III Philosophy

Jackson Nichols, St. Paul the Apostle Church, Pocahontas

Attends Catholic University of America Theological College in Washington, D.C.

In elementary school, kids are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. Anytime I was asked that question, I would respond without hesitation that I wanted to be a priest. This desire for the priesthood was nurtured by a close relationship with my parish priest at the time, Father John Marconi, and the faith exemplified to me by my family.

My grandmother was the secretary at my parish and whenever the parish got new missalettes, I would work with her to replace the old ones. I would always take one of the old ones home with me so that I could do play Mass using them with my two younger brothers as my altar servers.

I also have fond memories of going with my grandparents to their adoration hours, even when my grandmother’s hour was at midnight, whenever I would stay the night with them. These are moments that, whenever I look back on them, are indications of my vocation from a young age.

As I grew older, my desires began to be conflicted. I did not completely close myself off from the possibility of the priesthood, but it was something I pushed away for a long time. Before my freshman year in high school, I went to the Catholic Charities Summer Institute and got to talk to the seminarians who were at this retreat.

Hearing their vocation stories put the priesthood back on my radar and showed me that seminarians are real people just like me, not just a face on a poster. I also got a taste of ministry and fell in love with serving the people of God.

Going through high school, I tried to live my faith well. While I was trying to do the things I thought I should be doing to be a “good Catholic,” I was still closed off to the Lord. I was approaching my faith as something I did to check a box instead of allowing it to be something that radically changed who I was.

It was not until the end of my junior year that I began to listen to God speaking into the silence. I have always felt extremely close to my mom, so I felt very comfortable approaching the Blessed Mother in my prayer life. While meditating on the first joyful mystery of the rosary, the Annunciation, I felt God say, “Mary was not afraid of her calling. Why are you?” I did not have an answer for God, but it was something that stuck with me. Why was I afraid?

In March of my senior year of high school, COVID-19 became widespread, and I had a lot of forced quiet time in my house with God. I had still not decided where I wanted to attend college. Did I want to pursue offers to play college football? Did I want to go to the University of Arkansas with my best friend?

Looking these options over, nothing brought me peace. I had many sleepless nights trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, and I felt like there was no right decision. One night, I stayed up until 5 a.m. and I sat on my porch watching the sunrise talking to God. I told him I didn’t know what to do and I needed his guidance. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Almost immediately, the idea of the priesthood came back to the forefront of my mind.

I was asked to altar serve by my pastor Father Stephen Elser on Holy Saturday, my favorite night every year, and it was on that night that my life changed. The church was empty. There was Father Stephen, the band, a lector and myself. I felt like I was alone in the sanctuary with just myself and the Lord. I saw the priesthood in the most beautiful light that night, and nothing could separate me from the desire of becoming a priest.

I immediately contacted Msgr. Scott Friend and told him of my desire to enter the seminary. I had spoken with him in the past but did not ever come close to taking the leap of faith. Now, I was ready. After taking that leap of faith, my heart felt at peace for the first time in a long time.

I began my studies in the Basselin Scholars Program at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in my third year of formation. During that time, I learned a lot about what it means to be a diocesan priest in the Diocese of Little Rock through encountering men from many other dioceses and religious orders, and this greatly increased my desire to serve as a priest in Arkansas. Now in my fourth year, I ask for your prayers as I continue my journey to the priesthood. I thank you for your support.