Brain tumor taught Matthew Nagle to look beyond his suffering
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — One great truth all Christians need to embrace is this: Nothing escapes the will of God — not even difficult situations or suffering.
Deacon Matthew Nagle, 30, discovered this truth when he experienced a serious personal trial during his discernment of his vocation to the priesthood.
He passed through this storm by placing his trust in God, and that trust eventually led him to the altar.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will ordain Deacon Matthew Nagle and three other men to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. on May 23 at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.
Deacon Nagle was raised in Overland Park, one of three children of Jack and Mimi Nagle. They belonged to Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood. They were a conventional Catholic family in most aspects. The kids went to Curé of Ars Grade School.
He and his brother Jack used to serve Mass. When he was 16, he wanted to quit, but his father persuaded him to serve one last time for a cousin who was getting married.
“This is the last time you’ll have to serve a Mass,” he told Deacon Nagle.
“I laugh about that,” he said. “In [the]seminary, I served Mass all the time.”
Deacon Nagle doesn’t remember anyone asking him if he ever thought of the priesthood while he was growing up.
“Someone might have asked in an offhand, casual way, but nothing stands out,” he said. “Growing up, I didn’t think about it all that much.”
He had, however, a great-uncle he always looked up to: Father Kieran McInerny, OSB, of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison.
He went to Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and graduated in 2003.
That fall, he went to the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
“You grow up and plan out: ‘I’ll go to college, probably meet a girl I really like and find a job I really like,’” he said. “The priesthood didn’t fit into that equation.”
The first person to seriously ask him if he had any thoughts about the priesthood was then-archdiocesan vocations director Father Brian Schieber.
“I think I was polite, but I told him I wasn’t that interested,” said Deacon Nagle. “But it planted some seeds. It began brewing in the back of my mind. I noticed from that day on that, sometimes, the priesthood became attractive in a way it never was before.”
Deacon Nagle became more involved in the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at KU during his last two years.
“The more I got involved, the more people would bring it up,” he said. “I don’t think I admitted to anyone that this was something I needed to look into. That was only after I graduated.”
But as he attended catechetical classes, undertook spiritual direction with the Apostles of the Interior Life and participated in the center’s retreats, his faith began to grow. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in history.
Deacon Nagle was hired by the center after graduation to help run some of its ministries.
“During the spring of my senior year, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was kind of a shock,” he said. “I had a couple of surgeries, in 2009 and 2010, and a brief period of chemotherapy.”
“It helped me grow in my faith — having to go through that experience,” he continued. “It helped me trust in God more. It helped me, frankly, be open to my vocation more.”
One of the Sisters of the Apostles of the Interior Life gave him some great wisdom: Nothing escapes the will of God. And God can bring something good out of even a terrible thing, even if one cannot see it at the time.
“You have to trust in him [she said] and trust that he will not abandon you,” said Deacon Nagle. “He’s going to use this for some good that will make all the suffering worth it.”
Deacon Nagle actually began to fill out a seminary application in the spring of 2008, but got cold feet and decided he needed more time to discern. So, he took a job offer as a teacher, and football and basketball coach at St. Pius X High School in Kansas City, Missouri. He was there from 2008 to 2009.
“I found that I really liked teaching and coaching, but I got a sense that God might be calling me to the priesthood,” he said. I remember thinking to myself, ‘If I don’t do this now — go to [the] seminary and check it out — I’m going to regret it. I owe this to God.’
“I didn’t want to be 35 and say I wish I had at least tried it out.”
The most interesting reaction came from his students.
“Many of them had never known anyone who went to [the] seminary, he said. “It was a puzzle to them why a 24-year-old man would want to do this.”
Deacon Nagle entered Kenrick- Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. He was ordained a deacon on May 17, 2014, by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at Curé of Ars.
“Deacon Matthew Nagle has a deep love for the church and the priesthood,” said Father Scott Wallisch, archdiocesan vocations director.
“His background in education has formed him to be very good at explaining the church’s teachings and in handing on the faith,” he added.
But he also lives an active and balanced life, which the vocation director thinks will help in his priesthood.
“He is very athletic, which I believe will help him to be relatable to parishioners, especially the youth,” said Father Wallisch.
So what kind of priest does Deacon Nagle want to be?
A holy priest. And he wants to be like so many of the priests he’s known in his life.
“I really admire priests who . . . are striving to live a life of prayer and simplicity,” said Deacon Nagle. “I was very much inspired by priests who could address some of the intellectual arguments our culture presents to the church and Christianity in general.
“It inspires me to learn about the rich intellectual tradition of the church. Priests that are steeped in that have been an inspiration to me.”