Call to the priesthood delayed but not denied

Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, California, ordains Luke Turner a priest of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison on June 29. Bishop Vann is a longtime friend of Father Turner.  PHOTO BY J.D. BENNING

by J.D. Benning
Special to The Leaven

ATCHISON — How long are you willing to follow your dreams? How long does it take a prayer to be answered? 

For Father Luke Turner, his childhood dream of becoming a priest came true much later than his sixth-grade self ever would have expected. His mother, Thorene Turner, never stopped praying, however. And her prayers have finally been answered.

On June 29, on the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, she watched her son being ordained to the priesthood at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. 

“This day has been a long time coming,” Thorene said as she addressed the crowd following the ordination, “a day that I have never stopped praying for. I’m so proud of my son and know that he is going to be a great priest!”

“As a kid, we always had the Catholic Digest,” Father Luke shared on a recent episode of MonkCast, St. Benedict’s Abbey’s podcast. “So I started writing to the religious orders that were listed in the back, just to gather information as a kid would do.” 

“I had this wild dream to be a missionary in Africa,” he continued.

While those dreams may be slightly different than those of your run-of-the-mill 12-year-old, the young Jeff Turner had made up his mind early. 

“I enrolled in Savior of the World Seminary (in Kansas City, Kansas) with the intention of becoming a priest, but I wasn’t quite sure where I would land. My mom used to put me on a bus to visit [St. Benedict’s], and I was always greeted by Father Regis (Hickey) and took part in monastic prayer,” Father Luke recalls. 

“My interest grew, and after graduation, I came to Benedictine College as an ‘abbey student’ — taking courses, living in the dorms, and praying with the monks,” he added. “I entered the novitiate in 1981, but felt like I needed to experience the world. So I left for what I thought would be a couple of years, but the time was never quite right to return to the abbey.”

For the next 30 years, he pursued a career in business, starting at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri. He eventually wound up as senior vice president for MasterCard and, in this international role, traveled the world working in the payments industry. 

Working hard, he didn’t always have much of a prayer life. 

“What prayer life?” Father Luke joked. “I was always working, and I didn’t always make time for prayer. As soon as you achieve in your career, your attention turns to the next thing: the next salary, the next title, the next goal.”

When he was stationed in Dallas, he felt called to give back. Working in Latin America, he had become fluent in Spanish; through his parish, Turner sought to help immigrants in need in the area. 

“Our pastor had a policy that all the volunteers had to do a weekly Holy Hour,” he said. “I agreed, but it was in those Holy Hours that God was calling me back to the abbey and, ultimately, the priesthood.”

Thorene and her son visited the abbey in 2008 for the first time since he had left.

“I saw a spark in him,” Thorene recalls. “There was something in him that felt at home at the abbey.”

In 2011, Turner left his career behind to become a monk. After completing seminary studies at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, he was ordained to the priesthood by his longtime friend, Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, California. 

To begin his priestly ministry, Abbot James Albers has assigned Father Luke to serve as the director of campus ministry at Benedictine College. 

“I am overjoyed at being ordained and am excited to serve the students of Benedictine College!” he said.

For more about Father Luke, check out the abbey’s website at: Kansas monks.org.

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