Meet Our Seminarians | Diocese of Lansing

Meet Our Seminarians

Meet Our Seminarians

(individual photos and bios below)

    


(click on names to read seminarian bios)


Deacon Joseph Campbell
Christ the King, Ann Arbor


Deacon Anthony Smela
St Mary Queen of Angels,
Swartz Creek


John Machiorlatti
St Thomas Aquinas /
St John, 
East Lansing
 


Alberto Nickerson
St Mary Cathedral, Lansing

 


Michael Cassar
St Francis of Assisi, Ann Arbor

John Vinton
Holy Spirit, Brighton

Patrick Brennan
St Thomas Aquinas /
St John, 
East Lansing


John-Henry Keenan
St Patrick, Ann Arbor


Mark Martin II
St Anthony of Padua,
Hillsdale


Tyler Arens
St. Mary, Westphalia
 


Miguel Colunga
St Thomas Aquinas /
St John, East Lansing


Lee Koenigsknecht
Most Holy Trinity, Fowler


Diego Granados
Christ the King, Ann Arbor

Jacob Knepper
St Elizabeth, Tecumseh

Daniel Kudwa
Holy Redeemer, Burton

Peter Ludwig
St Peter, Eaton Rapids

Kevin Hufnagel
Christ the King, Ann Arbor
 

Jack Jobst
Christ the King, Ann Arbor


Gabriel McGill
St. Patrick, Ann Arbor

 


 

Seminarian Biographies

Tyler Arens - I grew up attending St. Mary in Westphalia. I can remember thinking about the priesthood from an early age. When my childhood pastor, Fr. Bill Ashbaugh, came into the classroom, I would think, I could be like Fr. Bill. While attending the University of Michigan, the thought of priesthood retuned, even when I didn't feel close to God. Although I imagined a career in campaigns or communications, I remember feeling that whatever the world had to offer was just not enough. Since graduating in 2008, I have worked for Michigan State University and lived in East Lansing, where I attended St. Thomas Aquinas/St. John Church & Student Center.

My discernment over the past couple years started with a surrender to the Lord. I knew I wanted to grow closer to Christ, but I needed to make the decision to intentionally encounter Him. As I grew in my relationship with Christ through prayer, scripture, the sacraments, and discipleship groups, I experienced greater peace and joy in my life, as well as a growing desire to help others get closer to Him. Despite building up a career and enjoying the comforts the world offers, I was filled with the growing sense that I could give more to the Lord.

It was truly in my relationship with the Lord that I was able to hear and understand His will for me. I had to know Him more intimately and grow to a place of trust with Him. Thankfully God is patient and continues to pursue. To be in seminary is an awesome gift, an opportunity to grow in love for Him and deeper trust.

 

Patrick Brennan - For most of my life, I have attended St. Thomas Aquinas Church and St. John Student Parish in East Lansing.  I majored in Political Theory at Michigan State University, with an eye towards a career in law.  During my sophomore year at MSU, I attended a retreat that opened the door to knowing God in a deeper way.  This experience inspired me to get involved at the parish as a lector and a retreat leader.  I graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2010, but often questioned whether a legal career was my true calling.  I wanted to know God’s will for my life.  For the first time, I considered the possibility of priesthood.  But because my heart was so full of fears about the priestly call, I quickly dismissed priesthood as “not for me.”  However, I did begin to serve in various lay ministry positions, including as a youth minister, theology teacher, and chastity educator.  These were incredible opportunities to grow in following Jesus Christ and helping others to follow Him.  I fell in love with evangelizing in the community, leading prayer groups, and worshipping the Lord.  Gradually, I realized that Jesus was using these experiences to open my heart to diocesan priesthood.  Even though I resisted seminary for many years, I now recognize the great privilege of discerning the priesthood in the heart of the Church.  Seminary is an extraordinary gift from the Lord and I am happy to have finally received such a gift.

