Priesthood Class of 2020
Through conversion, man discovered vocation to the priesthood
Jun 17, 2020
For Deacon Nathanael Anderson – who will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington later this month -- following his passion for politics to the nation’s capital ultimately led him in a direction that he did not expect – to the Catholic Church and to the priesthood.
“God uses all of your interests and what was my passion for politics and the friendships I formed along the way and to bring me toward the Church and the priesthood in a way that I didn’t foresee,” he said.
The 31-year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan native grew up in a Protestant family, attending different churches throughout his childhood, which provided a good foundation for a faith in God and a belief in His Word, he said.
His vocation story, however, follows along his conversion story, which he said began during his undergraduate studies at Hillsdale College, a private, Christian liberal-arts college in Hillsdale, Michigan.
“They had a lot of great Catholic professors, and I had an awesome Catholic roommate,” Deacon Anderson said. “I was really digging into a lot of great (Catholic) tradition and great ideas and Catholic influences there (at Hillsdale).”
After his graduation from Hillsdale in 2010, Deacon Anderson worked in politics as a legislative aide for Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga and then for Sen. Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire while completing his master’s degree from the Institute of World Politics. His work led him to read more about politics and key issues such as religious freedom and the contraception mandate, which led him to read some Catholic perspectives on these issues.
After moving to Washington, D.C., Deacon Anderson saw many of his friends start converting to Catholicism and one particular friend from college who had joined the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill parish in Washington invited him to attend Mass there. At the parish, Deacon Anderson met Father Bill Byrne, then St. Peter’s pastor, who eventually would be the first to suggest the priesthood as a future vocation to Deacon Anderson.
But the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for Deacon Anderson, as he described it, was the rosary.
“I was looking into Catholicism, but I was just disillusioned with my work and struggling with some things and I read about the 15 promises of the rosary,” he said. Although he was somewhat unfamiliar with devotion to Mary as a Protestant, he said, “One night I brought myself to pray the rosary anyway, and it was an incredibly powerful experience. Because of Mary, I experienced mercy in a powerful way that I hadn’t before… I started praying the rosary every day since then, pretty much until now.”
After Deacon Anderson joined the Catholic Church in 2012, his parents converted to Catholicism as well and once they entered, Deacon Anderson said he “had a lot more confidence and a lot more peace about really considering entering the seminary.”
In the fall of 2014, Deacon Anderson entered the Saint John Paull II Seminary in Washington before then continuing his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he has been for the past four years. Following his ordination on June 20, he will return to Rome to complete the final year of his studies before then returning to the Archdiocese of Washington for pastoral ministry.
His experience at the Pontifical North American College has been fruitful, he said, especially being able to study in Europe.
“I had never been to Europe and never seen so much Catholic culture and richness,” he said.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic on March 7, Deacon Anderson and the other seminarians at the Pontifical North American College were told that they could return to the United States and within hours, he was on his way to Grand Rapids to spend some time with his family before returning to the Washington area. Deacon Anderson is currently assisting Msgr. Charles Pope at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington. There he has been able to live in community with Msgr. Pope and the other seminarians there, joining them in helping the community in whatever ways they can.
Being ordained in the midst of a pandemic will be strange in the beginning, Deacon Anderson said. “Ministry will still be somewhat muted in the diocese, but hopefully will get back to normal as quickly as possible,” he said.
The date of his ordination, June 20, is the memorial feast day of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and with his devotion to Our Lady and the rosary, Deacon Anderson said it “means a lot (to him) for my own path in the seminary.” The newly ordained priests will also say their first Masses on Father’s Day, which falls this year on June 21.
“We’re in a time of upheaval and a lot of pain and a lot of anger,” Deacon Anderson said. “One idea impressed on us pretty strongly during seminary is being spiritual fathers… We’re in a time of intense crisis, and we need a lot more good spiritual fathers right now.”
As he prepares to be a priest, Deacon Anderson said he is most looking forward to being able to celebrate Mass, “to be united to the Eucharist in that way, and to be able to feed God’s people in that way,” he said. “There’s nothing greater than that.”