Last summer Father David Konderla, Priest of the Diocese of Austin and Pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Center in College Station, became Bishop David Konderla, Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa. I had the pleasure to attend the ordination and it proved to be a profound experience in my own discernment journey. While It’s impossible to say with total certainty, I’m reasonably sure that I wouldn’t be in seminary if it weren’t for now Bishop David (speaking of the past I’ll refer to “Fr David”). Lots of other people have written eloquently about his impact. I’ll add another story to the collection.
I arrived as a freshman at Texas A&M coming off a couple summer experiences that left me convinced I was supposed to be a priest. I have a historical tendency to make situations much more difficult than they need to be, so my conviction became a driving force. It wasn’t that God was calling me to discern, pray, and peacefully enter. Rather, God wanted me NOW (regardless of how much I hated the idea), and I needed to stop everything, talk to the man in charge, and get this train rolling.
In the first week or two of school I sent Fr David a dramatic email explaining my situation. He responded with a simple, “why don’t we meet up and talk about that?” When we eventually met up, he listened to my tumult, and gave what came to be a classic response, “You know Colby, I think you’re making this way too difficult. It doesn’t sound like you’re in a peaceful place right now, so why don’t you calm down, wait on this, and give God some time to act. If he wants you to be a priest, he’ll make it happen. There’s no need to rush.” He gave me some info about discernment events and invited me to just be a student for a little while.
“You’re in a good place to discern. This is a new call for you. Try to slow it down and see where it goes.”
I (reluctantly) took his advice to heart and gave myself the freedom to live a bit as a student. That initial meeting became somewhat prophetic, because for the next four years we had the exact same conversation multiple times. I’d come back from a retreat or semester break flustered, anxious and worried about discernment… ready to cut ties and run off into the wilderness. He’d calm me down, tell me it’s going to be ok, and advise that maybe I need to wait a bit longer. He recognized what I couldn’t at the time, that God likely was calling but I was not in a place to respond in a healthy way.
After persevering with me for years, explicitly encouraging me to date on two different occasions, enduring more bouts of anxious conviction, and ultimately saving me from impulsively running off to be a monk, his patient endurance paid off. Senior year I was significantly more at peace and able to able to enter seminary with some amount of belief that God was calling me for my own good. While that belief had to grow after entering (see more recent history), the guidance he offered was what I needed to get my foot in the door.
That’s a lot about me, but it also highlights how profoundly grateful I am for his priesthood.
It was his own love for the priesthood, commitment to prayer, relationship with a God who speaks in peace, and patient expectation in the Lord’s work that ultimately allowed him to guide a much more immature discerner (me) on the path to falling in love with the vocation he so dearly cared for himself.
At IPF last summer we spent a lot of time learning about and meditating on the identities of a diocesan priest, namely Beloved Son, Chaste Spouse, Spiritual Father, Divine Physician, and Head/Shepherd. During the summer, I was struggling with the identity of spiritual father. I’ve always been drawn to helping others draw into a deeper relationship with Christ, but as a new seminarian I was very uncomfortable with the attention I received from people and parishes simply for showing up. Consequently, I was also uncomfortable with the trust people put in a priest solely because of his title. I suppose it’s the millennial in me that would rather minister as a peer than a boss. I was afraid of losing my identity. A common refrain was “I want to be ‘Colby, a Seminarian,’ not ‘Colby the Seminarian’ or ‘Seminarian Colby’.”
Bishop David’s ordination was a turning point for me. While there, I was overcome with gratitude for the love and guidance he had given to me over the years. I didn’t go to him initially looking for a friend or peer. I didn’t care about his past life, what podcasts he listens to, or his competency at running a sound board; I wanted a man who could speak from experience and personal transformation about the way that God moves. His identity as priest was something I could trust in; I knew his job was to take me to Christ. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I really wanted was a spiritual Father. God bless him, Fr David was exactly that for me. Now, his own example is key for me embracing that key pillar of diocesan priesthood.
When I go back to visit College Station, Fr. David isn’t there anymore. Somewhere along the line, word of the humble, witty, calm, patient Shepherd and Father made its way up to Rome. That’s sad for me on a selfish level, but brings me so much joy for the greater Church. The people of Tulsa are a blessed bunch.
Beloved Son of God. Priest of Christ. Pastor of thousands. Father to hundreds. Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa.
I thank God every day for the man named David Konderla. Can you join me in saying a prayer for him and all our Bishops and Priests?
Note: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about holy priests that have become holy bishops (See Bishop Kelly). What a crazy life.
One of the minor sufferings of seminary life is that after 16 straight years of school, I’m now in the middle of 6 more years. I love learning and particularly enjoy the current topics of study, but that’s a long time to do anything. So, I like to remember that one of the major joys of still being a student is that I get student breaks. My friends are out working 8-5 and not spending their weekends cranking out 10 page papers, but I get the luxury of long Christmas and Summer vacations. I also get a full week of spring break, which is why I’m spending every afternoon at the library working on long-delayed projects. It’s a good chance to play catch up and finish off some unfinished blog thoughts.