Interview with Moreau seminarian

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocari which means “to be called.” In a discernmentprocess that takes around seven years to complete, the Congregation of Holy Cross forms priests who answer their callings and are educated according to the five Pillars of Formation: spiritual, human, pastoral, intellectual, and community.

Karl Romkema, C.S.C. is a seminarian at Moreau Seminary and is pursuing his Masters of Divinity from Notre Dame. Originally from Clarkston, Michigan, Karl is the second oldest of nine. Karl will be serving as an Assistant Rector in O’Neill Hall next school year. The Irish Rover recently had the chance to chat with Karl about his own vocation and discernment process.

The Irish Rover: How would you define vocation in a general sense?

For me, vocation always has its beginning and end in the heart of Jesus Christ. This is one thing that all humans have in common. In the gospels, Jesus always calls His disciples “to Himself.” That is the first movement of any true vocation – a movement toward Jesus who is the creator and author of my being. Nearness and attentiveness to Jesus is the permanent feature of all vocations; particular vocations (or missions) flow from that feature. If I sit at the feet of Jesus simply as a friend, I will not only be fulfilled in the present, but my future will become clearer to me as well.

In my first semester at Holy Cross College my favorite professor taught me the following definition of vocation: “where my talents and passions meet the world’s needs, as discerned by the community.” This definition has remained with me because it identifies something very important: my vocation is ultimately not about me. It is always a service for the world. And it is not even me alone who decides what that service will look like. My community (family, friends, Church) often knows me better than I know myself – it discovers and activates my talents.

The Irish Rover: Was there a specific moment when you knew you had a vocation to the priesthood:

I began thinking about the priesthood when I was about six-years-old. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a priest. But the thought also terrified me. I was a very shy kid (and still am in some ways), and the priesthood represented something completely outside of my comfort zone. So it was a very mysterious and troubling thing to me until I was fourteen.

The biggest turning point in my faith life and in my discernment came as a result of a March for Life in Washington, DC. As a high school freshman it was my first experience of Church outside of my local parish community, and it totally blew my mind. It was so impactful to see tens of thousands of people (many of them my age) united around a very important issue. It was the first time that I had conceived of an overlap between the Church and the world. I came home from that experience and I began to pray. In that prayer, I received a strong level of conviction that I am called to be a priest. The reality of abortion represented a whole network of cultural woundedness for me. Somehow I felt an overwhelming summons to heal the wounds of the world as a priest.

This trip was influential for another reason too. My sister who was also on the trip said to me, “Karl, I just met a guy who said that he is entering the seminary at Notre Dame next year.” First of all, that really made my ears perk up because I was an ardent Notre Dame fan. “There’s a seminary at Notre Dame?” I thought. That definitely planted a seed. Second of all, that was the first time I had even heard of someone (besides myself) who was discerning a vocation to the priesthood. So it gave me hope and encouragement. That guy’s name is Mike Palmer, and he was just ordained a Holy Cross Priest on April 22nd in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

The Irish Rover: Do you have any advice for college students discerning their vocation?

Discernment does not happen in the abstract. While discernment requires a lot of thinking, dreaming, and interior processing, this will never make your path perfectly clear to you. Your particular vocation will always remain somewhat ambiguous – that’s the nature of vocation. There is an element of risk-taking in the discernment process itself. If your heart is being drawn to something, the key is to jump in and trust. In order to fully discern if I am called to be a religious, for example, I had to jump into a formation program and try it. In order to discern marriage, I would have to be build an intimate relationship with a particular woman. Clarity comes in the process of doing. Even if you hate the direction you have gone, that is a precious thing to learn. Some people are haunted their entire lives because they never gave something a chance. So this is not unsuccessful discernment at all. God wants children who are open to His will. When we make our discernment concrete – by trying things out, by having conversations with people, by taking risks – we are formed into a certain kind of person, a person who is free to respond to the will of God.

The Irish Rover: What’s your life philosophy?

Lately, I have been trying to integrate this passage from Blessed Basil Moreau into all of my daily actions: “My Creator necessarily had in mind his own glory and not that of another when he brought me forth from nothingness. And so, if he has given me a mind, it is for knowing him; if he has given me a heart free to love, it is for clinging to him; if he has given me limbs and health and strength, it is for using them to serve him. If then I am everything that I in fact am, it can only be all for him and I need constantly to turn to him as to the center of my life.”

I am still a work in progress.

Brie Bahe is a senior neuroscience major and philosophy minor. Her bucket list includes befriending a Notre Dame squirrel. Shoot her an email at