Des Moines Diocese seminarian John Wesley Lawrence died in his sleep the night of August 31, 2015. Lawrence, 30, was studying at St. Paul Seminary-School of Divinity in St. Paul for and was expected to be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Des Moines in June 2018.
The son of the late C.W. and Denise Lawrence, he was raised on a farm near Monticello in eastern Iowa with his younger brother, Michael. He graduated from Monticello High School in 2004 and earned an accounting management degree from Iowa State University in 2009. He was employed by McGladrey in downtown Des Moines as an accountant and was a parishioner at St. Boniface Parish in Waukee before joining the seminary in January 2013.
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John Lawrence's call story, in his own words:
The idea to enter the priesthood started when I was attending religious education classes at Immaculate Conception Church in Castle Grove, Iowa. One year a friend's grandparents took over teaching the weekly classes. There was one unit in particular over vocations. I was mature enough to understand the incredible commitment it would take to be a priest. I quickly dismissed the idea because I wanted to have a marriage and children. Sister Damien, who helped maintain the church and looked on students during class, told my mother that she thought I would make a good priest. I was a little shocked after hearing that because I wasn't sure what Sister saw in me. For some reason though I have always remembered what she said.
I had the opportunity to counsel at Catholic Youth Camp in 2011 and for a second summer in 2012. I had a lot of fun working with great staff and interacting with the campers. I enjoyed going to the daily Masses and the opportunity to "get away" from the outside world for a week. I also did quite a bit of praying and one night I prayed to God to help me find a different job. The next morning I woke feeling tired, sore, and my summer allergies were starting to affect me. Later at Mass I listened to Father Pin's homily about vocations of marriage and priesthood. After Father Pins told his vocation story, I felt his story was similar to my own life. I learned that prior to entering the seminary he worked at a public accounting firm as a CPA like me. The feeling of being tired and sore went away, and it became clear that I had not completely discerned my vocation as I had acted on more of what I wanted to do. I thought about a vocation in the priesthood the rest of the Mass. There were a lot of emotions running through me at this time and I wasn't quite sure what to think of it.
I decided to talk with Vocations Director Father Pins after the Mass to see if he had anything that might help me. He gave me a couple of books and left me with the lasting words of "be not afraid." I was actually a little afraid at the thought of being a priest, but after reading the books and looking at some articles on the internet about vocations I felt much better. I started attending Mass daily and to pray quite a bit more. I began to believe that entering the seminary was the next step for me in my discernment. I met with Father Pins a few times and asked if it would be possible to enter the seminary during the spring term. He said that it was possible and I started the application process. Even with my busy fall schedule, I was able to finish everything and enter the seminary for the spring term. At times I am a little afraid, but I am more open to my call and I have faith that God will help me though my discernment.
Like Lawrence, Vocations Director Father Joe Pins had been an accountant when he decided to discern a vocation to the priesthood. "My heart goes out to the Lawrence family and to the seminary community at St. Paul," said Father Pins. "We saw Christ when we saw John. He was a steady and calm presence. May the Lord's perpetual light shine upon him."
Bishop Richard Pates, Bishop of Des Moines and a former Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis said, "We extend our heartfelt condolences and assurance of prayers to John's mother Denise and his brother Michael. For the diocesan seminary community it is also heartrending. For the last three-and-a-half years, John has been an anchor to that group. He was steady, good natured, balanced and extraordinarily generous. He was a man of prayer and deep faith. We will greatly miss him but will be motivated by his spirit and example in the days ahead."