Iowa seminarian, 30, dies; was St. Paul Seminary student

| Kelly Mescher Collins | September 2, 2015 | 3 Comments
John Wesley Lawrence, 30, a seminarian of the Diocese of Des Moines, passed away in his sleep the night of Aug. 31 while staying with his mother at her home near Anamosa, Iowa. His cause of death is unknown at this time. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

John Wesley Lawrence, 30, a seminarian of the Diocese of Des Moines, died in his sleep the night of Aug. 31 while staying with his mother at her home near Anamosa, Iowa. His cause of death is unknown at this time. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

John Wesley Lawrence, 30, a seminarian of the Diocese of Des Moines, died in his sleep the night of Aug. 31 while staying with his mother at her home near Anamosa, Iowa. His cause of death is unknown at this time. Services are pending.

Lawrence was studying at St. Paul Seminary-School of Divinity in St. Paul and was expected to be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Des Moines in June 2018.

“John was eagerly awaiting the beginning of another year of preparation on his journey to God’s altar,” said Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, St. Paul Seminary-School of Divinity rector, in a statement for The Catholic Spirit. “He was a good-natured, affable, and friendly young man who related with his peers and superiors. He demonstrated great gifts for relating to and serving others with a pastoral heart.

“On Tuesday the Lord who heard John’s ‘yes’ to a call to priesthood, called him once more to himself,” he added. “May he rest in peace.”

Msgr.  Callaghan noted that Lawrence was among seminarians planning to make a pilgrimage to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis during his United States visit later this month.

The son of the late C.W. and Denise Lawrence, he was raised on a farm near Monticello in eastern Iowa with his younger brother, Michael. He graduated from Monticello High School in 2004 and earned an accounting management degree from Iowa State University in 2009. He was employed by McGladrey in downtown Des Moines as an accountant and was a parishioner at St. Boniface Parish in Waukee before joining the seminary in January 2013.

In his vocation story, Lawrence said that while growing up, it was a local religious sister, Sister Damien, who told him he would make a good priest.

“I was a little shocked after hearing that, because I wasn’t sure what Sister saw in me,” Lawrence wrote. “For some reason, though, I have always remembered what she said.”

While still working for the accounting firm, Lawrence took time off from work to counsel young people at Catholic Youth Camp in the summers of 2011 and 2012. This is where Lawrence first realized God may have been calling him to the priesthood. He heard a homily by Father Joseph Pins, vocations director of the Diocese of Des Moines, that resonated. Like Lawrence, Father Pins had been an accountant when he decided to discern a vocation to the priesthood.

“My heart goes out to the Lawrence family and to the seminary community at St. Paul,” said Father Pins. “We saw Christ when we saw John.  He was a steady and calm presence. May the Lord’s perpetual light shine upon him.”

Seminarian Ryan Andrew often spent time watching Iowa State football and basketball games with Lawrence. They grew close over the summer, as their days consisted of studying hospital ministry together at Veterans Hospital in Minneapolis.

“He had a very compassionate heart, loved people and was a great person,” said Andrew, who is studying for the Diocese of Des Moines.

Fellow Des Moines seminarian Ryan Welch always enjoyed seeing Lawrence, who lived right across the hall from him at seminary. In fact, Lawrence showed Welch the ropes when he started at seminary.

“He was one of the first guys I talked to,” he said. “He showed me around the seminary when I came to visit — always willing to give the time. He gave me that time and I was a complete stranger.”

Welch will never forget Lawrence’s good nature.

“It didn’t really matter what was going on — if he had broken his wrist playing broom ball or broke his other wrist playing broom ball [the next year],” Welch said with a laugh. “Or just had a lot of school work due at the same time, he just always had an easy-goingness about him that just wouldn’t be defeated by external struggles or circumstances. Definitely that’s an amazing feature.”

“He was a very kind man who had a heart for people,” Welch said.

Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines spoke of Lawrence as an “anchor.”

“For John’s mother, Denise, and his brother, Michael, John’s death is a huge loss,” said Bishop Pates, a former auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “We extend our heartfelt condolences and assurance of prayers to them. For the diocesan seminary community it is also heartrending.

“For the last three-and-a-half years, John has been an anchor to that group. He was steady, good natured, balanced and extraordinarily generous. He was a man of prayer and deep faith. We will greatly miss him but will be motivated by his spirit and example in the days ahead.”

 

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