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Back in the saddle

Five new seminarians join nine others to launch school and pastoral years

The following story appeared in the August 26 Idaho Catholic Register.

The Idaho Vocations team traveled the state during the summer to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Pictured are, back row from left: Zack McKellar, Nicholas Sower and Connor Brown. Front row, from left, Joshua Tennyson, Christopher Din, Joseph Patti, Father Nathan Dail (vocations director), Deacon Nelson Cintra, Ronald Onyekwelu, Ryan Oenick and Nathan Ribb. (ICR photo/Gene Fadness)

By Gene Fadness


While hot July and August days might be called the “lazy days of summer,” they were anything but for Diocese of Boise seminarians who spent much of the summer on mission trips, retreats and preparing for another school year that, for most of them, begins in the next week.

Their summer’s work about ended, 10 of the 14 Diocese of Boise seminarians attended a Mass at the St. Paul’s Student Center on the BSU campus in early August. During his homily directed primarily toward the seminarians, Father Dail warned the men to not allow the world to “sedate” them. “The world wants to sedate us, put us to sleep, but the Lord wants to awaken our hearts and keep us vigilant for His coming,” he told them.

Priesthood, he said, is a time of “entering into His unrest.” He referred to the Gospel reading of the day where Jesus tells disciples who adamantly insist that they will follow Him wherever He goes that, while birds have nests and foxes have dens, “the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.” (Luke 9:58)

“You have to be willing to enter into His unrest, so He becomes our only rest. The priest lives out that famous line of Augustine, ‘You made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ Are you willing to enter into Christ’s restless-ness?”

The most difficult part of his discernment vocation were the nights, Father Dail told the seminarians. “I remember waking up in the middle of the night, feeling so alone,” he said. “There is an intense poverty that comes with celibacy. You feel alone. You feel confused. You feel abandoned,” he said. Yet it was in that place of alone-ness “where God became everything to me,” he said.

Five new seminarians begin study this fall to add to the nine others currently information.

Five of the seminarians will be based at St. Paul’s Seminary in Minnesota. They include Monico Heredia (Theology II) and Zack MacKeller (Pre-Theology 1) and new seminarians, Connor Brown, Ryan Olenick and Joseph Patti.

Three seminarians continue studies at Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon, including Deacons Tim Segert and Nelson Cintra entering Theology IV and scheduled for ordination next spring. Also at Mt. Angel will be Joshua Tennyson (College IV).

Three seminarians will study at Bishop White Seminary on the Gonzaga University campus in Spokane. They include Ian Willnerd (College IV), Nathan Ribb (College III) and Nicholas Sower (College II).

Three seminarians will be serving their pastoral year. Christopher Din will serve at St. Edward’s in Twin Falls, Leonardo Gutierrez Jr., will be at All Saints in Lewiston and Ronald Onyekwelu at St. Nicholas in Rupert.

Two of the new seminarians have already begun their studies and are transferring to the Diocese of Boise from other dioceses. Leonardo Gutierrez comes to the Diocese of Boise from Mexico and Ronald Onyekwelu from Nigeria.

Below is a brief summary of each of the new seminarians.

Connor Brown grew up in Long Beach, Calif. He attended K-8 school at St. Hedwig in Los Alamitos. He attended St. John Bosco, an all boys high school operated by the Salesians.

He attended Boise State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in finance. This fall he begins his propaedeutic year at St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. (Pope Francis has asked seminaries to offer a propaedeutic - from the Greek “teach beforehand” - year to help future priests, who often come from non-Catholic homes and cultures, develop a more solid foundation before beginning seminary proper. The men live in community near the seminary, engage in a “media-fast” from social media except to communicate with family, study the faith, foster prayer, discernment and personal growth. For instance, at Bishop White Seminary, where the men live in a newly renovated McGivney Hall near Bishop White Seminary, the program’s core values include fraternity, sacrifice, masculinity, hard work and generosity of heart. At St. Paul, last year’s class of 16 men lived in community at the Church of St. Mark, one mile away from the seminary. The men also take courses in Church teaching and scripture, thus the propaedeutic year does not add to the four years of college and four years of theology/philosophy required before ordination.)

