Alumni Find Fulfillment in Their Ministerial Calling

We do believe we are more than a school,” says Saint Louis Priory School alumnus and Headmaster Father Cuthbert Elliott, O.S.B., ’02. “We are a place of discerning each person’s vocational path.”

His words align with Priory’s Mission—“to provide a Catholic, Benedictine, college preparatory education of the highest excellence so as to help talented and motivated young men develop their full potential as children of God.” They also amplify the understanding that Priory offers its students “preparation for an exceptional life.”

For many Priory graduates, an exceptional life includes marriage and family, and a fulfilling career in business, law, medicine, or some other professional field.

But for a smaller yet still significant number of Priory alums, an exceptional life is a life as a Catholic priest.

Over the years, four Priory graduates have persevered as Benedictine monks ordained to the sacred priesthood – with Abbot Gregory Mohrman, O.S.B., ’76, Father Cassian Koenemann, O.S.B., ’97, and Father Cuthbert Elliott, O.S.B., ’02 living within the monastic community at Saint Louis Abbey and Father Edward Mazuski, O.S.B., ’05 now at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island. Another Priory alumnus—Father Paul Rourke, S.J., ’90—is a member of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).

Two Priory alumni are priests of the Archdiocese of St. Louis—Father John Nickolai ’95 and Father Peter Fonseca ’07—and one more is a seminarian in discernment with the Archdiocese of St. Louis: Jack Nowak ’23.


Sophomore seminarian Joseph Inserra, an alumnus of Saint Louis University High School, Priory alumnus and freshman seminarian Jack Nowak ’23, and sophomore seminarian Joseph Corrigan, an alumnus of Chaminade.

Hearing the Call

Father Rourke serves as Vice President, Mission & Ministry at Fairfield University, a Jesuit university in Connecticut. He says that with three older brothers who went to Priory, his early positive connection with the school and with St. Anselm Parish from a very young age helped foster his desire to become a priest.

“When I went to high school, I think, like a lot of people, I put that out of my mind,” he says. “It wasn’t the cool thing to think about and talk about.”

He attended Georgetown University for his undergraduate studies, “and that’s where the Jesuit idea started to percolate,” he says.

Father Rourke entered the Society of Jesus in 2000. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2010 and took his final vows in 2021. Jesuits “identify as men who are sent,” he says, “to engage in missions that are for the good of the Church and the good of the world. I think that idea of being sent is something that really resonated with me.”

Father Nickolai, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in Fenton, likewise first acted on his vocational calling during his college years. “Priory gave me that foundation in faith,” he says. “It was perhaps something I didn’t appreciate when I was younger, but I was glad to have when I matured a little more.”

Father Fonseca agrees. He is Director of the Office of Continuing Formation of Priests in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and a PhD student and undergraduate instructor at the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University.

“I think [Priory] does prepare men to have that reflective attitude so that – if they are called to the priesthood or whatever they’re called to –they can begin to discern,” he says. “And then,” adds, “the monks’ insistence that Christ be at the center of everything helps focus decisions you’re going to make.”

Sacred Scripture

Could you cite a verse from Scripture that is especially meaningful to you?

Father Cuthbert Elliott '02

1 Corinthians 6:20

“For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”


Father Paul Rourke, S.J., ’90

Father John Nickolai ’95

John 1:14

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, … .”

Father Peter Fonseca ’07

John 8:32

“[T]he truth will set you free.”

Seminarian Jack Nowak ’23

Luke 12:49

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Abbot Gregory Mohrman, O.S.B., ’76

Philippians 3:10-11

“[T]o know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

The Influence of the Monks

“Having the monks on campus has been really great,” affirms Jack Nowak ’23, a recent Priory graduate who began as a college freshman at St. Louis’ Kenrick-Glennon Seminary last fall. (Jack’s mother, Jennifer Nowak, worked at Priory from 2018 through 2023, first in the school’s Advancement office and then as Director of Enrollment Management.)

“Because [Priory has] so many priests, we can have these beautiful Masses every Friday that helped draw me and several of my classmates—and I know tons of people at Priory—into deeper prayer,” he says.

Abbot Gregory’s experience as a student was akin to Nowak’s.

“All through my time at Priory, my admiration for the monks and my attraction to the monastic liturgy was always present there,” the abbot says, “and that was the driving force that led up to my discernment.”

Father Cuthbert – who converted to the Catholic faith at an all-school Mass near the end of his junior year after an impactful visit to England with a group of fellow students – recalls with fondness his monk-teachers.

“A key factor for me was interactions with the monks,” he remembers. “Even though they didn’t all form friendships with me as a student, they all gave witness to a purposeful life built around a community and service.”

It was in the Abbey Church and at Saint Louis Priory School “that I first awoke to the mystery of God and to the transcendent dimension of life,” recalls Father Rourke. “Once you have that sense that the world is much greater and deeper and opens to the infinity of God, that really changes your perspective on everything.”

“If you asked us on our first day of seventh grade at Priory what we were going to do, none of us probably would have said some sort of priesthood life,” says Father Fonseca. “There’s something about the way Priory forms young men that enables us to take that leap and hear that call when it comes.”

Abbot Gregory Mohrman, O.S.B., '76


When considering their vocation, “I think in some ways young people find the contemplative side, the monastic side, hard to get a handle on, because it is very mysterious,” says Abbot Gregory Mohrman, O.S.B., ’76.

