From a very young age (shortly before first grade) I kind of knew I wanted to be a priest and I continued that talk until high school. At that time it simply became a daily exercise not to be made fun of or to get beaten up for one reason or another. During high school I didn’t think very much at all about the priesthood, though I still went to church (mostly because Mom and Dad made me). After high school I enlisted in the army for 3.5 years. During this time I began to go to Church because I wanted to and I became more involved in the choir and other ministries. My final duty station was in Hawaii, and there I met a great priest, Fr. Lee Hightower who took me under his wing and really prepared me for the priesthood. He would tell me, not ask me, that I was going to be a priest. We even had a little game, where he would tell me I was going to be a priest, and I would respond with no I am not. He would call me late at night and say, ‘yes you are’, then hang up. I would call back and respond, ‘no I am not.’
While I was stationed in Hawaii, I learned the wonderful game of volleyball. I actually got so good that I was invited to try out for the all-army team. During the try-out and practice period I met a young woman and we started to date, eventually even getting engaged. On December 18th, 1993 she was killed in a car accident, shortly before we were to be married. I took this opportunity to rebel against God and religion.
Basically, I was at the Ohio State University playing volleyball, and I needed an excuse to ‘hate God’ so that what I was doing, and how I was living my life wouldn’t feel so wrong. I was sexually active, addicted to pornography, an alcoholic and a terrible person. My last three years of college and the first year out of college I was playing pro-beach volleyball and spending my summers living in California. My life style continued to digress into complete self-satisfaction at all cost. But God was not done with me yet. In my first year of teaching special education (severe behavior handicaps/emotional disorders) a student brought a gun to school, and threatened to kill me, even taking the gun and pointing it at my head. This opened my eyes to the fact that because of my life style, if this boy pulls the trigger, I am going to hell. After that I started going to Church again and praying all the time. I met a couple of great families that took me in and prayed with me every night, and I mean every night for several hours at a time. Then on Divine Mercy Sunday of 1997, I went to confession for the first time in over a decade (13 years). I was absolved from my sins and I never felt better in my life, until May 31st of that same year when I said yes to God’s invitation to be a fisher of men, at a summer conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The following year I entered the seminary and was ordained a priest on May 22nd of 2004.
Fr. Bowman is now the pastor of St. Patrick in Troy and Transfiguration in West Milton.
I was blessed to grow up in a strong Catholic family, but I never gave much serious consideration to the priesthood until I was in college. While I was at the University of Notre Dame studying Computer Science, I spent a summer working with the poor at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels with the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago. I was particularly struck by the joy and fullness of life the sisters had there. Their witness to a radically attractive way of living out the Gospel made me more willing to consider the priesthood or religious life.
A seminarian I spent the summer with at the mission gave me a book called The Soul of the Apostolate. It felt like God was speaking to me directly through this book, and I began to follow its advice and developed a habit of daily mental prayer, listening to Christ and reading the Scriptures. Even just fifteen minutes of prayer like this at the start of the day transformed my personal relationship with Christ and my entire life, and I found myself more joyful than ever before, hungry to learn more about the Catholic faith and live it more authentically. However, I remained hesitant and uncertain about vocational discernment.
After I graduated college, I began working as a web developer in Columbus. Just a few months out of college, I began to feel some unrest and I realized that I needed to discern my vocation more intentionally. Conversations with my spiritual director, lots of prayer, reading, and talking with trusted family and friends eventually led me to realize some important things. My vocation is not something I can figure out on my own. It is truly a call from God and has a mysterious quality to it. My job was simply to trust in His providence and take the next best step. Seminary is not only for those who feel 100% certain of their vocation, but is often a place for further discernment.
One day, while in adoration, I came upon a prayer card. Upon closer inspection, I was shocked by the first words: “Father, we pray for Daniel whom you have called to discern the diocesan priesthood.” That was my name! To most people, this might seem like a pretty clear sign, but it still took me some time to make the decision to apply to seminary. God has been wonderfully patient with me. I am still discerning God’s call, but I know that this time in formation will not be wasted. During my years in seminary, He has given me peace, joy, and amazing brothers to walk this path with.