Deacon Joseph Campbell - I was raised in a large Catholic family and grew up just outside of Ann Arbor near our parish of Christ the King. I have wanted to be a priest from a young age and used to do “play Mass” growing up. I was home schooled through elementary school and high school, and though I tried to talk myself out of priesthood during my senior year in high school, I couldn’t ignore the fact that God seemed to be calling me to this vocation. After graduating from high school in 2009, I eventually stopped dating and entered St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. After graduating from there in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, I moved on to Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit to begin my masters degree in theology. During my years in seminary, God has been drawing me closer and closer into a relationship with Him and my desire for the priesthood has only grown. On June 10th, 2016 I was ordained a deacon and committed my life to the Lord and the Church. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done! Now in my final year of seminary, it's hard for me to believe all that God has done for me over the years. His goodness is more than I can describe, and I am looking forward to my priestly ordination in June 2017.
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Michael Cassar - I was born the middle child of three and raised in a Lutheran home in the Ann Arbor area. My parents gave to me a loving upbringing and an appreciation of God that as of yet has not abated. For various reasons, I came to believe that the Catholic Church was continuous with the Church that Christ founded, and faithfully taught true doctrines. While studying at Eastern Michigan, I was received into the Catholic Church, taking the confirmation name of the 2nd century martyr Polycarp. From that time, St. Francis of Assisi in Ann Arbor has been my home parish--although for two years I was in exile in Dekalb, Illinois attending graduate school. While in Dekalb, I was blessed beyond my abilities to recount by the acquaintances I made there; acquaintances who have admirably served as conduits for the grace of God, pulling me towards a more profound, spiritually fulfilling, relationship with him. It is, in short, my desire to serve God in whichever manner God sees fit. Through prayer and reflection, I have come to believe that I may have a call to the priesthood which I am continuing to discern at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have helped me so far throughout this process, and ask for as many prayers as I can get.

 

Miguel Colunga - Hello there, my name is Miguel Colunga-Santoyo, and I’m a seminarian at Saint John Vianney College Seminary. I was born and raised in East Lansing, and I’ve been a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas/St. John student center ever since I could remember! The thought of priesthood began for me my freshman year of high school. I had recently experienced a deeper conversion of faith, and the idea of a calling to the priesthood seemed exciting to me. Year after year, my desire for the priesthood grew; and whenever I thought about my future, the only thought that ever came to me was the priesthood. So then, during my senior year of high school, I decided to apply to seminary- though it was not without any lingering doubts! Now, entering my 4th year, I can say that God has far beyond exceeded my expectations! Since entering, there has been so much healing, so much growth, and so many great friendships made. I’m especially grateful for the gifts of daily Mass and prayer, and for the helpful guide of spiritual directors as well! Choosing to trust in God’s call to enter seminary has been filled with numerous graces, and I thank God for the blessing seminary has been in my life!
 

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Diego Granados - I’m from Christ the King Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, MI.  I was a typical cradle Catholic for most of my life, so I really didn’t think too much of my faith.  It was just part of what we did as a family.  Around my 7th grade, my mother and I both went through our reconversion to the faith.  I started to see the importance in the faith, and my interest in learning more about it, and about God, grew.  Many things from then to now have made my faith grow tremendously.  Once I became stronger in it, I came to understand that simply knowing about God wasn’t enough.  I had to know Him.  Amazing priest examples in my life have also inspired me with their own awe of the sacraments and ministry, describing the joys of serving God’s people, as well as joining in their times of darkness and serving as Christ’s light.  Through the years of being exposed to wonderful priests and growing in my faith, I felt the Lord calling me to go even deeper, deeper than any other kind of “job” could possibly lead me.  In seeing the many great priests I know and love, I understand that the priesthood is not an occupation, but a dedication of a man’s entire life to the service of God’s people.  A priest is a father, brother, teacher, principle, coach, counselor, friend, shepherd, and most of all, a servant.  Discerning this wonderful life, that’s seminary, and it’s so awesome.