Brown grew up in a Catholic family, serving as an altar server and Confirmation group leader. But he didn’t come into a deeper connection with his faith until the start of his sophomore year at Boise State. “It was then that I started to slowly hear the calling (to priesthood), but I continued to push it off, waiting for God to give me a clearer answer.” After two years, he reached out to Father Dail who helped him with his discernment. Even though he is from California, he chose to stay in the Diocese of Boise. “I feel called here by God as well as by the excellent Catholic community I have found here.”

Brown enjoys swimming, water skiing, long rides on his motorcycle, camping and hiking.

Leonardo Guillermo Gutiérrez Carbajal, 23, was born in the small Mexican city of Morelia.

“As most of the families in my country, mine is also a very religious one, so I have always been an active member of the Catholic Church,” Gutiérrez said. “Since I was a little boy, me and my two younger brothers have participated in our parish in Morelia, which is dedicated to the Divine Child Jesus. There I attended catechism and prepared to receive my sacraments. “ He was involved in the parish youth group where he learned how to play the guitar so that he could join in a music ministry with other young men from the neighborhood who would sing at Mass.

“I was always around the parish. Me and my family happened to have a good relationship with the priests that served in our community, and I have an uncle who is also a priest. That is how I got to know the life of a Catholic priest. I began asking myself if I was being called by God to serve him in that specific way,” Gutiérrez said.

He entered the seminary at Morelia immediately after finishing high school in 2017. There he completed two propaedeutic years and three years in Philosophy.

While in Morelia, his devout Catholic family became friends with Father Ron Wekerle from the Diocese of Boise who was serving in Mexico as part of an exchange program between the Diocese of Boise and the Archdiocese of Morelia. The program helps Idaho priests improve on their Spanish and learn more about the culture so they can better serve the many parishes in Idaho that have a significant number of Hispanic parishioners. (Father Wekerle is now pastor at Our Lady of the Snows in Sun Valley and St. Charles Borromeo in Hailey.)

During his first year in seminary, his parents moved to Boise, where both work for the Diocese. His father, Leonardo (Memo) is the coordinator for the Office of Diocesan Events. His mother, Veronica, is employed in the Communications Department as a reporter and photographer for the Idaho Catholic Register and a co-host on the “New Dawn” morning show on Sal y Luz Radio, the Spanish counterpart to Salt & Light Radio.

“That is how I got to know this wonderful state and the way that Catholics live their faith here,” Gutiérrez said. “At the same time, I learned about this Diocese and the specific challenges that our Catholic Church faces in this place to share the message of love given by Our Lord Jesus. So, after the fruit of praying, I realized that God might be calling me now to serve Him and my brothers and sisters here in Idaho.”

During this school year, Gutiérrez will be completing his pastoral year at All Saints Parish in Lewiston, “so that I can keep improving my English and to get to know even better the Diocese.” Next year, he will begin his studies in theology at St. Paul’s in Minnesota. “I am very excited to start this new stage of my life and I give thanks to God for all the love and mercy He has shown to me and my family. I beg you to keep me in your prayers as I keep you and the Diocese of Boise in mine.”

Gutiérrez enjoys books, movies and playing soccer.

Ryan Olenick was born and raised in Pocatello, where he attended Holy Spirit Catholic School and Century High School.

During his high school years he was involved in youth programs like Edge and LifeTeen and attended the Idaho Catholic Youth Conference (ICYC). But toward the end of high school, “I was slowly drifting away from my faith,” he said. He majored in wildlife resources at the University of Idaho, but says the first two years of college “were very rough in terms of faith.”

Then, during his junior year, Olenick met Andrew Graupmann, a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) “Everything started to slowly change after that. I started building a consistent prayer time into my schedule and I started attending Mass again,” Olenick said. He engaged in his own study of Catholic belief. “I came to understand the intellectual side of the faith and how true it really is.” He also then became a FOCUS missionary. “In my time with FOCUS, I had the joy of ministering to college students across the western United States, some with a Catholic background and some with no religious history at all.”

