Finding the Road to the Priesthood
“When Jesus called me to be a priest, He didn´t make the way straight nor easy. I still marvel that Jesus could successfully get me ordained.”
Grangeville, Idaho is home to what some say is the
highest-tech Catholic school in a region of several states.
All classes have computers and students start learning the keyboard
in the third grade. There is ample opportunity for distance
learning – taking classes via computer from remote facilities.
And teachers use web-based courses to maintain their skills and
keep abreast of the latest educational developments. This is Sts.
Peter and Paul School, Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Fr.
Tom Loucks, Pastor.
|Father Tom Loucks, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Grangeville, Idaho.|
Fr. Tom, as he likes to be called,
was ordained in 1977, and has worked in several Idaho
communities, sometimes offering Mass at several locations each weekend.
Numerous mission churches that have no resident priest serve the
scattered Catholic population of Idaho, and Fr. Tom has driven
countless thousands of miles to serve the faithful. So it
is natural that he sees computers and the internet as
a way to shrink distances. It is easier to
find him by e-mail than by phone.
parish school might be unusual. But so was Fr.
Tom’s road to the priesthood. It started early –
but hit a few speed bumps along the way. “The
story of my vocation would begin deep in my childhood,”
said Fr. Tom. “Perhaps before I started to school
I was thinking of being a priest. Before I
received my First Holy Communion, I was thinking of being
a priest. I´ve one memory of feeding the chickens
on our little farm. As I tossed the wheat
to the chickens, I was thinking about distributing Holy Communion
to people. I remember talk in the family about me
becoming a priest, though I think the original idea was
mine, not another family member. I remember my Mother
talking with her sisters about the possibility that I would
become a priest. In the extended family I had
cousins who did go to the seminary. None went
further than high school.”
Like many men who hear the
call to the priesthood, Fr. Tom met priests who had
a huge impact on his life. He still remembers
those who made the biggest difference. “Msgr. Nicholas V. Hughes
was the first priest that I remember talked to me
about vocations,” said Fr. Tom. “In one homily he said
that the parish that didn´t produce priests shouldn´t have any.
He had me talk with the diocesan vocations director
Fr. (later Bishop) Nicholas Walsh at the bishop´s office.
Fr. Walsh was willing to send me to Mt. Angel
(diocesan seminary) to complete my high school education. I was
set to go to Mt. Angel in the fall of
1961, my senior year. I came close. I
needed a physical. I didn´t want to go to
the doctor. I didn´t go to the seminary that
It seemed everyone was talking to Fr. Tom about
the priesthood. Adults, non-family members were telling him it
seemed like the best thing for him. He went
so far as to write a letter to the vocations
director the Jesuits – but was afraid of rejection and
never put it in the mail. “I joined the Navy,”
Fr. Tom admits. “Msgr. Hughes continued to be in touch
with me by letter. I would write my reasons
for not being a priest. He would respond why
those were not good reasons. He always ended with,
‘If God wants you to be a priest, He will
take care of all your needs.’”
Fr. Tom exited the
Navy at the end of his enlistment and headed for
the University of Idaho, very set on becoming a rich
young man. He noticed that the new St. Augustine´s
Catholic Student Center didn’t get much use. So, despite
his avowed determination to avoid the priesthood, he became determined
to energize the student center.
“I became very active in the
student parish,” Fr. Tom said. “On Friday nights I would
go clean the parish hall. I helped start the
international dinners. I served on the parish council.
People called me ‘Fr. Tom.’ I resented the name.
I wanted to be rich! I had rejected
being a priest.” But the priesthood had not rejected Fr.
Tom. When Fr. Tom was a junior, Bishop Treinen
of the Diocese of Boise asked him to study for
the diocesan priesthood. Fr. Tom turned him down.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
neared graduation a year later, Fr. Tom couldn’t shake the
inkling that he was being called to serve the church.
“Late in my senior year I started praying intently about
what I should do with my future. I had
worked for an oil company. I had tasted the
wages. But I visited their headquarters and knew that
they were not for me. My life was open.
I told God that I would turn my future
over to Him. But if He wanted me to
be a priest, He had to send me a sign.
The sign I asked for was the completion of
a Russian Literature term paper by midnight on a Tuesday.
I didn´t do anything about the paper until about
7 that evening. By 11:30 the paper was typed and
ready to be turned in. I had asked for
a sign. God sent a very strong one.”
|Father Tom is a fan of the great outdoors.|
was a rare case of a vocation resulting from a
Russian term paper. But after talking with his mother
and a good deal of prayer, Fr. Tom wrote to
Bishop Treinen, who accepted him to Mt. Angel, the diocesan
seminary. It was a challenge, because he lacked a
background in philosophy and languages. But after three years,
he had become a top student. However, he still
had a few speed bumps ahead.
I loved the Scripture Study
classes. I loved the study, the ideas, the history,
the fitting of things together. I loved the hunt
to reveal the culture and the time that produced the
Word of God. I took every Scripture class that
I could stuff into my schedule. I still love
to read and study the Scriptures. Part of my
decision to stay away from more philosophy classes was to
have time for the Scripture study classes. It was
a great trade! Instead of looking at nonsense, I
was on an adventure with the Scriptures.”
But it was
a time of great unrest – Vietnam, student protests, cultural
revolution. Much was unsettled, so Fr. Tom took a
two-year leave from the seminary. He spent the time
working in the secular world. “During those two years changes
were taking place in the Church in Idaho. One of
my friends became vocations director. He and I would
do a lot of talking about having me re-enter the
seminary. One day Bishop Treinen opened the door by
telling me that he hadn´t given up on ordaining me.
A few days later he assigned me to be
a seminarian in residence at St. John´s Cathedral. I
spent a year there doing whatever needed doing; working with
CCD, working with servers, doing part of the cooking, acting
as a driver, visiting the shut-ins.” A year later, he
“The day of my ordination was a small
mirror of my seminary life. The Cathedral rectory was
a mad house. The black clouds rose above Boise
like I had never seen before. God sent an
angel to me, Fr. Pedro Ramirez, a former classmate from
Mt. Angel. Pedro walked with me for a couple
of hours. I told him of my nervousness.
I pointed out the ‘bad’ signs. He calmed me.
When I told him that I was thinking that
God might not want me for a priest after all,
he assured me that God did want me and that
I needed to accept the difficulties and overcome them.
With a new calmness in my soul, I resolved to
“The black clouds continued to boil above the
city. When the congregation was asked to signal its
assent to my ordination, thunderous applause broke out. I
think they clapped for 15 minutes. During the
ordination the clouds broke into a drenching rain. When
we left the cathedral, a rainbow was stretched over the
steps. The earth was refreshed and my new life had
Throughout a variety of assignments, Fr. Tom has stressed
the importance of a strong prayer life. Last year,
he joined Regnum Christi, which he says helps with his
continuing spiritual growth. “When I think of the work
of Regnum Christi, I see the continuing challenge to
me, as a priest, to consistently confront myself. My
life is simple. My needs are simple. Jesus
takes care of me. One would think that would
be enough. But, oh no, I have to contend with
the evil that lives beside me and within me.
I do not reject myself as an evil person.
But I find that temptation is a constant companion urging
me to look out for myself first. God is
calling me to something more than I can be or
do on my own. He sends me graces to
live for His plan. He doesn´t ask me to
compromise with the Culture of Death. He calls me
to a prophetic witness against it. Jesus is counting
on me to make a difference.”