it but I wasn’t ready to talk to the lord about it. I was trying to fix it myself.”

At Knock, Seamus said, “the priest asked me how my early life was, and I told him about this wound and how hard it was and how it felt.

“He told me that it was a transformative time in life and not to beat myself up about it. He probed my heart, he knew something wasn’t exactly right.”

As a result, Seamus realized that he wanted to do for others what that priest did for him.

“He reconciled me back to God,” he explained. “It was there I encountered Jesus, the lord, his mercy and ultimately his love.”

God became real to him then, he said.

“It boils down to this,” Seamus said. “Jesus is about love, religion is about receiving the love, and that’s what the Catholic faith is all about, about being loved by God and loving others.”

When he left Our Lady of Knock, he said was certain the Lord was calling him to be a priest. He remembers writing an anonymous prayer on the prayer intention board there, asking God to reveal his vocation, “even though I wasn’t ready to hear it just then.” Seamus returned home to finish college and graduated in 2015. He majored in philosophy and minored in religion, which provided a good foundation for his seminary studies.

“After that Galilee moment in Knock, my life, it was different,” Seamus said.

He started his seminary studies in August 2018.

The primary gift of the DSA funding, Seamus said, is that it allows seminarians the freedom to discern, to truly know they are being called to the priesthood. The financial burden of education and housing is removed, and funds are provided for retreats and other formation programs for seminarians.

“It is such a gift to be in a place to hear God’s call, to be able to discern in such a way,” he said. “I’ve never had the stress of financial worry. Without that stress, I’ve really had the freedom to discern my vocation. The people through their generosity have made it possible for me to freely choose while at the same time they are choosing, too. It’s a mutual discernment, everyone working together to make it possible.”