The seed of his desire for priesthood was planted fairly young. “When I was quite a bit younger, I asked my parents if I could dress up as a priest for Halloween,” he said. However, he never seriously thought of joining the seminary until near the end of his college experience. He had many options coming out of college including joining the seminary. However, because he was new to understanding the faith, he decided to serve as a FOCUS missionary. “My time in FOCUS helped shape my desire to enter the seminary. Through daily Mass, prayer, formation and living in community with other faithful Catholics, I slowly came to the realization that the Lord wants all of me and all I have. My response – reluctantly at times – is best described in the words of the great Sir Paul McCartney: ‘I may not have a lot to give, but what I’ve got, I’ll give to you.’ ”

Olenick has lived in many places away from Idaho, but chose the Diocese of Boise “because, the more I am able to appreciate its beauty and simplicity, the more I realize Idaho is my home. I would love to serve those who live here.”

Olenick enjoys backpacking, skiing, mountain biking, rafting and bowling. He also plays guitar, draws and enjoys woodworking, including making rosaries.

Seminarian Ronald Onyekwelu goes horseback riding during the North Idaho Mission of Idaho Vocations. Onyekwelu came to the Diocese of Boise from Nigeria on the recommendation of Father Onyema G. Okorie, a Catholic chaplain for the U.S. Air Force and former military chaplain at Mountain Home Air Force Base. (Courtesy photo/Idaho Vocations Facebook page)

Ronald Onyekwelu was born in 1996 in Abba, Anambra, Nigeria. He was the second of eight children, the oldest son. His father was a devout Catholic and his mother converted to the faith from the Anglican Church.

He attended the Handmaid’s Infant Jesus Primary School in Awka, operated by Religious Sisters. For his junior and senior high years he attended St. Dominic Savior Seminary in Akpu and St. John Bosco Seminary in Isuaniocha.

For his college studies, he attended Pope John Paul II Major Seminary, in Okpuno, Awka, which is an affiliate institute of Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka and Urbaniana University in Rome. There he studied philosophy and earned his bachelors of arts and bachelors of philosophy from both universities.

Onyekwelu says he was raised in “a lovely Catholic home,” involved in the Altar Servers Association of Nigeria, the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria and Seminarians for Life.

His decision to discern the priesthood started at about age 12, influenced by his encounters with priests while serving as an altar server and with the Religious Sisters who taught during his primary school years. “I was also influenced by the lifestyle of my patron saint, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) who endured much sacrifice for the love of God and humanity.” He says he has had an “inert desire to serve God and humanity in a special way.” He received positive feedback from the youths he served during his association with the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria.

He became familiar with the Diocese of Boise due to the “good, humble and Spirit-filled advice,” he received from his mentor, Father Onyema G. Okorie, a Catholic chaplain for the U.S. Air Force and former military chaplain at Mountain Home Air Force Base.

Onyekwelu, who will serve a pastoral year at St. Nicholas Parish in Ru-pert, enjoys reading, soccer and racket games and Eucharistic Adoration. He has a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Joseph Patti grew up in Newcastle, Calif., home-schooled alongside children from other Catholic families in his area. In high school, he attended a charter school and also took the online Great Books program.

Shortly after he started college at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., his family moved to Boise. He transferred to Boise State where he completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting in May of this year. He will be attending St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., beginning in September.

Patti comes from a devout Catholic family. “From a young age, I was taught to love Mary and the saints, to pray often, and to always cling to the truth of Catholicism no matter where I went in life,” he said. His family was part of a rosary group, and attended almost every First Friday Mass with other families. “My parents kept us active in the pro-life movement, and as I started college I got involved in campus ministry at BSU.”

He felt drawn to the priesthood when he was young, “but it was always mixed in with other various boyhood dreams.” However, by the time he was 18, “I started to feel a more direct and clear – although subtle – draw to priesthood. I had many experiences of consolation in prayer where I experienced a yearning or ache to be a priest.”

However, at the same time, he was in a serious relationship with a girl. “I really hoped after college that maybe we could get married. However, the signs of a calling to priesthood, or at least to attend seminary, were becoming increasingly apparent. After a lot of prayer and many conversations, we decided to break up. Her openness and willingness to sacrifice her desires for Christ would eventually lead me to taking steps towards applying.”

Father Nathan Dail's appointment as Vocations Director for the diocese and chaplain at BSU, “was just one more way God opened the door for me to attend seminary.”

His interests are studying Church history, theology, and some areas of philosophy. “I really enjoy studying these topics, particularly the early church, and also discussing or presenting these areas with others.” He also likes weight lifting, skiing, tubing and horeseback riding.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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