Retired Texas Rangers left-fielder Rusty Greer might never get his name on a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he poured every ounce of his being into the game he loved.
That’s what made him one of Derek Hooper’s favorite ballplayers.
“He worked hard and made the most of his ability, both on the field and in life,” said Mr. Hooper, an avid baseball fan and third-year theologian at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. “And he played with his heart.”
That’s the kind of deacon and eventually the kind of priest Mr. Hooper hopes to be: “a man who loves his people and is willing to serve and be there with and for them and help them grow closer to Christ in all that they do, and to lead by example.”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight will ordain Mr. Hooper a transitional deacon for the Jefferson City diocese at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 30, in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
Seating will be very limited out of an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mass will be livestreamed at diojeffcity.org/ordination.
He hopes to be ordained to the Holy Priesthood next year.
Mr. Hooper enjoys watching sports, especially baseball and the Rangers, and reading and watching science fiction, especially “Star Trek” and “Star Wars.”
He was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Southeastern Kansas.
His brother, Father Gabriel Greer, who is eight years younger, is a priest of the Diocese of Wichita.
“We grew up in a very strong and faithful family,” Mr. Hooper said of himself and his siblings. “We attended Mass every Sunday. Whenever we could, especially over the summer, we’d go to daily Mass.”
The idea of Priesthood first struck him when he was 12 or 13.
“We always interacted with the priests,” he recalled. “My high-school chaplain had a strong influence on me. He was very faithful and knowledgeable.”
Several young and exuberant priests served at his parish when he was in high school, including newly ordained Father Sam Pinkerton.
“One of my first interactions with him was at my great-uncle’s funeral,” said Mr. Hooper. “There was just something about him, you could see his faith.”
After high school, Mr. Hooper served for two years in the U.S. Army, then went to Pittsburg State University in Kansas to study finance.
He became active in the Catholic Newman Center there and befriended several men who were discerning Priesthood.
“My prayer life really started taking off there,” he said. “We prayed the Liturgy of the Hours regularly as a group. We prayed Rosaries, went to Mass and all sorts of stuff.”
He also discovered a gift for ministering to young people.
“I enjoyed being with the kids, interacting with them, helping them try to grow in the faith,” he said.
He didn’t like the idea of foregoing marriage and family, but he was moved by the example of faith, prayer and service he observed in several priests.
They told him that a seminary is a good place to become closer to God while listening for a possible call to Priesthood.
They said, “If you end up discerning that it’s not your call, the formation that you’ve had will make you a better husband and father.”
He just wasn’t ready.
“Wouldn’t it be cool?”
After graduating, Mr. Hooper went to the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, to pursue a Master of Business Management (MBA) degree in corporate finance and sports and entertainment management.
“I still prayed a lot,” he recalled. “I lived with some really good friends from when I was at Pittsburg State.”
Near the end of his time in graduate school, something seemingly random suddenly occurred to him: “Wouldn’t it be cool if you and your brother were in the same ordination class?”
He went to visit his brother, who was a seminarian at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“We went to a holy hour with the seminarians and it just kind of hit me that this is something I should do,” said Mr. Hooper.
He returned to Kansas and applied for candidacy as a seminarian for the Wichita diocese.
He completed the pre-theology program and his first year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
But something still wasn’t right.
“I ended up leaving the seminary,” he recalled. “I knew I needed some time away.”
“Teach what you believe”
He went back to in Pittsburg to work as an accountant at a manufacturing company.
“I enjoyed what I was doing,” he said. “But one of the things I enjoyed most was talking philosophy and theology with my coworkers.”
After a few months, he decided that it was time to go back into the seminary.
He reapplied and served a pastoral year at a large parish in Wichita, then went to Mundelein in Chicago to resume his seminary studies and formation.
Once again, at the end of his second year, things didn’t seem right.
“I wasn’t at peace with where I was,” he recalled.
He accepted a temporary teaching position at his alma mater, St. Mary’s Colgan High School in Pittsburg. He spent a year teaching Church history to juniors and seniors, morality to freshmen and sophomores, and an overview of Catholic Christianity to eighth-graders.
“I had a blast doing that,” he said. “I really came into my own while teaching the faith, working with the kids.”
His brother, newly ordained, was serving at Church of the Magdalen parish in Wichita.
His pastor was Father W. Shawn McKnight, who was about to become bishop of Jefferson City.
Fr. Greer told his brother, “If still you feel any indication that you’re being called to Priesthood, give Bishop McKnight a call.”
Mr. Hooper had been praying throughout that year for some clear direction.
“God opened doors that I never expected Him to open,” he said.
Bishop McKnight invited him to spend a year teaching at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City and learning about his new diocese.
“I really loved that,” said Mr. Hooper. “From very early on, I knew the peace that I had been missing. I felt at home.”
The joy and satisfaction he found in teaching young people and interacting with their families helped solidify his calling.
“Kids are sometimes some of the most brutally honest people on earth,” he noted. “It was good to get positive feedback from them.”
Mr. Hooper has come to admire St. Augustine, a fourth-century intellectual who spent years searching for truth and meaning.
Following a sudden and radical conversion, Augustine became a saint and one of Christianity’s most articulate and influential evangelizers in history.
“He relied on God’s mercy,” Mr. Hooper noted. “God draws us to Himself all the time and He’s very patient with us. But we need to be continually moving in the direction of trying to figure out His will and growing in holiness in our lives.”
“I’m happy for you”
Bishop McKnight sent Mr. Hooper back to Mundelein for his third year of theology studies.
After he’s ordained a deacon, he will spend this summer assisting in a parish before continuing at Mundelein in anticipation of priestly orders.
“I’m just looking forward to serving God and His people,” he said.
He’s grateful for the generosity and love that has been shown to him since he became a part of this diocese.
He said his mother is “super excited” about him pursuing the Priesthood.
His late father was similarly pleased.
“One of the last things he said to me before he passed away was, ‘I’m happy for you. You’re going to do what you love. You’re going to be great and I can’t wait to hear you preach someday,’” Mr. Hooper recalled.
His friends are happy to see him persevere in searching for and following God’s will.
“I think that motivates them, as well, to strive to work out God’s will in their life,” he said.
“Practice what you teach”
At the ordination, Father Mike Baldwin, who was his pastor in Pittsburg, Kansas, will help Mr. Hooper put on his deacon vestments during the Mass.
“He was always there through my later seminary discernment process,” said Mr. Hooper.
The readings and homily will emphasize the role of the deacon as a minister of charity and of the altar.
“The main theme will be service and to be there for people and proclaim God’s message to them,” he said.
“Whatever it takes”
Deacons have the authority to baptize, witness marriages, proclaim the Gospel and preach the homily at Mass, and preside at funeral services.
“I think I’m looking forward most to being able to do baptisms,” he said. “Just being able to bring people into the Church, into the sanctifying grace, and praying for them and being that first foundation stone of a life spent growing in holiness — that’s going to be one of the most exciting things for me.”
Mr. Hooper will remain a deacon forever, even after he is ordained a priest.
As ordination draws near, he asks for prayers “for me to have a servant’s heart and love the people God has given me to shepherd.”
He said he’s eager to “do whatever it takes to help other people encounter God in a more meaningful and powerful way.”