June 1, 2007

‘I believe in miracles’: Life lessons inspire Deacon Nagel on path to priesthood

Deacon Eric Nagel incenses the priests during the chrism Mass on April 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. He believes his family’s support and several miracles led him to say “Yes” to God’s call to the priesthood. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon Eric Nagel incenses the priests during the chrism Mass on April 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. He believes his family’s support and several miracles led him to say “Yes” to God’s call to the priesthood. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

(Editor’s note: This is the third and final profile in a series on the three transitional deacons who will be ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein at 10 a.m. on June 2 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.)

By Mary Ann Wyand

Miraculously, Deacon Eric “Rick” Nagel recalled, he survived two serious car accidents—with only minor scratches—as a young adult, which helped inspire him to say ‘Yes’ to God’s call to the priesthood.

During the second accident, caused by

a reckless driver on Interstate 70 in Indianapolis nine years ago, Nagel prayed for God’s protection as his Jeep rolled four times down a steep embankment. He felt “a sense of being held in and embraced” in his seat as the mangled Jeep rolled to a stop.

Dazed but amazingly unhurt, he climbed out of the wreckage and walked about 15 yards then experienced yet another

miracle when he glanced down at the ground and found his Grandmother Nagel’s rosary beads—which he always kept in his car—lying in the tall grass.

Her rosary beads are a treasured keepsake and symbol of the strong faith in God that he learned as a child growing up on his German family’s 350-acre grain and livestock farm near Rensselaer, Ind.

He picked up her rosary beads and put them in his pocket then stood there feeling disoriented as people came to help him.

A police officer hurried down the embankment to see if he was hurt then surveyed the wreckage of his Jeep and a small cargo trailer hitched to it.

“I’ve never seen somebody walk away from something like that alive, much less without a scratch,” the officer said. “God must have something special planned for you, and you’d better start listening.”

That night, Nagel promised God that he would go back to Mass, pray every day and discern God’s will for a year.

“I believe in miracles,” he said. “I believed that there was something that I was supposed to do. I didn’t know exactly what that was then. But through prayer, Mass and adoration in the year to come, I was reminded of the times a young priest and my Dad asked me if I ever thought about the priesthood and of Pope John Paul II saying ‘Be not afraid. Come follow Christ.’ That was the beginning of my

decision to enter the formation process.”

Now 42, Deacon Eric Paul Nagel will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein at 10 a.m. on June 2 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Deacons Thomas Kovatch and Randall Summers are members of his ordination class.

The new Father Nagel will preside at his first Mass of Thanksgiving at 10 a.m. on June 3 at Holy Trinity Church in Edinburgh. He will also celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving in the Lafayette Diocese at 10 a.m. on June 10 at St. Augustine Church in Rensselaer, where he was baptized, and at 8 a.m. on June 24 at Sacred Heart Church in Remington, Ind., where he was confirmed.

His first ministry assignments are as associate pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood and associate vocations director for the archdiocese on a part-time basis.

“I’m looking forward to my assignments,” Deacon Nagel said. “The people of God are so amazing, and I can’t wait to learn from them.”

His June 2 ordination is a reminder of the parish retreat in high school when a young priest asked him if he had thought about the priesthood. That question stayed with him after he graduated from Rensselaer Central High School in 1983, served a year as state president of Future Farmers of America then earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., in 1988.

He worked as a high school teacher, in youth leadership development then as an FFA administrator before beginning his

seminary studies at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad in 2002.

He was ordained a transitional deacon by Archbishop Buechlein on Oct. 28, 2006, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church.

Deacon Nagel describes himself as “a farm kid at heart” who loved to play outside and raised hogs to pay for college.

He credits his family, his devotion to Jesus and Mary, and his admiration for the late Pope John Paul II for his vocation.

“Our Lady has been so important in my vocation, my calling and my faith formation over the years,” he said. “That started when I was a kid. It’s a great blessing for families to pray together.

