by Joe Bollig
Sometimes it’s hard to say where a priestly vocation began. For John Nicholas Blaha, it might have been his mother’s “reconversion.”
When Blaha was in the third or fourth grade, his mother Barbara experienced a renewal of her Catholic faith. She began to explore different aspects of Catholicism, like charismatic prayer groups and the Latin Mass.
She also hungered to learn more about her faith, and this affected her family.
At the time, recalls Deacon Blaha, “My mom was driving back and forth to visit her mother in Jefferson City, who was dying.
“I remember my mother playing Scott Hahn conference [talks] on tapes in the car, and I just lapped that stuff up,” he said. “I was riveted all the time. I remember [Hahn] talked about covenant theology, and Christ’s crucifixion, and the fourth cup. Those biblical explanations really got to me.”
Blaha was born in Kansas City, Mo., but raised in Overland Park. His father John currently sells heating and air conditioning controls. His mother was a public school Spanish and math teacher until he was born. He has one younger sister.
The family belonged to Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. His father was Lutheran, but became a Catholic when his son was in the third grade.
Blaha went to Holy Spirit School until the sixth grade, and then to Indian Hills Junior High. He transferred from there to Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., for two years, and then went through the Seton Home Study program. He earned a GED in 1998, because at the time home schooling was not accredited.
Next, he went to Thomas Aquinas College, a small, Catholic liberal arts institution near Santa Paula, Calif., from which he graduated with a bachelor’s in liberal arts in 2002.
“Right after college, I went on the Camino de Santiago [pilgrimage] in Spain,” said Deacon Blaha. “It was about 480 miles. I had some friends who did it and talked about it.”
“It was a very intense spiritual experience,” he continued. “I was by myself — and wanted to be by myself. I wanted a challenge and [to] learn things about myself and the world, and listen to God to see what I was supposed to do with my life.”
He came back with a lot of good ideas but no clear direction, so he began taking prerequisites for medical school. About the time he and his girlfriend ended their relationship, he realized he didn’t want to become a doctor after all.
“Around that time, I was thinking about the possibility of the priesthood,” he said. “I spent a lot of time reading Scripture before going to bed. I’d turn off the light and lie there, and meditate on the Scriptures. I felt God was calling me to something, but I didn’t know what.”
Through the young adult ministry he was involved with at his parish, Blaha became involved in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in 2003. He served as a FOCUS missionary for two years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and one year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
“That is where I discerned my vocation,” said Blaha. “I enjoyed seeing students committing to Christ and rejecting a wayward life.”
“And I was introduced to some sterling examples of diocesan priests,” he continued. “I became aware of their excellence, how happy they were as priests, and how much good they were doing. That’s what gave me the desire to become a diocesan priest.”
Blaha was ordained a deacon on May 22, 2010, at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and will be ordained to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. on May 28 at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa.
He is looking forward to all aspects of the priesthood, but he especially wants to minister to people through the sacrament of reconciliation.
“Cardinal Francis George [of Chicago] said the conversations that take place in the confessional are the most important conversations that take place on the planet,” said Deacon Blaha. “Even though I’ve never heard a confession, I’ve been to confession, and they’ve been the most important conversations in my life. To be a part of that is pretty amazing and humbling.”
Last movie seen: “There Be Dragons”
Favorite TV show: “Arrested Development”
Favorite musical group/person: Leo Kottke
My most notable encounter with the famous/infamous: I drove the world-famous Anglican biblical scholar N.T. Wright and his wife to the airport.
The most inspirational Christian I’ve met: A priest in college ministry who boldly sowed consolation to a community grieving a suicide.
Books now reading: “The Betrothed,” by Allessandro Manzoni
Favorite food: Fresh venison
Least favorite food: Okra
Favorite childhood toy: 50cc dirt bike at my grandparent’s farm in Missouri
Favorite place in the whole world: The mountains of Southern California
Dream vacation: A year off to sail around the Americas to Alaska, and offer Mass on the bow of a sailboat at sunrise.
Worst job I’ve ever had: Waiting tables at a steak house
Best job I’ve ever had: Working at a summer camp in North Carolina before I entered the seminary in 2006
Hobbies/Things I like to do: Playing the banjo or piano, hunting, gardening, woodworking and photography
If I were sent on a difficult missionary journey, the saint I’d take with me would be: St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He was considered one of the greatest preachers of his or any age.
If I had a church history time machine, I’d: witness the controversies of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, especially the founding of the Jesuits.
Best advice I’ve received: Don’t try to hit it out of the park every time.
My advice for someone seeking their vocation: The coexistence of enthusiasm with gentleness, along with an awareness of the importance of priestly ministry and the desire for excellence.
What I’m looking forward to as a priest: Follow what gives you true freedom.