Christopher Hoffmann might have been waiting for a more concrete sign of God’s desire for him to be a priest.
What he got was a steadily growing reassurance that this is, in fact, what God desires and has given him specific gifts in order to pursue.
“There was never a booming voice or lightning bolt,” Mr. Hoffmann noted. “Only little nudges encouraging me to just take the next step on the path God has been leading me along.
“I’ve been open to His will and have listened and trusted more and more as time goes on,” he said.
Through the laying-on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight will ordain Mr. Hoffmann a transitional deacon on Saturday, June 3.
The Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. in the Cathedral of St. Joseph, 2305 W. Main St. in Jefferson City.
“This is the first permanent step in the call to priestly Orders,” Mr. Hoffmann pointed out. “It will be the start of my life of ministry.
“I will be an ordinary — that is, usual, proper — minister of Holy Communion, of Baptism, and a proclaimer of the Gospel,” he noted.
Life of service
Mr. Hoffmann, a seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, hopes to be ordained a priest of the Jefferson City diocese in 2024.
He’s eager to spend this summer ministering with a pastor and serving the people in preparation for his own priestly ministry.
“While there is nothing we do without God doing so first,” he stated, “the fact that God chooses to involve us in his work out of love is something I want to recognize every moment of my life, especially as I enter ordained ministry.”
In becoming a deacon, Mr. Hoffmann will make several specific promises, including:
Mr. Hoffmann noted that the word “deacon’’ comes from a Greek word meaning “minister on behalf of another.”
“I will be living a life of service to God’s people as an ordained minister,” he said.
Mr. Hoffmann was born and raised in Sedalia, the older of two sons of John and Linda Hoffmann.
He grew up Catholic, went to Mass with his family every Sunday and attended Sacred Heart School from kindergarten through high school.
He played soccer, baseball and some basketball and was active in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
He was an altar server and later an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at Sacred Heart School.
“Service was something that was instilled in my youth and done with many groups in different ways — at church, at school and in the community,” he recalled.
He didn’t give much thought to Priesthood until he was in college at Iowa State University in Ames.
While studying agricultural engineering and minoring in Spanish, he got to know Father Jon Seda, the Catholic chaplain — a “normal guy” who impressed him by going to sporting events, playing racquetball and laughing out-loud at funny things.
“Since then, I have experienced how priests continue to have hobbies and a sense of humor and don’t spend all day just saying Mass, visiting the sick, or praying in the rectory,” said Mr. Hoffmann.
He became active in a variety of student organizations around campus, as well as at the Catholic student center.
Glimpse of heaven
Twice, Mr. Hoffmann got to spend time studying in Brazil.
Being there in 2013 allowed him to attend World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
The event drew 3 million people from all over the world to celebrate their Catholic faith with Pope Francis.
It gave Mr. Hoffmann a new perspective on the global nature of the Universal Church.
“My eyes were opened, and being Catholic became more for me than just being ‘a kid from Sacred Heart in Sedalia of the Diocese of Jefferson City,’ to being part of the Body of Christ, connected to the Church, which globally has the same worship, Mass, Sacraments, love of Christ, and community,” Mr. Hoffmann stated.
“Even in a different language or cultural expression, we are all part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” he said.
Mr. Hoffmann was studying in the Catholic Student Center one day when the chaplain asked what he was doing that Sunday night.
“There was a group that met to discuss the Priesthood,” Mr. Hoffmann recalled, “and there would be pizza.”
He remembers thinking, “Well, I am a single Catholic guy ... and there is pizza.”
He became a member of the Priesthood discernment group and remained so for a little over three years.
The group discussed sundry articles and chapters from books, went on retreats and even visited a seminary.
“The more I learned, the more I thought that God may be inviting me to be a priest,” said Mr. Hoffmann.
“I learned that going to seminary was not saying, ‘I am absolutely going to be a priest,’ but continuing to ask God if he is calling me,” he said.
“And I began realize that several attributes of the Priesthood seemed to match the skills God gave me,” he stated.
