May 29, 2015

‘I’ll go wherever you lead me’: ‘Most dangerous question’ leads former soldier Deacon Adam Ahern to embrace life as a priest

Deacon Adam Ahern is all smiles as he gives a tour through the chapel at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, the setting where he first had the opportunity to test his call to the priesthood. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Deacon Adam Ahern is all smiles as he gives a tour through the chapel at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, the setting where he first had the opportunity to test his call to the priesthood. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: At 10 a.m. on June 6, three men are scheduled to be ordained priests at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis: transitional deacons Adam Ahern, Michael Keucher and Andrew Syberg. This week, The Criterion features a profile of Deacon Ahern. Deacon Keucher was profiled in the May 15 issue while Deacon Syberg was featured in the May 22 issue.)

By John Shaughnessy

Deacon Adam Ahern believes it’s the most dangerous question a person can ask.

It’s a question he asked himself in 2006, during his seventh year in the U.S. Army—a time when he served in communications in the White House Situation Room as then-President George W. Bush and his advisors met to deal with crises around the nation and the world.

At the time, he was trying to make a decision about his future, including whether he should re-enlist and do a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, where he had previously served. He was also involved in a romantic relationship. And there were re-occurring thoughts of the priesthood—a path he first considered in high school. With all those possibilities, he asked the question that he considers so dangerous:

“What do you want for my life, God?”

“It’s the most dangerous question you can ask in your life because if you ask it meaningfully, he answers it,” Deacon Ahern says. “And when he answers it, and you know he’s answered it clearly, you have to accept it.

“I heard this voice inside my head say, ‘Go, be my priest.’ What do you do but obey? It was the voice of God.”

As Deacon Ahern prepares to be ordained a priest on June 6, it would be easy to think that it’s all been a smooth, seamless journey since he heard that answer in 2006. Instead, the reality has been different. It would take another eight years before Deacon Ahern fully accepted God’s answer. Yet when that moment finally came, everyone who witnessed it considers it unforgettable.

‘I’ll go wherever you lead me’

The moment happened on April 26, 2014, just before he was to be ordained a transitional deacon at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrad.

Two years earlier, his best friend had left after their first year at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad—and he was ready to do the same until he decided to give it another try.

On that April morning a year ago, he stood on the marble steps outside the church and looked above the main door at a statue of the Blessed Mother holding Jesus on her lap.

“I had a conversation with her,” Deacon Ahern recalls. “Then I looked inside the church. At the end, there’s this image of Christ the King. I see that, and there’s just a flood of ‘Yes!’ I couldn’t say ‘Yes!’ enough. Then I looked at the altar and said, ‘Yes, I’ll go wherever you lead me.’

“As soon as I let go of all those doubts and questions and insecurities, I had this warm feeling of love and joy. The flow of it was just moving to me. I finally accepted what God wanted me to do. There was just this smile on my face that was so ginormous.”

That smile and that joy are the first things that his good friend, transitional Deacon Michael Keucher, mentions about Deacon Ahern.

“He had that smile during the whole Mass and the whole next week,” says Deacon Keucher, who will join Deacon Ahern and transitional Deacon Andrew Syberg in being ordained on June 6. “It was the joy of realizing his vocation was something he couldn’t control. It was overflowing.”

That joy will be one of Deacon Ahern’s defining qualities as a priest, says Deacon Keucher.

“Pope Francis said we don’t need any more unhappy priests,” Deacon Keucher says. “There’s just something about Adam and the joy he has. He’s also very generous. He spent so much time in the Army that he’s always the first one to step forward when a sacrifice is being asked for. And he’s a really good listener. There have been plenty of times when I’ve had a problem, and he’s always been there.”

Deacon Keucher also recalls a defining moment about Deacon Ahern from the Holy Land pilgrimage that the two friends made in December of 2014.

“We were on the Mount of Beatitudes. Adam stood in the physical place where Jesus proclaimed the Beatitudes, and he proclaimed the Beatitudes right from the [Gospel] of Matthew. Seeing him there, I thought he stands in the place of Christ so naturally and in such a captivating way. I don’t think I’ve heard the Beatitudes proclaimed in such a beautiful way before.”

The transformation and the challenge

Deacon Ahern believes there’s a lesson for all people in his journey that started with a dangerous question and led to a joyful acceptance.

