Great Books and Holy Orders
“I believe that Our Lord, in His wisdom and mercy, had been calling me to follow Him more closely from a young age,” reflects Rev. Nathaniel Drogin, O. Praem. (Peter Drogin ’01). “But I often was deaf to His voice, and even strayed many times far from Him and His law.”
Indeed, if God was calling young Peter Drogin to the priesthood, Peter was not hearing the message.
One of 12 children, growing up in the small town of New Hope, Ky., he never imagined that he would one day become a priest, let alone a monk and a scholar. “In high school we had been introduced to some philosophy and the great works of literature, but I was not really the academic type,” he observes. “I enjoyed working on cars and was thinking of attending a technical school to be trained as a mechanic.”
That plan changed when he shared his goals with an older friend who was then a student at Thomas Aquinas College. The friend suggested that a liberal education could benefit anyone, regardless of one’s career choice. “He did not discount the idea of becoming a mechanic,” recalls Fr. Drogin. “He just said something that made me realize that being a mechanic would be even better if I came to the College first.”
Learning to Love Wisdom
Still, when he arrived at the College as a 17-year-old freshman, Fr. Drogin was more interested in enjoying his newfound independence and making friends than in his studies. “The pursuit of wisdom,” he admits, “was not on the top of my priorities.” Yet slowly the works he read in preparation for his classes, and the conversations that took place within those classes, began to affect him.
A few readings in particular would profoundly alter his life’s trajectory. Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics enkindled in him a yearning for knowledge, and St. Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine convinced him of the need to learn, defend, and teach the truths of the Faith. Most formative of all was studying St. Augustine’s Confessions in Sophomore Seminar, which married Fr. Drogin’s newfound love of truth with a desire to do God’s will.
“After reading the story of St. Augustine’s conversion, I knew that I could not claim to know and love God without following His commands,” says Fr. Drogin. “Our Lord was teaching me that without that commitment, all the syllogisms, all the proofs, all the ‘knowledge’ were just shadows. Without real surrender to Him, there was no rest.” This desire to do God’s will soon transformed his attitudes and behavior. “I began to get more serious about studies,” he says. “I began to pray more and attend daily Mass. Most of all, my friendships improved, and I began to change my habits.”
Hearing God’s Call
When he sought to give more of his life to God, Fr. Drogin at last heard the call that he suspects had been there all along. “By junior year I was thinking about the priesthood,” he says. “I had found rest in prayer and in reading Sacred Scripture, and I wanted to pursue that for the rest of my life.”
The passion for wisdom that he had developed at the College would lead him to pursue his vocation with the Norbertine Fathers at St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange, Calif. “What attracted me to St. Michael’s was, most of all, the community life,” Fr. Drogin says. “There I met priests who understood what I had been introduced to at the College. They came from diverse backgrounds and educations, but all of them manifested a thirst for wisdom. In many ways I saw St. Michael’s as the completion of what I began at Thomas Aquinas College. I met men who were trying to become saints, and I wanted to join them.”
On Saturday, June 22, Fr. Drogin received the Sacrament of Holy Orders at Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. He is now the College’s 59th alumni priest, and the fifth at St. Michael’s, where four other alumni are priests and another four are seminarians or novices. Ordaining Fr. Drogin was the Bishop of Orange, the Most Rev. Kevin Vann, J.D., D.D., who presided at the College’s Convocation exercises on August 26.
During his first two months as a priest, Fr. Drogin has been busily working on his thesis for a master’s degree at the Cardinal Bea Center for Judaic Studies of the Pontifical Gregorian University. He expects to receive a permanent priestly assignment later in the fall. In the meantime, he enjoys the life of a priest living in community. “We work together. We play sports together. We have meals in common,” he says. “Most importantly, we worship God together.”
Posted: September 24, 2013
The Most Rev. Kevin Vann, J.D., D.D., anoints the hands of Rev. Nathaniel Drogin, O. Praem. (Peter Drogin ’01). (Photo by Rick Belcher)
“In all the different disciplines we discover truths that are ordered to the one truth that is God Himself.”
– Peter LaFave (’13)
“I thank you so much for what you are doing at Thomas Aquinas College. I hope there will always be a Thomas Aquinas College. Your contributions to the Church and the world are marvelous to behold.”
– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)
Archbishop of New York