While reaching for the stars, seminarian finds God
By Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The vocation stories of many priests begin with their families, where they were nurtured in the faith and early on considered that they, too, might stand at the altar someday.
Not Deacon Nathan Haverland.
“I never thought about being a priest while I was growing up,” he said. “I didn’t know what a priest was.”
Both his mother and stepfather had been raised Catholic, but fell away from the faith early, so Deacon Haverland and his older sister didn’t have any religious upbringing. Sunday was just another day of the weekend.
Ah, but God cannot be denied.
French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”
Deacon Haverland was not immune to the pull of that vacuum.
“Everybody has that natural desire to know God, so I think I had that as well,” he said. “I remember asking and thinking questions about stuff like that, but I never had a means to learn.”
His path took a fateful turn when he decided to enroll in a small Catholic college in Atchison — Benedictine.
“They had a nice little physics and astronomy department, which is what I wanted to study,” said Deacon Haverland. “There are only two places in Kansas where you can study physics and astronomy. One was the University of Kansas, and the other was Benedictine.”
“I didn’t know anything about Benedictine, but I had a nice campus visit,” he continued. “I really liked their small department. It was a beautiful place, with beautiful people”
Deacon Haverland enrolled. But in the process of reaching for the stars, he discovered something better: theology. Theology courses were a required part of the college curriculum.
Thanks to great teachers, he said, he began to learn about the Scriptures and Christ. It all made sense. Gradually, his knowledge began to change him. He underwent a slow conversion of mind and heart.
“It was more of a gradual process, more than anything,” he said. “It wasn’t until after my sophomore year that I was having a conversation with someone, and I had to admit I wasn’t Catholic, and I was just kind of sad about it. That was the beginning of me starting to join the church.”
That summer, he resolved to enroll in a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults class as soon as possible. That fall, he was walking down a hallway and saw a sign on the wall announcing RCIA classes.
“I took the sign down, ran back to my room and read it over a million times, and took that first leap of faith and tried the RCIA class,” he said.
He was a born-again Catholic at age 20, in his junior year of college.
After graduation from Benedictine in 2005 with a bachelor’s of science in astronomy and physics, Deacon Haverland went to the University of Michigan to study nuclear engineering.
“I began attending daily Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and started to get involved in the young adults group there,” he said.
“Realizing that nuclear engineering would never satisfy the deepest desires of my heart, I began to discern a religious vocation,” he continued. “The pastor at the time asked me if I would help start a men’s house of discernment and, with the help of the Knights of Columbus, [I] and three men began the Father McGivney House.”
There, he prayed, visited a spiritual director, and eventually visited various religious orders and seminaries. Although he wasn’t 100 percent certain, he decided to try the seminary — at least for a little while.
“Nobody in my family quite understood what was going on,” said Deacon Haverland. “They just wanted me to be happy, and they accepted it. Over the years, my family became very proud of me.”
Happily, one fruit of his vocation was that he inspired his mother to return to the practice of the Catholic faith. Sadly, she would not live to see him ordained.
Deacon Haverland is looking forward to finally getting out of the classroom and getting on with his vocational mission. He looks forward to the joy of celebrating the Mass and being a spiritual father to others, and helping them to grow in the knowledge of the love of God, the way he had.
“I never imagined [growing up] that I’d become a priest. It baffles me as well,” he said. “It is an unusual path to take. I’ve just kind of enjoyed the ride.
“I’m taking it as the Lord gives, and enjoying it all the way. I have no idea what the Lord is calling me to in the future, but he has given me tremendous gifts so far.”
Deacon Haverland will be ordained to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. on May 25 at St. Matthew Parish in Topeka.
Name: Deacon Nathan Haverland
Parents: Janice Rogers (mother, deceased) and Martin Rogers (stepfather, deceased); Phil Haverland (father) and Charlotte Haverland (stepmother, deceased)
Siblings: Niki Rahe (older sister)
Current home parish: St. Patrick, Kansas City, Kan.
Education: Bonner Springs High School, 1997 to 2001; Benedictine College 2001 to 2005, bachelor’s of science in astronomy and physics; University of Michigan 2005 to 2007, master’s of science in nuclear engineering
Seminary: Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis
Favorite websites: www.newadvent.org
Favorite musical group/person: I like a wide range of music. Currently, I have been listening a lot to The City Harmonic and Audrey Assad.
The most inspirational Christians I’ve met: Religious Sisters always inspire me to be a holier person.
Favorite saint and why: St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I wrote my master’s thesis on her and have found her writings to be of tremendous benefit in my spiritual life.
Favorite devotion and why: Stations of the Cross. The mystery of the Cross is rich and inexhaustible.
Books now reading: “My Sisters the Saints” by Colleen Carroll Campbell and “History of the Catholic Church” by James Hitchcock
Favorite food: I never turn down an opportunity to make a trip to Chipotle.
Dream vacation: I have always thought it would be nice to go to the Alps.
Worst job I’ve ever had: Summer spent working for a moving company. It just wasn’t my vocation.
Best job I’ve ever had: Summer spent doing research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Hobbies/things I like to do: Reading, praying, and traveling
If I were sent on a difficult missionary journey, the saint I’d take with me would be: Any of the North American martyrs.
Qualities I admire in priests I know: Integrity and prayerfulness
Best advice I received: The seminarian that you are now is the priest that you will be in the future.
My advice for someone seeking their vocation: Turn to the sacraments for strength and a spiritual director for advice.
What I’m looking forward to as a priest: Walking with the people of God through the pilgrimage of this life and standing at the altar while I pray for them in the celebration of Mass.