 
Kevin Hufnagel - I am Kevin Hufnagel a parishioner from Christ the King and a current Saint John Vianney seminarian. I entered seminary for one reason: to follow Jesus Christ and His will for my life as I believe he has called me to seminary and potentially priesthood. As I have grown in my relationship with Him I have found great joy in relationship with Him and I believe that this call will similarly be one of joy and admittedly trials. Wherever I go with this I know that there will be joy in following his beautiful will. As for his current will I have found difficulty in growing and learning humility, but this is expected as Christ comes to change us and with this comes some growing pains. However the growth has brought peace and greater strength to me in this everyday life. I would encourage anyone reading this not to fear the pains as they only amplify the joy of knowing Christ and living these lives we have been granted.

I know that whatever happens for good or ill He will be my guide.

 

Jack Jobst - I am Jack Jobst and I am from Christ the King in Ann Arbor. I am the fifth child of ten in a Catholic homeschooling family. I first seriously considered the priesthood the beginning of my senior year of high school and after a whirlwind of discernment and prayer I decided to join the seminary. One of my main reasons for joining the seminary is that I want to serve God in whatever way He calls me. The priesthood attracted me and is a very special calling to serve others in a completely selfless way in order to care for the spiritual well being of people and also the Church as a whole. Making this leap of faith to discern what God wants of me is a huge and scary decision, but thanks to support from my family, friends, my parish, and a whole lot of prayer I am now in seminary and I am excited to see what God has in store for me.

 
John-Henry Keenan - I was raised Catholic in the Ann Arbor area as a member of Old St. Patrick’s Parish. I attended John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego to study film. While I was growing intellectually and professionally there, a more significant change was occurring spiritually, driven by the daily Mass and adoration which I found myself relying on more and more. I graduated in December of 2013, and had been working for only a few months after that when, in adoration, I clearly heard Jesus asking me to go to the seminary. I was initially sure I should join a religious order, and so I spent the next year discerning and searching literally from coast to coast. Slowly, though, as I came to appreciate the distinction between religious and diocesan priests, I became more drawn toward the daily life and ministry of parish priesthood, and finally found myself at home in one of the last places I would have expected: right where I started out from in the Diocese of Lansing. As I write this from my new home in Sacred Heart Major Seminary, my future is still uncertain, and there is more discernment and work to be done, but in looking over the past, I’m struck again with Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I know that I am called by God, and while I am not yet sure of the purpose, I know that it belongs to Him, and that’s plenty to be starting with.
 

Jacob Knepper - I am from Tecumseh, Michigan: born and raised in the southern part of the Lansing Diocese. My home parish is St. Elizabeth’s in the city of Tecumseh. My reason for entering the seminary was to see what God is calling me to. I have always wanted to work in the Church, but I have never known where, and the seminary and priesthood a couple years ago stuck out in a big way. Over the time I have had to think about and discern where God wants me to go, there has been a certain joy along with everything going on. Following God, in itself, is a journey and a joy, but many more Graces have come alongside the journey as well. I’m finding much more about myself than I knew, and I am incredibly blessed. My family has been a big support for me in my choice to discern and following God has also given me the greatest friends a guy could ask for. My family and friends have helped me immensely in following God’s call and with life in general. Thus far, there has been much excitement in following Christ and I am beyond excited to see what He has in store for me.

 
Lee Koenigsknecht - Hi, my name is Lee Koenigsknecht. I grew up in the small town of Fowler and my home parish was Most Holy Trinity. I joined the seminary for one reason, to discern the priesthood. I would have to say that I thought for sure I was called to go seminary when I was a freshman in High School. I have been inspired by many people; my parish priest, my uncle Fr. Bill and my twin brothers who are currently ordained as deacons. I am fortunate to have had such great men and Priests around me as I grew up. They have been great examples of the priesthood and what the priesthood really is. One of the happiest moments in my life was the one where Bishop Boyea said he would accept me as a seminarian. Now that I am here, I can barely describe the grace that God has given me. The peace that comes from following what God calls you to do is truly amazing. The opportunities for prayer at seminary are many and through them I am starting to see a greater happiness in my life. Even if I might wish some of those opportunities didn’t come so early in the morning, they are still a wonderful gift to have. Following God’s call to the seminary has been a great blessing.
 

