Newly ordained priests from Dickinson begin life of serviceTwo classmates at Trinity High School couldn’t have imagined eight years ago, they would be ordained as priests in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Two classmates at Trinity High School couldn’t have imagined eight years ago, they would be ordained as priests in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck.
Rev. Jadyn Nelson and Rev. Kregg Hochhalter received the Sacrament of Holy Orders on May 31.
“I’d described the day as a fulfillment of many years of preparation,” Nelson said. “It was the realization of God’s will in my life, bringing me to that point.”
A graduate of the THS class of 2003, his interests were athletics, especially basketball and football. While pursuing a degree in pharmacy at North Dakota State University, he considered the priesthood.
“I began to pray more intensely — it was a deeper encounter with the Lord and the prayers of the church that led me to think about the possibility of what He wanted me to do with my life,” Nelson said. “I spent many, many hours of prayer at the cathedral in Fargo, late at night. It was the arena for the Lord to begin showing me His will for my life.”
The seeds of faith were planted by Nelson’s parents, Ryan and Marlo Nelson.
“My father and mother have provided an extraordinary amount of support throughout all the years I’ve been in seminary,” he said.
Marlo Nelson wasn’t totally surprised when her son expressed an interest in becoming a priest.
“He’d talked about it off and on,” she said. “He had plans for pharmacy, and waited until he was a sophomore in college.”
The Nelsons supported his decision to enter the seminary, saying he would never regret the time spent in formation, no matter the outcome.
Nelson completed a degree in philosophy at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo. After graduation, he studied four years at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
“Rome is called the Eternal City for good reason,” Nelson said. “In Rome we have a wonderful opportunity to encounter the depth of history of the church, the character and virtue of all the saints who are buried there and the universality of the church. In the school I attended, we had students from Pakistan, India and Mexico — all over the world who came to study near the Holy Father. It gave me a greater perspective of the nature of the church is all about — that it is beyond the borders of North Dakota.”
Nelson was ordained a deacon Oct. 6, in St. Peter’s Basilica with his family in attendance.
With ordination, Nelson was assigned as a chaplain to Bishop Ryan High School and as associate pastor at St. Leo’s Church, Minot.
“I’m extremely excited to get into the high school,” Nelson said. “I’ve come to love and respect Catholic education at a level I never did in high school, and my hope is to improve the lives of the students.”
A priest for less than a month, Nelson said, “It’s a gift beyond my imagining — I’ve come to realize the Lord’s calling me is far beyond my own capacities.”
Marlo Nelson described Dickinson as a hotbed for vocations, crediting the prayers of the parishioners. At St. Patrick’s Church, prayers are said for vocations on the first Friday of the month during Eucharistic adoration.
“Without our priests, we wouldn’t have the Eucharist or the sacraments,” she said.
Looking back on the day of ordination, Marlo Nelson said, “I could feel the Blessed mother wrapping her arms around us — we have two new priests for the Diocese of Bismarck! Everyone was jubilant.”
Rev. Kregg Hochhalter
Hochhalter grew up in a home of faith, the son of Glenn and Renee Hochhalter. He served as an altar boy and attended 13 years of Catholic education. He considered the priesthood briefly while in high school, but he had other plans.
An athlete at THS, he received a track scholarship at Dickinson State University. His goal was to become a medical doctor in exercise science, working with professional athletes.
Spending two years at DSU, he said, “I realized I needed to give the Lord a bigger part of my life.”
He credits his parents for the gift of faith.
“They raised me in a home in which natural virtue could flourish,” he said. “We prayed together, they sacrificed to send us to Catholic schools and supported us in whatever we did.”
Announcing his decision to enter seminary, he said, “They were surprised, but not shocked. I was in a relationship at the time, so it was not like anything was revealed to them that I was thinking of seminary until I walked into the living room one night. They said I needed to give it a shot.”
Learning of his intentions to pursue the priesthood, Renee Hochhalter said, “It was probably his actions the six months to a year before he announced. We were pleased, very pleased.”
Hochhalter enrolled at St. John Vianney College Seminary on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
His life changed after the first semester. He credits the transformation to the Eucharist, the sacrament of confession and being surrounded by seminarians who wanted the same thing.
“It was to please our Lord and God — that made all the difference when you are 19 years old,” he said.
With an undergraduate degree in philosophy, he enrolled at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of the Diocese of Bismarck,” he said. “Every time I’d visit home, the Lord deepened my desire to bring the church to the people of western North Dakota.”
Hochhalter was ordained a deacon on June 24, 2011, at Queen of Peace Parish. A year later, he became a priest.
“The day was incredible and I’d relive any moment I could — to see the church visible in the cathedral is a sight nearly unmatched,” he said. “All my family and friends from all over the country were there.”
Hochhalter was appointed as chaplain for Trinity High School and parochial vicar at St. Wenceslaus parish.
Pleased at the opportunity to serve in Dickinson, Hochhalter said, “At the end of the day, it’s what the Lord wants me to do — that’s where my happiness is found.”
Hochhalter will spend a majority of time at the high school, where he teaches theology and brings the sacramental life to the students.
“My greatest joy as a priest is offering the Holy Mass,” he said.
His first Mass was June 1 at Queen of Peace, with a Eucharistic procession from Queen of Peace to St. Patrick’s.
“Two hundred-plus people processed 45 minutes, bringing the Eucharist through the streets of Dickinson,” he said.
Hochhalter described Dickinson as a people of faith.
“They are hungry to live the gospel, but they need helping do it,” he said.
Renee Hochhalter credits their family life of prayer and support of the Queen of Peace parish for fostering the vocation.
“He had many, many prayers of support,” she said.
She described the day of ordination as very emotional.
“It was such a powerful, spiritual experience filled with joy,” she said.
Hochhalter and Nelson are preparing to return to Rome, with a pilgrimage of 80-plus students from the four Catholic high schools in North Dakota, six priests and nearly 20 chaperones. They depart on Wednesday.