“The first memory I have of my Grandmother Nagel is her teaching me to pray the rosary,” he said. “I remember sitting on her lap. My Mom’s mother, Grandma Kerber, also prayed the rosary regularly as did my parents. I remember as a young man being involved with the Knights of Columbus. My father was active in the Knights and—being invited to come to their meetings and eventually becoming a member—I was always moved by the prayer of the rosary that the Knights would pray together as men.

“From learning it from my grandmother to seeing that beautiful prayer witnessed by men brought it full circle to me that Our Lady guides us and brings us to her Son,” he said. “All my life I’ve had that beautiful relationship with Mary.

“When my Grandmother Nagel passed away, they said she had her rosary beads in her hand,” he recalled. “At the funeral, my father gave me her rosary beads, and that was one of the most special gifts anyone could ever give me short of the faith that came with it. That devotion has carried me through so many tough times.”

As a young adult, he wasn’t always faithful to regular prayer and Mass, but always carried her rosary beads in his car.

“When I was frustrated or sometimes in times of joy, I would pick up the rosary and pray it while I was driving so that was always the thread for me,” he said. “I think Mary watched after me through the good times and the bad, and eventually helped me to come back full circle [to his faith].”

His father, Gerald, who died in 1997, also talked with him about the priesthood.

“I was shocked and said, ‘Dad, I’m not even going to Mass regularly,’ ” he recalled. “His response was ‘God has certainly worked greater miracles than that.’ … My parents trusted that the seed was planted and God would do the rest.

“God is so faithful,” he said. “He never lets you down. He’s so persistent, and he was being patient with me all this time.

“My Mom has always been a model of steadfast faith and a prayer warrior for our family and countless others,” he said. “She is … the glue for our family all being together and practicing the Catholic faith.”

St. Augustine parishioner Rita Ann Nagel of Rensselaer is thrilled that God has called one of her sons to the priesthood. She said her late husband would be so happy that one of their nine children said yes to God.

“It’s very overwhelming and very

humbling to think that God has chosen one of our children to serve him,” she said. “You think, ‘How did this happen to our family?’ I guess God chooses those he wants.”

Her husband was a wonderful father and Christian role model, she said. “He and Rick were very, very close. Rick is feeling his absence physically, but he says, ‘Mom, I feel Dad with me through all this.’ ”

She said the loss of his father and surviving two car accidents “deepened his convictions that he wanted to be a priest and that God was calling him.”

During his seminary years, she said, ministry immersion trips to Haiti and Guatemala as well as pilgrimages to the Marian shrine in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, and to international World Youth Days with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI strengthened his faith and his desire to serve the people of God.

“I think he was very, very touched with World Youth Day and Pope John Paul’s message,” she said, “and I think Medjugorje was a wonderful experience for him. One of the young men that he met there—and helped carry to the top of the mountain—is coming to the ordination from the United Kingdom. It’s amazing to me that the man would come all this way.”

Holy Trinity parishioners in Edinburgh, her son’s parish, are hosting Francis McDermott, who relies on a wheelchair.

All the members of the large Nagel family will attend the ordination Mass, she said, except for a grandson who is serving in Iraq and will be remembered in prayer by relatives during the liturgy.

Father James Bonke, defender of the bond for the archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal and part-time associate pastor of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, has served as one of his priest mentors.

“Rick is genuine, he has integrity, he loves people and he’s truly looking forward to being a priest,” Father Bonke said. “He loves the Church, he loves the priesthood and he has a deep spirituality. Rick has been in my prayers often throughout these past four years. … I’m looking forward to him joining the presbyterate of the archdiocese.”

Longtime friend John Demerly, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, said “one of Rick’s greatest gifts is his ability to quickly connect with anyone, including the elderly, the middle-aged and young children, guiding them and helping them. He’s a spiritual guy, … an example of Christ. I think as a priest he’s going to make sure he plants the seeds of vocations in young people.”

(A profile of Deacon Thomas Kovatch was published in the May 25 issue of The Criterion. A profile of Deacon Randall Summers appeared in the May 18 issue.) †


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