 

Daniel Kudwa - I am from the city of Davison and am a member of Holy Redeemer Parish in Burton.  Growing up in my very Catholic family of nine children, I have been very blessed to have been given so many graces throughout my life.  The holy sacrifice of the Mass for one has been a very prominent in my life.  Attending St. Thomas More Academy in Burton, I was able to attend Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist every morning, and over the summer, my mom made sure my siblings and I continued to have that opportunity.  So basically, I have always considered the priesthood like any other career I might pursue.  With that being said, when it came down to deciding on where God was calling me to go to college, there was really only one “career” path with which I truly felt at peace with.  That path was pursuing the vocation of the priesthood.  So here I am trying to pursuing God’s call as best as I can.  If it so happens that I am meant to be a priest, praise be God, and if not, praise be God.  I am simply God’s servant striving to do His will in my life.

 
Peter Ludwig - My name is Peter Ludwig.  I am a freshman at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary.  I come from a strong Catholic, homeschool family with nine children.  I enjoy the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing, and I will play almost any sport.  I began my journey to seminary during the lent following my fifteenth birthday.  It was at this time that I really started trying to follow Christ Jesus and claim the Catholic Faith as my own.  I became very involved with my youth group, Christian Youth in Action, and I began praying more often.  Eventually, I told some of my good Catholic brothers that I was considering the priesthood.  They were extremely supportive and encouraging.  They supported me in attending different discernment retreats and the discernment group Jeremiah 1:7.  I started receiving the Sacraments more frequently and this increased contact with priests drew me into deeper investigation of their Vocation.  My entire family was supportive of my discernment and my parents frequently told me that I should follow God wherever he leads.  Through the guidance and help of God, my solid Catholic brothers, my family, and many great priests, I made the decision to attend the seminary this year.  I am already starting to experience the tremendous spiritual formation that goes on at seminary.  Even though it is sometimes hard, the fraternity, spiritual growth, and human formation that happen in the seminary are priceless.  I thank all those who made this experience possible.

 

John Machiorlatti - I was born in Grand Rapids Michigan son of Carol Machiorlatti (deceased) and Kenneth Machiorlatti and am one of seven children. I grew up attending St. Paul’s Parish in Grand Rapids Michigan. I have spent most of my adult years within the Lansing diocese attending St. Mary’s Student Parish Ann Arbor and St. John Student Center /St. Thomas Aquinas in East Lansing; which is my current parish. I am one of Lansing’s new Seminarians entering at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit Michigan this past August at the Lords persistent prodding over many years and his grace to quell my fears. There are many little trails and challenges when you say yes to the Lord that you will follow him wherever he may lead you but there are also great consolations, excitements and joys. One of the greatest for me is the gift He Himself gives, those moments of peace and contentment He gives, the kind only one who knows and loves me so intimately can provide. He is the longing and desire of my heart.
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Mark Martin II- For many years I was certain that I would become a doctor, it had been my dream since childhood.  However, near the end of high school, I converted to Catholicism, and this really changed things for me.  I started to notice a growing desire in my heart to become a priest, which just wouldn’t go away, in spite of how hard I tried to ignore it.  After some conversations with priests in my home parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Hillsdale, Michigan, I realized that the insistence of the calling God placed in my heart meant something.  I needed to start looking at the priesthood.  Now I find myself here at seminary, following the footsteps of countless other men who asked the same question I am: “Does God want me to be a priest?”

            One of the things that kept me from moving forward to seminary and drawing nearer to God was this image I had that following God meant surrendering real happiness.  I have found that this is a lie!  As I have drawn nearer to God and surrendered more and more to Him, God has filled me with much greater joy than I could have possibly imagined!  I now see the truth in those words that Jesus spoke: “I came so that you might have joy and have it in abundance.”  I still don’t know whether or not I will end up being a priest, but all that truly matters is being in pursuit of the Kingdom and I thank God for that gift.

