The following story appeared in the September 8 Idaho Catholic Register.
Back row, second from left, Isaac Alsop is now Brother Ignatius Jerome, a novice in the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). Brother Ignatius Jerome is studying at the Dominican House of Studies in San Francisco. (Courtesy photo/Dominican House of Studies)
By Emily Woodham
Isaac Alsop knew he was called to be a priest from the time he was 13. “Feeling called to the priesthood came simply from hearing my pastor, Father Ben Uhlenkott, give his vocation testimony 10 years ago at St. Mark’s,” Alsop said. (Father Uhlenkott is currently pastor at Risen Christ Parish in Boise.)
Throughout high school and college, Alsop continued to discern that call, weighing many priesthood options. On Aug. 31 of this year, his discernment concluded when he entered the novitiate at the Dominican House of Studies in San Francisco where he will study to be a priest in the Order of Preachers.
It wasn’t until Alsop was 21 that Religious life entered his plan for the priesthood. After meeting Religious priests at a Summer Projects program sponsored by Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), and meeting some women who were discerning Religious life, Alsop began discerning becoming a part of a community.
“The previous call to priesthood remained un-changed, but a new element was added,” he said.
“The support I received from family and friends has been phenomenal. Everyone encouraged me and understood acceptingly that things would be different in the future.”
He is a cradle Catholic whose parents converted to Catholicism when they were adults. Although his parents were of a Protestant background, they had a deep faith history; one of his grandfathers was a Lutheran pastor.
Isaac Alsop, 6 years-old, “celebrating Mass.” (Courtesy photos/Tammy Alsop)
“My parents raised me solidly in the Faith,” he said. “I cannot resent my upbringing even slightly, as it provided me with everything I needed for what God has put before me now. Both parents were passionate about and interested in the Faith, and it was easy to make it my own.”
Alsop explained that his family never considered Catholicism to be just a cultural aspect of life. “The journey away from them in Religious life is a fulfillment of, not a break with, the core of that life of Faith in my family.”
Alsop went to St. Mark’s Catholic School from kindergarten through eighth grade. As a child, Isaac would sometimes pretend to be a priest and “celebrate Mass.” His parents encouraged him to consider the priesthood. In eighth grade, they allowed him to go to Mount Angel Seminary for a vocations discernment retreat.
Alsop continued his education at Bishop Kelly High School in Boise. While there, he was active in Knights for Life, a Respect Life club. He was also involved in “Apologhetti,” an inter-parish group of teens who met for talks on apologetics and a spaghetti dinner. Alsop graduated from BK in 2018.
“By his late teenage years, he was pulled in many other directions,” said Alsop’s father, Abe. “He searched for truth in books from many other religions and ideologies, such as the Protestant “Left Behind” series, the Book of Mormon and the Koran.”
Alsop’s search for truth ultimately led him to the philosophy program at Boise State University. “He was able to have deep conversations with people three times his age. This was a tough time for us as parents, but it only made his faith stronger as he discovered for himself the reasons for Catholic doctrines,” Abe Alsop said.
Alsop, 23, parishioner of St. Mark’s, entered the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) this year. (Courtesy photos/Tammy Alsop)
Alsop became involved with FOCUS at St. Paul’s Student Center at Boise State. In the summer of 2021, Isaac volunteered with FOCUS missionaries to serve at a youth camp in Wrightwood, Calif. During that trip, he met a Dominican priest whom he found to be a role model for how to be both socially charismatic and intellectually faithful.
The experience from that summer prepared him to take on more leadership roles at St. Paul’s Student Center, where he served as an altar server and helped with maintenance. He also led discussions on faith and reason with other students.
In his final year of college, he lived at the student center. He presented a series of talks for students called “Theology 101” and “Theology 102.” He also served as a sponsor for several students who joined the Church through participation in the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults.
“Had it not been for St. Paul’s Student Center in Boise, I would be nowhere near the spiritual place I find myself today,” said Alsop. “The intensity and depth of the experiences at St. Paul’s that impacted me most were the fraternal, sacramental and intellectual life.”
The friendships and sense of community at the student center were incredible, he explained. “The fraternal aspect alone would have made Religious life seem desirable,” he said. “Intellectually, a focus on the truths of the Faith and teaching them to others, after studying myself, has been a core mission of my time at St. Paul’s. That led me directly to an interest in the Dominican charism of preaching truth.”
He described the sacramental life at St. Paul’s as “vibrant, reverent and constant.” He continued, “It wasn’t just a religious obligation for any of us. It was something worth giving one’s life for.”
With his experience at St. Paul’s, Alsop also credits his family life and his dad for his interest in the intellectual side of Catholicism. Alsop graduated from Boise State University in the spring of this year with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
“We are humbled and amazed but not surprised to see Isaac joining the Dominican friars,” Abe Alsop said. “Isaac is blazing a new trail for his family while still retaining the best of his heritage. His intellectual journey made the Dominican order a natural fit for him.”
However, Alsop did not immediately choose the Dominicans. “In high school, I thought about the Fraternity of St. Peter, seeking solidly orthodox doc-trine,” Alsop said. “I also thought about the Carmelites, wanting a contemplative spiritual atmosphere. I thought about the Jesuits enough to make St. Ignatius my confirmation saint, inspired by the zeal exuded by their founders to evangelize the world.”
Alsop also considered being a diocesan priest. The role of a diocesan priest to teach and help others, to be a confessor and homilist, was something he wanted to live out, but the pull to a religious community remained with him throughout his discernment process.
“I’ve found the Dominicans to be focused on evangelizing, contemplative yet active, doctrinally solid and studious. I found that most Dominicans in our province help parishes and spiritually father the flocks in them. The coalescing of every diverse element that drew me further to this vocation signified, to me, a call to the Dominicans,” he said.
But to answer this call, he had to overcome his tendency to over-intellectualize and to stay shut up within himself. “There was a time when I misunderstood the Dominican charism as being primarily about studying truth. With this misunderstanding, my personal growth seemed to be pulling me away from the Order, and towards something where I could truly help people heal.”
However, in his studies, Alsop found that St. Dominic himself, when famine engulfed the poor of his city, said, “How can I study from dead scrolls while living men die of hunger?” St. Dominic then sold all his books and bought food for the hungry. In reading about this, Alsop had a similar sense, asking himself, “How can I sit around thinking about philosophical minutiae while actual hearts and minds thirst for healing?”
While contemplating this, Alsop found clarity and conviction about St. Dominic’s spirit and task. “Dominican life is not about hiding among bookshelves; it is about feeding the spiritually starving. All study is for preaching; it’s for others. After this realization, the only thing left to do was apply to the Order.”
Before entering the novitiate, Alsop said he felt confident, not in his powers of discernment, but in God’s guidance. “While I have to admit that I don’t know where I’ll be in ten years, there comes a point where the time for doubt has passed. This is that time for me.”
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