Mentioning one of his favorite writers, C.S. Lewis, Deacon Ahern says, “He talks about the hills and the troughs, the ups and the downs—how the highs are really good, and they help you get through the lows. But staying faithful in the valleys is the most fruitful and the most important thing. It’s what grows your faith.”

His parents have noticed his growth in his journey to becoming a priest.

“He’s not the same person who went into college seminary eight years ago,” says his father, Karl Ahern. “What’s come out the other end is a priest who is dedicating his life to his Church. You see the change, the transformation.”

His mother believes that transformation in her son has revealed one more insight for her about God.

“The course of Adam’s life has taught me to always believe that God is never late or never early. His plan comes together in his time,” says Marian Ahern. “The dream of every mother is to know that their kids are at peace with what God wants them to be. To see him follow the will of God is everything I could hope for.”

She pauses before adding, “The fact that my son is going to consecrate the body and blood of Christ, there are no words to describe it. It overwhelms me that he’s somebody who can proclaim the Gospel.”

Still, she sees a challenge ahead for her son.

“He will carry the souls of all his parishioners—to try to help them into eternity. In our society, that’s a very hard road to go. But he tells me, ‘Mom, Jesus will take care of it. You need to trust in Jesus.’ ”

Father Shaun Whittington has no doubts that Deacon Ahern will connect as a priest with his parishioners.

‘Whatever you do, do it with love’

“They’ll respond to his joy and his message of Christ’s presence in their daily lives,” says Father Whittington, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris, which is Deacon Ahern’s home parish. “One of his greatest strengths is he’s particularly attentive to the needs of other people.”

It’s just one of the reasons that members of St. Anthony Parish are so excited for Deacon Ahern. Father Whittington says, “It’s been over 150 years since we’ve had a priest for the archdiocese be from our parish.”

The pastor also believes that Deacon Ahern could make a powerful difference in the Church because of his military background.

“I think his experience in the military will be very helpful,” Father Whittington says. “There are a lot of servicemen and women who are retiring who are a little disconnected from their spiritual life. If there is someone struggling with that, they should seek him out. They would find him to be a great benefit. And that’s something we really need in our Church.”

Deacon Ahern has already made plans to serve in that role. Part of his assignment in the archdiocese includes serving as a chaplain for the Indiana National Guard. He is scheduled to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard on Aug. 19.

“The military is all about serving a greater purpose—defending our brothers, defending our country,” Deacon Ahern says. “And what does Christ say? ‘No greater love is there than to lay down your life for your brother’ (Jn 15:13). That’s what our service members do for their brothers and sisters. That’s what Christ asks us to do. That’s how I envision my life—laying down my life for my brothers, my parishioners.”

The most dangerous question has been answered with a personal conviction.

“Whatever you do, do it with love, do it with happiness,” he says. “There are going to be times when you’re frustrated, sad, upset. But underneath it all, there has always been that love, that joy.”

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to

More about Deacon Adam Ahern

  • Age: 34
  • Parents: Marian and Karl Ahern
  • Home Parish: St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris
  • College: Marian University in Indianapolis
  • Seminary: Bishop Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis and Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad
  • Favorite Scripture verse: “Did not our hearts burn within us?” (Lk 24:32)
  • Favorite prayer: Rosary, Prayer of Consecration to the Blessed Mother
  • Favorite saints: St. Luke and Our Lady of Sorrows
  • Favorite movie: Gravity
  • Favorite hobbies: Running, playing video games, exercising to “Insanity” workout
  • A favorite story from his time serving in communications in the White House Situation Room during the administration of President George W. Bush: “When I was getting ready to leave the White House at the very end, one of the perks is you get a departure photo with the president. I asked my dad to be in the photo with me. We walk into the Oval Office and President Bush says to me, ‘Sgt. Ahern, thank you for your service.’ Then he turns to my dad and says, ‘Thanks for letting your son serve.’ “Then he asks my dad, ‘What do you do for a living?’ My dad says, ‘I work in construction.’ ‘Oh, construction,’ the president says, ‘do you ever use chain saws?’ ‘Occasionally,’ my dad says. The president asks, ‘What kind of chain saw do you use?’ They have a five-minute conversation, like old drinking buddies, in the Oval Office, talking about chain saws.”

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