 

Gabriel McGill - I was born Catholic and throughout my whole life I have been a practicing catholic but very minimally nothing really outside of attending mass every Sunday.  My parents would send me to catholic summer camps and I would have lots of fun and we would have daily mass, morning and evening prayer it was a great experience.  When I got home I would try and stick to the same prayer routine but the fervor to keep praying would soon pass.  I would fall back in to my old minimalistic practices when it came to my faith.  Fall of 2014 I started my freshman year of college.  By the time second semester came and I started to feel very lost and out of place.  I realized that I would never find true peace or happiness apart from God.  Then one day while I was in adoration I had an encounter with Christ I felt Him I felt his love and grace pour into my heart and I just felt that His love for me and that was the day I really started to change the way that I think.  After that I just knew God wanted me to change the direction of my life and I became much more interested in my faith that is when my desire to become a priest really started.  So when that happened I didn’t really know what to do with myself I just knew I wanted to preach the gospel and be close to Jesus so I started going to adoration daily and reading the bible and developing a good prayer life also going to confession on a weekly basis.  2 years later I applied to the seminary.

 

Alberto Nickerson -As I reflect on my time at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the words of Jeremiah take on new meaning for me: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). I grew up in Okemos Michigan, but my family and I go to Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral. Thoughts of the priesthood were not part of the plans I was making for my future during High School and College. I decided I wanted to go to graduate school and me a history professor at a University. In 2006, God revealed the plans he had for me. The loss of my grandmother in the summer of 2006 was a moment of personal loss which led me closer to God. I moved closer to my faith to help me make sense of, and deal, with the loss of a loved one. My decision to seek a more active relationship with God opened my heart to the plans God has for my life. The seminary is not only a place to discern your vocation; it is also a time to grow in your relationship with Christ.

 

 Deacon Anthony Smela - I am in my fourth year of Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.  My home parish is St. Mary Queen of Angels in Swartz Creek.  Prior to entering seminary, I spent three years studying at the University of Michigan in Flint, and I thought I had everything I wanted.  I had a great job, I was studying what I enjoyed (music and history), and I was the bassist for a rock band that played regular gigs.  I had everything I thought I wanted, but I still felt unfulfilled.  After careful prayer and thought I realized I had been running from a call to enter seminary for years, and I would not find peace again until I gave seminary a shot.  As soon as I arrived on campus, I no longer had that unfulfilled feeling in my gut.  For the first time in years, I felt like I was exactly where God wanted me.  I was still unsure about my call to the priesthood, but I knew I was meant to be in seminary.  Six years later, I am still in seminary, and I have not been happier in my life.  Little by little, God is showing me that I can experience joy, happiness, and fulfillment as His priest.  I cannot wait to see what God has in store for my life!

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John Vinton - I grew up in Brighton and Holy Spirit is my parish.  I went to Catholic School from Kindergarten all the way through twelfth grade. The Lord used my early years of Catholic education to prepare me to say yes to the priesthood.  From about second grade it was a real and exciting possibility.  The years between then and entering the seminary were marked by constant questions about the origin of the call to the priesthood; was it just my childish dream or was it truly from the Lord? I wavered back and forth.  High school was a whole different environment than anything I had ever known.  During this time I went through many doubts and tests of faith. I had to learn to trust firmly in the Lord.  But I strived to go to daily Mass as often as I could as I had been accustomed to doing in grade school. In between my junior and senior year, the Lord filled me with a newfound joy and a deep desire for priesthood and for communion with him. It was this joy that enabled me to apply, visit, and enter St. John Vianney Seminary.  Since then, my joy has grown and matured. I know now more than I did before of the trials that serving the Lord brings, but I am convinced of the abundant life that comes from them.  I am so thankful of the gifts of faith and trust that the Lord has given me to do his will. 
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