For Father Hagen, vocation deepens sense of ‘romance between God and his people’

| May 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

Father Nicholas Hagen, center, stands outside the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul May 27, the day of his ordination to the priesthood. Surrounding him are the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ other nine ordinands. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Nicholas Hagen can point to a single meal that changed the course of his life.

He was around 8 years old when his parents invited a visiting missionary priest to dinner — something they hadn’t done before — and they talked late into the night. The priest’s presence and that conversation, however, had a profound and lasting effect.

“I saw a real shift in my family,” said Father Hagen, 26. “I saw that what the priest said and witnessed to made a concrete difference in my family life.”

Father Hagen’s parents, Bret and Mary Hagen, deepened their understanding of their vocation and their family’s commitment to their faith. Their increased involvement in Church activities — and the flexibility that required — led his parents to homeschool him and his four younger siblings.

In high school, Father Hagen remembers sitting in front of the Eucharist in adoration and feeling as if he had to make a decision about his discipleship — and his vocation. If Jesus was who he said he was, “then there can be nothing more important in my life,” he recalled thinking.

As Father Hagen was deciding where to go to college, he went to confession on Divine Mercy Sunday at his parish, Holy Family in St. Louis Park. Afterward, he felt he heard God telling him clearly: “I offer an amazing plan. I’m not going to tell you everything it is right now, but if you trust me completely and totally … I will make your life something great, and you will not make it yourself,” he recalled. With this affirmation, Father Hagen enrolled at St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 2009.

He describes his discernment process as “a slow, gradual one” in which he has gone from “part-time disciple to full-time disciple, and realizing that God’s dreams and plans were far greater than what I could have dreamed up myself.”

“In seminary, it’s been realizing more and more deeply the romance of God and his people — that romance story is one that involves all of my life,” he said.

After four years at SJV, he moved to Rome in 2013 to complete his studies first at the Gregorian University and then the Lateran University while living at the Pontifical North American College. He expects to return to Rome in the fall to complete a licentiate in Christology.

Life in the Eternal City has given him the opportunity to encounter a variety of religious orders and lay movements, and understand their different roles in the Church and God’s “custom-fit” plan for each person and how God “seeks to grab our hearts,” he said. He has a special affection for the mendicant Community of the Lamb; the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist; and the Community of Sant’Egidio, he said.

He’s also been able to experience Pope Francis as a person, and not just a news figure, he said, adding that “hearing his words not so much like text in a newspaper, but coming from a human being who really wants to witness to the Lord and tell us the truth and be a link directly back to Jesus … makes my ears perk up more.”

His chaplaincies have included working with people living in low-income housing in the Roman neighborhood Trastevere and students from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, studying in Rome. He’s spent the past two summers assisting at Our Lady of Grace in Edina.

“I’m very convinced that the parochial Church is meant to serve the domestic Church, and I can’t wait to work with couples preparing for marriage and families, to try to work together on what’s the Holy Spirit doing in your family,” he said.

While Father Hagen is especially passionate about the liturgy, one of his hobbies is helping others articulate their own passions and expertise as a host of the Catholic Bytes podcast, short audio segments on Church apologetics, history and teaching. In a recent episode, he interviewed Father Paul Haverstock, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis studying in Rome, about the Church’s doctrine on praying for the dead and purgatory.

He enjoys strategizing about how to nail the interview by helping the guest shine and explain something in a pithy and entertaining way.

He said the best advice he’s received about priesthood is to keep learning and never forget that he’s on a journey, too.

“I’m never going to be able to say, ‘I’ve figured out God, and now I can tell everybody exactly who God is,’ because he’s always beyond me, too. That’s part of the humility of the priesthood,” he said.

Father Hagen will be ministering as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Grace in Edina.

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