George Nursey was at Mass one evening at St. James Cathedral when – after more than 10 years away from the Catholic faith – he was overcome with the feeling of being home. He calls this experience a “reversion” or return to his faith.
“I had a reversion experience,” said Nursey, who was about 28 years old at the time. “Pretty soon after that, I started thinking that maybe I would like to be a priest one day.”
Now, at age 52, Nursey is one step closer to priesthood. He was one of three seminarians from the Diocese of Orlando – along with Dominic Buckley and Benjamin Lenhertz– who were ordained as transitional deacons April 21 at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.
Each is now able to preach, perform baptisms and matrimonial ceremonies, and preside over wakes and funerals. In becoming transitional deacons, they took the promises of obedience, celibacy and a life of prayer. They will continue their studies, and next year will be ordained priests.
The 10th of 11 children, Nursey attended St. James Cathedral Catholic School, and was an altar server and received his confirmation at St. James Cathedral. However, after grade school, he said he wasn’t involved in his faith for nearly 15 years.
After his reversion experience, he began attending St. Isaac Jogues Parish, and volunteered in a number of ministries. He began discerning a vocation, and not long after, started attending Rollins College in Winter Park to pursue his bachelor’s degree. For a while, his thoughts of priesthood faded.
While applying for graduate schools, he was invited to apply to Harvard’s Divinity School in Boston. He received his master’s in theological studies from Harvard, and furthered his education by attending Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he earned his doctorate degree in divinity. It was there that he had a “deep, deep feeling that I had to be priest,” he said.
After a year of living at a Benedictine monastery in Washington and finishing his dissertation, he returned to Florida to join the seminary.
“The first day I set foot on the ground at the seminary, I felt I had finally come to where I was supposed to be,” said Nursey, who in previous occupations has worked in construction and as a truck driver.
Buckley said he was interested in the Mass and praying to God at an early age, and first remembers thinking about the priesthood when he was 8 years old. Born in Cincinnati, Buckley and his family eventually settled in Orlando after several moves, and registered at St. Andrew Parish.
“With all of those moves, there was great pain, but the one thing that stayed the same was that we always went to Mass,” Buckley said. “That was the home I began to know. My faith and God were always going to be there for me in life, no matter what goes on. That really deepened my faith in God, each of those moves.”
Buckley attended Bishop Moore Catholic High School, and told friends his junior year he realized he may be called to the priesthood.
“Their reaction was very positive,” Buckley said. “They thought I’d be great at it.”
He began his studies at the University of Miami, and declared mechanical engineering as his major. After two years, he realized a different calling – priesthood. He joined the seminary after his sophomore year.
“I didn’t really see myself as an engineer,” said Buckley, who turned 27 on April 23. “That’s when I turned to the Lord. I started praying to God in a different way than I ever had before, and God really started answering my prayers and questions.”
Lehnertz, also 27 years old, was active in youth group at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Indialantic while he was in high school, and said he fell in love with the Eucharist and considered a call to ministry. He was accepted to Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., to play baseball, but in his first semester, he said he felt called to do something else.
“Just before I left, I had this gut feeling that this wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, but knew if I didn’t go, I’d regret it forever,” he continued.
He had the opportunity to travel to Australia where he spent time in prayer discerning the call.
“The biggest difficulty I had was that I was very much in love with my girlfriend of over a year. We were talking about getting married someday,” Lehnertz, 27, shared. “I was pulled in different directions and knew both of them were coming from the Lord.”
He trusted in God and gave seminary life a chance and discovered that God is indeed calling him to priesthood.
“I told the Lord, ‘I’ll give you one year. I will go for a year and if something hasn’t changed, if I’m not more clear, then I’m going to go back and find my girlfriend and hopefully she’ll be there.’ In that year, I had one of the most incredible encounters with the Lord. Seminary life really fit and I thought, I’ll stay until graduation. I’m willing to say let’s keep walking — this is what I want to give my whole life to.”
Lenhertz believes prayer is essential to discerning God’s call and believes that God is the one leading him down this path.