It started with a desire in second grade to become the Pope so he could be “better than the president.” But God was actually stirring something deeper in those days when soon-to-be ordained seminarian Deacon Nathan Hansen — currently at The Saint Paul Seminary and a graduate of Saint John Vianney College Seminary — was a child.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Dassel, Minnesota. Right on Highway 12. So it’s an hour west of the cities, about. And an hour north of New Ulm.
Q: What’s the population?
A: The population, I think, is a whopping 1,400 people right now.
Q: What are the gifts you received growing up in a small town in southern Minnesota?
A: I think one of the gifts I received from being in a small town in Minnesota is an ability to appreciate each other, and just with the simple thing of knowing each other’s names. Like in the parish, we knew all the families and all the names of their children, you knew their parents and their grandparents.
Just that gift of being able to know each other on a first-name basis, that’s really valuable, and you can go on and say, “Oh hey, I saw your parents.” But also at times, that’s a blessing and a curse. On the good days, it’s a real blessing, and on the bad days, it’s a real curse. And teachers can also call you by your older sibling’s names.
Q: Can you just tell us where you are in the seminary process right now?
A: I’m at the very end of the seminary process. Who I am is a deacon right now. It’s part of my identity, being transformed that way through ordination last June by Bishop John LeVoir (of the Diocese of New Ulm), my former bishop. Now I’ve been in the seminary for seven years now, and when this is all done it’ll be eight years total.
Q: You took a gap year after high school before entering minor seminary at SJV. What was that experience like?
I took a gap year after high school, I didn’t enter right after high school, but I took a little year off to discern and really figure out if this is what I want to do, if it’s what God wanted me to do. Mostly because I was scared that if you go to the seminary, you’re forced to be a priest. I learned after that year of taking a gap that no, people leave the seminary and that’s normal. I was like, well I can go then.
Q: Roughly how far out are you from being ordained?
A: Yeah, God willing I’ll be ordained a priest on May 28th at 10:00 a.m. in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. So that’s about a little over 90 days away now.
Q: When you look ahead to becoming a priest, what’s the thing that gets you most excited or grateful?
The thing that gets me most excited is encountering the people, really meeting them where they’re at and helping them grow close to the Lord and see the Lord work in their own lives, how much the Lord loves them and delights in them.
It’s kind of a strange one, but I also desire to be a good administrator, to really walk with that parish staff in an intentional way, because those are the people I’ll encounter on a day-to-day basis. To really help them love the Lord and just also love them and continue to help them flourish and grow as human beings. So they can do their jobs well and really glorify God. But I also really look forward to celebrating the Mass and hearing confessions, of course, those privileged places a priest gets to be.
Q: Has the experience of seminary flown by?
A: In minor seminary, they always talk about how it’ll fly by when you look back as a deacon. When they always said that I was like, “Yeah, okay, it’s not flying by right now.” And now that I’m a deacon it’s amazing to look back and see what the Lord has done, and how the time really has gone quickly.
Q: What are you most grateful for? Where have you grown the most?
A: What I’m most grateful for is the solid priests we have here at the seminary. They’re very good about being understanding, meeting a guy where they’re at and helping them grow. For myself, they really helped me grow in confidence and being able to articulate what my thoughts and desires are. When I came in, it was very hard to articulate what was going on in my heart. But they were very patient with me many times, and when I get a little upset, Father Michael Monshau’s always good about listening and then calming me down a little. “Nathan, it’s not really a big deal.”
Helping see the bigger picture of what’s going on. Being a priest isn’t just academics, it isn’t just being able to do written work very well. But it’s about more of encountering the people and walking with them and accompanying them along the way. You need the book smarts to give them food to eat, giving the knowledge and the truth. But then you also need to be able to be calm and compassionate and patient, to be able to give them that, because if you just throw truth at them they’re never going to listen to you.
Q: What does the future of the Church look like given your experience here at the seminary?
A: So looking at the Church’s future in general, I would say it’s very difficult because the whole culture is not doing well right now and that’s affecting the Church. You can’t deny that, that there are very polarizing ideological issues that are dividing the people of the Church and they no longer have a sense of unity. They’ve lost that sense of a community founded in Jesus Christ, now it’s more of a community of whatever community I want it to be, where Jesus isn’t the center of the life of a parish at times, isn’t the center of the church. We don’t talk that way. We don’t have that commitment to the creed and we don’t see the faith as a central thing in our life.
As a broader culture, just the idea of God grounding us in reality and truth is viewed as an outdated thing of, I don’t know what you call it, a myth or something, it’s more along those lines. Particularly you see that in movies that depict good and bad, good and evil. The good is barely able to overcome the evil. There’s no grounding in the truth of no, Jesus Christ overcame evil, God and evil are not equals, God has complete power over the evil. There’s nothing to fear, we have complete faith that we will be saved if we have faith in Jesus Christ, keep His commandments and love Him and walk with Him. And that He wants us to love us and walk with us.
This is not some struggle that is barely surmountable, but it’s a struggle that’s easy when we’re with His yoke, we’re with His will. But then I like how you put it, being here in the summer from that perspective, looking at my classmates gives me a lot of hope just how grounded in the truth they are, how much zeal they have to go proclaim the truth, and to really love the Lord. They’re really men of prayer first, they have their priorities straight in life that way that they’re not so concerned about the external results, but they’re more concerned with the interior. How do you help man grow and be grounded in the truth, be grounded in Jesus?
So when you look at that perspective there’s a lot of hope because the Lord is doing good things in His time. I really believe He’s made each and every one of us for this time to send us out to particular parishes to particular people. To really transform our parish and transform the people in our small circle, and then really go out and that’ll transform the broader community of the parish, then that’ll transform the diocese, and that will transform the city and that’ll transform the state and God willing transform the world. But yeah, looking at Jesus first, there is that hope.
But if we look at just the world first, there’s no reason to hope just in the world. But what the Lord has done, what the Lord is doing, gives me a lot of hope. I think the seminary’s really prepared us well for that in many ways of not looking at external successes or results but really looking at the interior, what’s a man grounded in, what does he believe in? What’s his first love?