Mary orchestrates conversion and call to the priesthood

by Zach Howick

“Now as I approach the end of my formal seminary education… I look back in wonder and awe at what the Lord has done for me. My heart is full of gratitude.” – Zach Howick

When I decided to enter seminary out of high school, I figured it would be a routine experience. The diocese I began studying for told me I would be in one school for four years studying philosophy and then I would go to another school to study theology. That seems straightforward. I had my plan.

Since then, I have studied at four seminaries and a different diocese. The saying, “If you want a laugh, tell God your plans” has proven true in my case. I began my journey towards priesthood studying for a diocese in Montana, before transferring to Fargo in 2012. Now as I approach the end of my formal seminary education – I graduate in May of 2019 – I look back in wonder and awe at what the Lord has done for me. My heart is full of gratitude.

My conversion from Lutheranism began as a small child when I discovered the rosary and the Blessed Virgin Mary. This became one of the most important turning points in my life. From then on, my heart was filled with a desire to serve the Lord in whatever way he asked. I began to believe that true sanctity was possible. I dedicated my life to following the truth of the faith to Jesus through Mary.

If you asked my brother seminarians in school, they would tell you two things about my spiritual life. It has a strong foundation in Our Lady and the devotional practices of the Church. This is especially the case with devotions to the saints. When I entered into full communion with the Church, I took St. Louis De Montfort as my patron saint for confirmation because his writings on Mary have had a significant impact on my spiritual life.

Looking back on the path my vocation has taken, I see how the Lord and Our Lady have taken it into their own hearts and gotten me through it all.

In January, I began a very challenging class on Mariology, that is, a course dedicated to studying the Blessed Virgin Mary. Due to scheduling conflicts in the seminary, I ended up taking it as a long distance student through the University of Steubenville in Ohio. The amount of reading for this course was more than all my other classes combined that year. I was only able to complete it, and complete it well, with the help of Our Lady and the flexibility of the staff at the seminary. The class took us through the history of the Church’s teaching on Our Lady, beginning with scripture, moving into tradition, and finally ending with the writings of the popes. In my academic life I have never experienced a class as fulfilling as this one.

To obtain the requisite degree to become a priest, my seminary requires the candidate for ordination to write a thesis on some topic of theology. The paper serves as a testament to the candidate’s understanding of the Church’s theology. Due to space limitations, our topics are very specific. We begin preliminary work on the paper during the spring of our third year of theology, and we have the final copy turned in by March of the next year, before final exams and graduation. This paper is a challenge and in some respect fun. It is long, but we also have the freedom to write on what we enjoy. I chose to write on Our Lady. I consider it a special gift to dedicate this final hurdle of my academics to her as a gift of praise and thanksgiving.

I am well aware that there is much work in front of me in formation, and May is still a long ways away. I stay focused on the present moment, but when I think back on the long road of my vocation, I am grateful for the chance to be a seminarian and future priest. I am bursting with gratitude as I realize ever more clearly that God is in control. All I am called to do is trust in his providence.

Howick is a Theology IV seminarian studying at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

Editor’s Note: Seminarian Life is a column written by current Diocese of Fargo seminarians. Please continue to pray for them.