January 11, 2013

2013 Religious Vocations Supplement

‘Living the mission’: Adam Ahern goes from White House Situation Room to seminary

Seminarian Adam Ahern spends time with a young boy on April 25, 2012, at a Boys Club and Girls Club in Evansville, Ind. Ahern, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris, is in his second year of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

Seminarian Adam Ahern spends time with a young boy on April 25, 2012, at a Boys Club and Girls Club in Evansville, Ind. Ahern, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris, is in his second year of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

By Sean Gallagher

In 2006, Adam Ahern was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, working in communications in the White House Situation Room, the place where the president meets with top advisors and often makes decisions that send members of the military into harm’s way.

Ahern had the highest security clearance. Anything that the president could see, he could see.

He had trained for this kind of work since entering the Army in 1999, days after graduating from Batesville High School in Batesville.

“I was living the mission,” said Ahern, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris. “I was watching and listening to top-secret security briefings in the mornings. It was very fulfilling. It exceeded my expectations of what my job was going to be.”

But during that same year, Ahern realized there was still something missing in his life that this mission couldn’t fill.

“It was trying to fit an octagon peg into a round hole,” Ahern said. “It just didn’t quite fit. It fit pretty good, but it just didn’t quite fill up everything.”

That was when he started considering in prayer that God might be calling him to the priesthood.

Over the next year, Ahern became convinced enough about this possible call that he decided to become a seminarian and not re-enlist in the Army.

He soon went from walking halls that buzzed with political power in the White House to the quiet corridors of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, a powerhouse of prayer and priestly formation that is housed in a former Carmelite monastery.

Discernment deferred

More about Adam Ahern
Parents: Marian and Karl Ahern
Education: Batesville High School; Marian University; Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology
Served in the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2008
Favorite Scripture passage: Lk 7:1-10, the healing of the centurion’s servant
Favorite saints: St. Luke, Our Lady of Sorrows
Favorite prayer or devotion: Rosary
Favorite spiritual writer: C.S. Lewis, especially his Screwtape Letters. “I’ll read that at least once a year usually. There are always new things that you pick up from that book. It’s really helped me in my spiritual life.”
Hobbies: Running, video games

Ahern had actually thought about a possible call to the priesthood earlier in life.

While in high school, he was in the beginning stages of applying to enter the Legion of Christ religious order when the community turned him down.

Ahern was disappointed and felt in response that God wasn’t calling him to be a priest.

“[It] was like I tried it, and it didn’t work out,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not what God wants me to do. So let’s go someplace else.”

That someplace else was the Army.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened about two years into Ahern’s first stint in the Army. On that day, he was with a unit finishing a training exercise in Argentina.

“When [we learned that] the Pentagon got hit, it was like, ‘Get the weapons back out,’ ” he said. “For the rest of that week, I was doing armed guard [duty].”

A year later, he was deployed to Afghanistan.

“On New Year’s Eve in 2000, I was in Indiana with my family,” Ahern said. “Then, two years later on New Year’s Eve, I’m on a rooftop in Afghanistan with night vision goggles doing security. It was different.”

While deployed, he learned that the White House was interested in him working in communications in the Situation Room.

A year and a half earlier, he had attended a briefing in which he expressed interest in the job and was able to show basic qualifications for it.

The White House spent the next 18 months doing a security background check that involved Federal Bureau of Investigation agents interviewing relatives and friends of Ahern in person. As long as the process was, Ahern said it had actually been expedited because of the 9/11 attacks.

He began working for the White House in 2003 as, in his words, a “presidential roadie.” He traveled across the country and around the world setting up communications networks wherever the president planned to visit.

In 2005, he started working at the White House itself.

A year later, Ahern again considered a possible call to the priesthood.

“I was about a year away from re-enlisting,” he said. “As opposed to thinking about what I wanted to do, I started thinking about maybe what God wanted me to do.

“I just started praying about that. I asked for the intercession of [Blessed] John Paul II. And it just struck me that I should go into seminary.”

Keeping the faith

Ahern was able in part to think about the priesthood again because he continued practicing the faith while in the Army.

Early in his Army training, he decided not to go to Mass on a regular basis.

“It just never sat right with me,” Ahern said. “I always felt awkward about not having gone to Mass.

“And so, when I got to my first duty station, it just became a part of who I was and who I came known to be. ‘That’s Adam. He’s the Catholic guy. He goes to Mass on Sunday.’ ”

Army Maj. Harold Eddy saw this faithfulness when Ahern would visit him at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“He’d make a point to go to Mass on Sunday, no matter what we were doing,” Eddy said. “He didn’t know the area, and so he’d look on the Internet for a church.”

Wherever he was stationed, Ahern was nearly always able to participate in Sunday Mass.

“During my entire military career, I think I only missed Mass because of work twice,” he said. “Once when I was in Afghanistan, I was out on a forward operating base and had no way of getting to Mass. Then, once when I was in the White House, I was actually on a plane going from Australia back to the states. We were on the plane for about 30 hours.”

In 2006, he began praying about the priesthood. Ahern found that it gave him peace.

“Going from Afghanistan with that kind of pressure to working at the White House with the constant need to have everything right all the time—there was a lot of pressure and stress on me,” he said. “And in prayer I found this peace and calm that was just completely wonderful.”

A Knights of Columbus council in Alexandria, Va., also helped him to put his faith into action.

“They helped me reconnect with my faith on a more active level,” Ahern said. “Being part of the council helped me be active in my faith in a different way, which also led into the decision to leave the Army.”

Living a different mission

Ahern was able to maintain his faith while in the Army, in part, because of the good foundation that was laid by his parents.

Going to Sunday Mass as a child and a teenager was non-negotiable in his home.

“It kept me grounded,” Ahern said. “It kept me connected with the Church. Then when I did leave home and went into the Army, Sunday wasn’t right unless I went to Mass.”

When Ahern decided to leave the Army and enroll at Marian College, now Marian University, and Bishop Bruté in 2008, his mother, Marian, was pleased beyond words. And she is still happy five years later that her son continues in priestly formation.

“I keep pinching myself that I am so blessed,” Marian said. “I can’t even talk about it. It’s very emotional for me because it’s such an awesome thing … ”

After a semester of living at Bishop Bruté, Ahern affiliated as a seminarian with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He is now in his second year of formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

While on break, he often spends time with Father Pascal Nduka, administrator of his home parish in Morris, who says that Ahern’s life of prayer gives him encouragement.

“When I see … Adam observing his quiet moments and saying the divine office in the church,” Father Nduka said, “it inspires and challenges me as a priest to give first-place priority to my prayer life.”

Ahern spent last summer in pastoral ministry at Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis.

“It was kind of like being deployed,” Ahern said with a laugh. “I had done quite a bit of training up to that point for parish ministry. And so I got to do some of it. I got to go and live the mission for a little while.

“It really helped confirm the decisions that I had been making and helped keep me in [the] seminary, keep me on the path that God put me on five years ago.”

What attracts him most to the priesthood, Ahern said, is “the idea of showing God’s love and bringing Christ to people in the many ways that a priest does it, and in the unique way that a priest does it,” especially in the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation.

“That’s the mission that I’m training for,” Ahern said. “And that’s the mission that I hope to do one day. It’s to bring Christ’s love to people.”

(For more information about archdiocesan seminarians and a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to www.HearGodsCall.com.)

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