My college experience was not what you’d call “typical.” When I wasn’t writing a paper or cramming for an exam, I was waking up to pray with my roommates each morning and witnessing my faith on campus. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I see now that God was taking me on a journey that would eventually lead me to enter the seminary.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. My life hasn't always been this way. In fact, just four years ago, the idea of me heading to seminary after graduation was laughable.
For most of my life I thought of God like a parachute - only to be used in emergencies. It wasn’t until I became involved with Saint Paul’s Outreach that I finally began to see God for who He really is: a loving creator who is intimately concerned about my daily life. As I started to pray on a daily basis, I began to hear a "still, small voice" speaking to me about the priesthood. Surprisingly, this initial call felt familiar, as though it had always been there.
While my spiritual ears were being opened to a call to the priesthood, my involvement with SPO gave me the chance to meet many great priests and seminarians. My freshman year, I even had the opportunity to visit a Benedictine monastery in Pennsylvania with a few friends from my Household. Seeing the priests living and praying there in community was a powerful experience. I can still vividly remember kneeling in a breathtaking Marian grotto in the crypt of the Basilica asking God, "Are you calling me to the priesthood?" Over the years, we also had many priests over for dinner at the men’s Household in Columbus. These memorable nights gave me a chance to see priests as normal people. By experiencing the "man behind the collar," I was able to see how I could live and enjoy life as a priest.
My vocational journey would have not been complete without the men of SPO who helped me mature in my faith. A poignant memory from my early years in Household was seeing one of my roommates bow his head in silent prayer before doing homework. Many small moments like this inspired me to deepen my relationship with the Lord and continue to be a source of inspiration and strength. I’m leaving college with more than great memories: I have enduring friendships with men and women who have helped my faith become the center of my life.
As a recent graduate, I can say with great gratitude that God has used SPO to touch my life in a way nothing else ever has. Words cannot express the amount of appreciation I have for all those in SPO who have helped me along the way. As I start the next chapter of my life in seminary this coming fall, I will continue pray with hope and confidence that SPO will continue to grow and touch the lives of many more college students in the years to come.
Tom Gardner will enter The Pontifical College Josephinum in the fall as one of 24 seminarians for the Diocese of Columbus. He was ordained to the priesthood in the spring of 2015.