Note: Nov. 3-9 is National Vocations Awareness Week.
The 8-year-old version of Lucas Gerads joked about becoming a priest — until his mom told him priests couldn’t get married. He stashed the thought away until an encounter on a youth trip in high school raised the question again.
Although Lucas grew up attending Mass, by the time he entered high school, it had become less of a priority. He typically only went to church at Christmas and Easter, and Wednesday night faith formation.
Swimming had captured his attention and was his main focus. During his sophomore year, he
became captain of the team.
“That time in my life really taught me about what kind of leader I wanted to be,” Lucas said. “I wanted to lead by example. I wanted to build a team, not just have a bunch of guys swimming together.”
Outside of swim season, though, Lucas struggled with a lack of identity.
“There was a pit inside of me that wasn’t filled. I was aware of it but I didn’t know what to do about it,” he said.
He began attending a non-denominational youth group which took a trip to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. There, he learned about his identity in Christ.
“The biggest takeaway was that I’m not the sum of all my faults. There’s a greater identity in me than that. God revealed himself to me in such a powerful way,” Lucas said.
On the trip he met “Joey,” another young man who also was returning to the faith.
“Joey carried me toward Christ. He introduced me to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and encouraged me to return to confession. Going to reconciliation after so long, I felt my sin and shame ball up and be ripped out of me by Christ in that moment,” he said.
At the end of his junior year, Lucas remembered talking about vocations in confirmation class. That’s when he really began questioning, “Christ, what is your will for my life? What is the next step?”
Lucas was pretty committed to the idea of seminary until about midway through senior year.
“The thought of being a priest and being celibate kind of scared me, and so I backed off and decided to attend St. Mary’s University in Winona as a lay student,” he said.
During his third year of college, on Good Friday, he and his then-girlfriend decided to pray the Divine Mercy novena for the next nine days.
“I had the intent to pray the novena for vocations in the general sense. I knew we needed men to respond drastically to the call to the priesthood, but we also need men to respond courageously to the call to marriage. Throughout the course of the nine-day novena, Christ slowly introduced seminary to me again. He not only introduced but spoke it into my heart,” he said.
“The hardest part of that was breaking up with the girl I was dating so that I could really spend time in prayer,” he said.
He called diocesan vocation director Father Scott Pogatchnik, who suggested he spend a year in discernment before entering the seminary. Lucas took a year off from his studies and moved into the Marmion House, a formation house for men in St. Cloud.
“During that year, I learned how to be single again, deepened my relationship with Christ, focused on my prayer life and built foundations in the Church through work with youth, home visits, training altar servers and other work in the church. That time really solidified that whatever I’m called to, it’s in the Church,” he said.
Lucas, a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, entered Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona this fall. He feels that the time spent in discernment gave him a leg up as he entered seminary.
“Seminary formation is based on four pillars: intellectual, human, pastoral, spiritual. The biggest fruits I have gained are: prayer — that time to draw away from the external and move internal to where Christ dwells in me; coming to know myself, to know what strengths I can use and what weaknesses I need to be aware of; seeing the joy in people when I go to minister; and knowing that no matter what we learn in school, all truth is rooted in Christ,” he said.
Although Lucas feels God has him in the right place at the right time, it didn’t come without some challenges. He feels God is giving him the courage and the boldness to respond to the call, wherever it leads. And that’s the advice he has for others.
“The biggest thing is trust and patience and then that courage to take the plunge,” he said. “Trust in the peace that Christ provides in the whispers, in the call. Usually when we trust a message, it’s loud and bold and dramatic. But listen to the voice of God in silence, in prayer, in what people are saying to you, and recognize the peace and joy that those voices bring to you and do not fear those. Go on that date, go on that seminary visit, make that call to ask more questions. Take that trust into action.”