One can learn about the steps involved in discerning whether he has a vocation to become a Benedictine monk by visiting the “Becoming a Monk” tab on Saint Louis Abbey’s website (

“At Saint Louis Abbey we believe each of us relies on grace to discern God’s call,” the website notes. “A personal prayer life and devotion are of course the best tools for deciding on and determining a monastic vocation. One must have an open heart and be willing to listen to the voice of the Lord in silence of his heart. After prayer and discernment, the natural step for those who feel the Lord may be calling them to the monastic life is to visit a monastery.”

The website continues: “Reading about monks, getting to know a monk, and even visiting a monastery are great ways to learn about the monastic life, but the best way to learn about it is to arrange with the Guest Master for a visit of a few days to live with us in our monastery. As a guest you will join the community and experience our monastic way of prayer, the silence of the early hours, the give and take of community life.”

Priory Headmaster Father Cuthbert Elliott, O.S.B., ’02 agrees that spending time within the monastery is imperative.

“The experience of the day is built around a monastic timeline where everything stops for God to be praised five times a day,” he says. “It’s a subtle thing, but when you live in a place … and have bells pealing regularly throughout the day, the whole sense of your week or your day is shaped around the worship of God.”

The Abbey’s website describes a candidate’s formal steps on his monastic journey. These begin with a postulancy, with a length that varies for each candidate. Next is a 12-month novitiate, after which the novice – having been given his monastic name by the abbot – may take vows as a Benedictine monk for a period of three years. “At the end of three years,” the website notes, “the abbot, with the consent of the chapter, may admit the junior monk to solemn profession, that is, final vows.”

“The monastic life and priesthood is about love – at the heart of it is love,” Abbot Gregory emphasizes.“ Those who enter the monastic life or the priesthood – if they do it well – live an amazing rich and fulfilling human life. It is humanly satisfying, which may be initially paradoxical because of the things that monks give up, but it actually is quite humanly satisfying.”



Advice for Students

What advice would you give to Priory students who are considering the vocation to which God is calling them?

“Engage wholeheartedly in the life of Priory—not just academics, not just sports, not just extracurriculars, but the entire package…. Don’t miss that opportunity to [reflect on] the experiences that Priory offers you … and to ask yourself, ‘How is God using these experiences to help me discern what’s next?’”

– Father Peter Fonseca ’07

“I think the important thing would be to listen, because God is going to be giving you nudges about what you should be doing with your life. It’s very easy to dismiss them, but they tend to be persistent. And once you’ve heard, you need to set aside some time to seriously think about it, pray about it, and, when you’re ready, talk to someone that you trust about it.”

– Father Cuthbert Elliott, O.S.B., ’02

“Take some concrete steps. You can’t figure this out in the abstract. A vocation really is a case of solvitur ambulando [‘it is solved by walking’]. Talk to some trusted person, a vocation director, a religious, or someone else whose judgment and discretion you respect.”

– Father John Nickolai ’95

“Be not afraid!... [A] person who feels that they may have a vocation or an attraction to a vocation sometimes can have the mistaken impression that everything has to be decided right up front. It’s important to take things slowly…. Pay attention to what’s going on in your heart…. Give it the space and the attention it deserves because, ultimately, if you don’t, you’re missing an opportunity to discover what your deepest joy will be.”

– Father Paul Rourke, S.J., ’90

Advice for Parents

What’s the role of Priory parents in terms of helping their sons consider how God is calling them?

“It’s really important to open the conversation [with your son], especially if you have some kind of inkling that maybe your son is thinking about it…. Accompany him as he talks to you…. Listen to those indications, and then create a space to talk and pray with [your] son about them.”

– Father Cuthbert Elliott, O.S.B., ’02

“Priory parents obviously want their children to be successful. But I think we want to make sure that success is defined in God’s plan for their life and the student’s understanding of that…. Give them the freedom to explore.”

– Father Peter Fonseca ’07

“God comes first…. Take them to Mass at least every Sunday. Pray together as a family. And make sure they know that your first priority for them, and your biggest desire for them, is that they fall in love with the Lord, and that everything falls [into place] after that.”

– Seminarian Jack Nowak ’23

“I constantly marvel at what a good job my parents did, what a prudent middle course they plotted. They were never pushy in one direction or another, but they were not indifferent either. They encouraged us to try things, to pursue whatever interested us, to investigate, to look for answers to questions we had.”

– Father John Nickolai ’95


“What is it that you most want for your child? Is it something that has to do with him, and who he is and what will make him happy and full as a human being? Or is it only something that you want—for whatever reason, but that doesn’t have to do with who your son is?... If what you really want is for your son to be fully alive and happy as a human being, and he says that this may be a possibility of what he feels called to, don’t you think that any good God also wants the same thing for your son and for all of us—to be fully alive as human beings, to be joyful and happy? If that’s the case, then shouldn’t you give this desire that is expressed by your son a serious hearing and say that it at least deserves attention and reflection …? … [I]f he never really gives this a serious consideration, he may be foreclosing the one chance he has to be fully alive and realized as a human being…. If people like your son are not going to step forward and answer this call, then who is?”

– Father Paul Rourke, S.J., '90