Mr. Hoffmann’s parents weren’t surprised when he decided to apply for admission to the seminary after graduating from Iowa State in December 2016.
“They’ve been supportive the whole way,” he said. “That has been a huge blessing, since quite a few men in formation do not have the support of their family as they discern God’s call in their lives.”
He undertook the application process the following spring while working as a drafter at Waterloo Industries and as a bartender at the Sedalia Country Club.
Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City, now retired, accepted him into formation and enrolled him at Conception Seminary College that fall.
“I came to appreciate the quiet at Conception while I was there for two years of Pre-Theology,” Mr. Hoffmann recalled.
After graduating from Conception, he took on a seven-month internship at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia.
It coincided with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That experience of ‘how do we continue to serve the people of God when we aren’t allowed to meet in person?’ turned out to be an affirmation of my call,” he said.
It required him to draw on an array of talents God had given him to use — “including my technical background, not just the spiritual and theological aspects,” he noted.
He resumed his studies at the Josephinum and is on target to graduate next May.
He was surprised to discover how much humility and docility the life of a seminarian requires.
He pointed to the academic, human, pastoral and spiritual aspects of priestly formation.
“It’s not focused on bolstering that one area you are good at, but in living the proper order of all four areas,” he said.
It’s been clear to Mr. Hoffmann for about a year that God is truly calling him to be a priest.
“I entered the seminary mostly at ease with the possibility that God may actually be calling me to stay for the whole journey, culminating in priestly ordination,” he said.
“I was fully convinced of God’s call by the time I started my third year of theology last fall,” he stated.
Being formally accepted into candidacy for the Priesthood — akin to engagement for a dating couple — was a big step.
He spent last summer in Wichita, Kansas, studying conversational Spanish for ministry.
Previous summer assignments at St. Patrick Parish in Laurie, St. Peter Parish in Marshall and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish brought him into contact with people who have given him support and shared their wisdom and life experiences with him.
“What stands out to me is how well people live out their vocation to Matrimony and share their faith outside the walls of the Church,” he said.
“Knowing that there are parishioners who live out their daily call strengthens me to more firmly live out my daily ‘yes,’” he said.
Mr. Hoffmann enjoys spending free time outdoors and playing competitive sports.
“There were years I was on the seminary’s team for soccer, volleyball, and disc golf teams,” he noted.
He enjoys playing weekly pick-up basketball and volleyball games and an occasional soccer match.
From time-to-time, he also goes fishing on the campus lake and takes up bicycling during summer break.
He and several fellow seminarians take time out each week to share a classic movie.
“I enjoy the ability of good films to draw us in, tell us a story, and give us a new insight or outlook on life, or just make us laugh hysterically in only a couple hours,” he said.
Mr. Hoffmann’s favorite Bible passage is Jeremiah 1:5-8, which includes the phrases, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you,” and “to whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. ... for I am with you to deliver you.”
“Any time I have a doubt about what I can and cannot do, I need to be reminded that God knows and has given me all I need to follow the plan he has for me,” said Mr. Hoffmann.
His favorite prayer is St. Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment, which includes:
“Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.”
Mr. Hoffmann is particularly grateful to his parents; to Fr. Seda at Iowa State, who invited him to consider the Priesthood; Bishop Gaydos and Bishop McKnight; the priests and staff of the diocesan Vocation Office; and the members of several Knights of Columbus councils in Missouri and Iowa and at each seminary he’s attended.
He’s thankful for great seminary formation and to live in a place where he can practice his faith openly.
“I’m also thankful that I will be able to serve in the diocese this summer and for all the prayers and support I have received over the years,” he said.
He asked for continued prayers for him to be able to give his “yes” to God every day and to trust that God will give him the strength and awareness to be what he wants, when and where he wants.
Mr. Hoffmann encourages anyone who thinks he might have a priestly calling to contact the diocesan vocation director.
“Seminary is a place where you get to know yourself, God, and his will more and more with the help of the priests and staff of the seminary,” he said.
“Either you find you are called to be a priest and continue to ordination, or you find out that you are not — and are a young man who knows God and himself well, and will be a great Catholic husband and father.”