Archdiocese Local Religious life

Series of small steps led Deacon Hamilton to the priesthood

Deacon Justin Hamilton prays in the chapel at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, where he serves as chaplain. He will be ordained a priest on Nov. 3 at Christ the King Church in Topeka. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — One day after Mass, the late Father Norbert Lickteig asked one of his “ace servers” Justin Hamilton an important question.

“Have you ever thought about going to a high school seminary?” said the priest.

“What’s that?” asked a puzzled 9-year-old Hamilton.

Father Lickteig revised his question.

“Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” said Father Lickteig.

“I remember shaking my head ‘yes,’ because I had thought about it,” said Deacon Hamilton.

“But I remember that inside I was shaking my head ‘no.’ I had, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t going down that road,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to give homilies every day, and I didn’t want to pray 24/7.”

Strangely enough, those things have become a big part of Deacon Hamilton’s life.

He was ordained a transitional deacon by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on May 20 at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas. And at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, he’ll be ordained a priest by the archbishop at Christ the King Parish, 5973 S.W. 25th, Topeka.

There were a lot of small steps between that first question from Father Lickteig and his priestly ordination, and a little procrastination, too, said Deacon Hamilton.

He was born and raised in Topeka, one of the six children (three girls and three boys) of David and Linda Hamilton.

He was born into a devout Catholic family, and his mother home-schooled the kids from kindergarten to high school level. Cornerstone Family Schools, the group to which they belonged, was largely Protestant.

“Most of my friends were Protestant growing up, because of the organization we were part of,” he said. “We were one of just a handful of Catholic families in the group, because we didn’t have a Catholic home-school group at the time.”

“So I learned ecumenism at a very early age,” he added. “During car rides to soccer games, the guys would ask me, ‘Why do you worship Mary?’ and ‘Why do you wear a scapular?’ or whatever random questions I had to figure out answers to.”

The core of the Hamilton children’s education was daily Mass, usually at various times and locations.

“I admire the fact that Mom and Dad made it a priority,” said Deacon Hamilton.

They’d also pray a family rosary most evenings. The young Hamilton would occasionally try to sneak downstairs to play video games, but his parents would reel him back in.

“Dad would lead us in the rosary,” said Deacon Hamilton. “He’d fall asleep some of the time just because it was after dinner and a full day of work. He’d drift off and start mumbling, so we’d poke him, which we always thought was funny.”

He loved to play soccer, and thought it would be awesome to grow up and play British professional soccer for 100,000 screaming fans.

That, however, didn’t seem likely.

So, during his senior year of high school and first year as a student at Allen County Community College, he worked on the computer help desk at the Veterans Affairs Health Revenue Center in Topeka.

“Mom and Dad during my senior year asked, ‘Have you thought about what you’re going to do?’” he said.

“You’ve got to start thinking about that,” they told him. “You make a decision soon.”

Thoughts of the priesthood had never really been in the forefront of his mind — but they’d never been banished either.

Occasionally, random parishioners would tell him, “I think you’d be a good priest.”

“My whole vocation story is a series of a lot of little steps,” he said. “I wanted a dramatic moment where God would give me a definitive signal, and there wasn’t one.

“Which was why I felt it took more trust, and I often doubted.”

The VA office was next to Most Pure Heart of Mary Church, and Deacon Hamilton would often stop by there after work to sit before the Blessed Sacrament in the adoration chapel for 10 or 15 minutes.

“I’d just sit there in the front chair and look at Our Lord straight on and ask him, ‘What do you want me to do with my life? You’ve got to talk with me. I’m not hearing anything.’

“And I’d do that over and over.”

He asked the Lord to grant him some peace about going down the road to priesthood. And, gradually, that’s what happened.

Once he was certain, he gave archdiocesan vocations director Father Mitchel Zimmerman a call.

“Hearing confessions was a strong desire in my heart,” he said. “Of course, saying the Mass, too, but I was drawn to the idea of God’s infinite mercy, and the depth and beauty of it. I’ve never met such a romantic, noble and desirable love as the one I encountered going to confession and receiving Our Lord. Encountering that type of love made me want to live that love.”

What advice would he give to other men considering a vocation to the priesthood?

“Trust,” he said. “If the Lord wants you to be a priest, he will provide.

“He calls the weakest. He calls the little ones.

“It’s a beautiful, amazing gift to be a deacon and a priest.”


Meet Justin Hamilton

Age: 28
Hometown: Topeka
Parents: David and Linda Hamilton Siblings: Brian Hamilton, Amy Hamilton, Angela D’Souza, Joseph Hamilton, Bethany Knight
Current parish: Curé of Ars in Leawood (Sacred Heart–St. Joseph in Topeka was my home parish before ordination)
Education: • Home-schooled through high school graduation, 2007
• Seminary: Bachelor of Arts from Conception Seminary, 2011
• Master of Divinity from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Chicago, 2017

Last movie seen: “Dunkirk”

Favorite TV show: “The Walking Dead” Favorite kind of music: chillstep, trailer music, classical

My most notable encounter with the famous/infamous: Bishop Robert Barron My favorite superhero is: Captain America, because, as scrawny as he was, he didn’t need fancy weapons, but only a willing heart to do what was right.

The most inspirational Christian I’ve met: I’ve met too many quiet, humble, sacri cial “salt of the earth” saints to pick just one.

My favorite class in seminary was: modern church history

Books now reading: “Love in the Ruins” by Walker Percy, and “The Last Mile” by David Baldacci

Favorite food: butter chicken; General Tso’s chicken

Least favorite food: mushrooms Favorite childhood toy: King’s Castle: Crusader (Lego castle)

When I was growing up, I wanted to be: a professional soccer player

Dream vacation: hiking the Appalachians (while checking out local breweries along the way), or hanging out in a cozy glass igloo in Finland to watch the Northern Lights

Worst job I’ve ever had: ServiceMaster (cleaning up sewage, mold), although one with irreplaceable memories and experience

Best job I’ve ever had: IT support for the VA Health Revenue Center
Favorite leisure activities: reading, watching/playing soccer, movies, run- ning, camping/hiking, video games, smoking a pipe and playing chess while sipping on an IPA

What I’m most looking forward to in my priestly ministry is: hearing confessions, offering Mass, anointing the sick, getting to know my parish family over dinners, drawing people closer to Christ

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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