Over the course of my life I have heard many vocation stories. Usually, those stories contain some deep spiritual moment or “firework” conversion – a moment in which a man hears the voice of God with enough clarity that he knows what God wants him to do with his life. The lives of the saints are often like that. God speaks from heaven and calls certain ones to serve Him in some miraculous and special way. My own story, however, is very different.
I grew up on a family farm just outside the small town of Russia, OH, and my home life was not much different than others. My family was ardently a part of St. Remy Church, where I enjoyed serving Holy Mass and did so quite frequently – sometimes on a weekly basis. I attended a K-12 public school, played a few sports, and begrudgingly took part in the youth group. At the same time, I was very much inspired by the humble example of my childhood pastor. There was something very attractive about the way he lived his life and I was intrigued by it. Seeing him, the thought of being a priest had entered my mind on occasion – and I was open to entertaining the idea – but how could I? I had never received a call from God.
In my last couple years of high school those occasional thoughts did not disappear, and I wrestled with the idea of what to do after graduation. I knew that I had to make some sort of decision of what to do. I had visited a few college campuses, but to be honest, I was really only fooling myself. Eventually I had enough guts to admit to myself that my decision of what to do after graduation had to come down to this: I knew that I would never know for certain whether God was calling to be a priest if I did not go to seminary and at least try it out – and I did not want to be always looking back for the rest of my life wondering what might have been.
So I entered college seminary in the Fall of 2013, and I could not have been more thankful or happy. For in seminary for the first time I really began to feel the call of my vocation. Seminary was the place where my vocation became alive because finally there was a peace in the depths of my soul. To be sure, there were still no “love at first sight” or “firework” moments. There was no miraculous intervention where God opened the heavens and called down to me. No, my vocation did not involve some definitive moment where I knew for certain of what God wanted me to do – never to look back. Instead my vocation was a gradual progression. And seminary gave me the tools to see this. It showed me how to open myself up to hearing the quiet whispers of the voice of God amidst the storms that had threatened the peace I desperately was searching for.
Growing up, I always thought that a priestly call would be very clear. I thought that there would be some moment when I would definitively know whether I had a vocation or not before I entered seminary. But this was not the case. God does not call us in the manner and time that we expect. He never gives us the answer to our questions, instead God provides “hints” along the way – small moments from time to time where we realize that there is something more to life and more to who we are. And this ultimately is what I realized in college seminary. The smallest thoughts of a priestly vocation that I had throughout high school was itself God’s way of calling me. God knew exactly how many hints I needed, and when I needed them, for me to take notice and follow Him. Often we think that we could maybe see ourselves being a priest, but we rationalize that God would explicitly tell us if this were the case. Certainly, God calls some to follow Him by using those “firework moments,” and certainly we all aspire to have such a call. But what if those few thoughts of seeing ourselves as a priest which come our way slowly and overtime is God’s quiet way of inviting us to just try it out? Maybe it’s not enough for us to know if we are called to be a priest or not, but is it enough to just get us to the next step of seminary?
“As for me, I grew up in a world very different from the world today, but in the end situations are similar. On the one hand, the situation of “Christianity” still existed, where it was normal to go to church and to accept the faith as the revelation of God, and to try to live in accordance with his revelation; on the other, there was the Nazi regime which loudly stated: “In the new Germany there will be no more priests, there will be no more consecrated life, we do not need these people; look for another career.” However, it was precisely in hearing these “loud” voices, in facing the brutality of that system with an inhuman face, that I realized that there was instead a great need for priests. This contrast, the sight of that anti-human culture, confirmed my conviction that the Lord, the Gospel and the faith were pointing out the right path, and that we were bound to commit ourselves to ensuring that this path survives. In this situation, my vocation to the priesthood grew with me, almost naturally, wi thout any dramatic events of conversion.”
– Benedict XVI, Apr 6, 2006