The prayer card Rev. Mr. Brad T. Berhorst chose for his priestly ordination contains a startling image with words to match.
The painting is of Jesus reaching down from the cross to embrace St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of Rev. Mr. Berhorst’s favorite saints.
The caption reads: “The more firmly we embrace the cross, the more closely we are bound to Jesus, our beloved, Who is made fast to it.”
“The image instructs us in an artistic way how we are to embrace the cross when the Lord presents it to us, because He is actually presenting Himself to us,” said Rev. Mr. Berhorst, a seminarian who has been studying in Rome.
The St. Martins native and Helias Catholic High School graduate will enter more fully into that eternal mystery when Bishop W. Shawn McKnight ordains him to the Holy Priesthood on Saturday, June 29, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
The Mass will be at 10 a.m. All are welcome to attend.
“The Lord has called me to stand at the altar and exercise the Priesthood, to offer the Eucharist with and for the people who will be entrusted to my care, and hopefully to let that be the source of my priestly ministry to them,” said Rev. Mr. Berhorst.
His devotion to St. Bernard, a 12th-century priest and promoter of Catholic monasticism, dates back to taking him as his patron saint at confirmation.
“He was a great reformer of monastic life, a very zealous priest and had deep devotion to Our Lady,” said Rev. Mr. Berhorst.
“He wanted to be a good monk and do monastic things but was often asked by the Church to do things that he probably wouldn’t have chosen to do — leaving the monastery to preach this or reform that,” he said.
“He was docile to that, and I think that’s important.”
By that standard, Rev. Mr. Berhorst hopes “to be a good priest ... maybe a great priest.”
For him, that means “a priest who is docile to the Lord’s will for him and faithful to the promises he makes on his Ordination Day, who is faithful to the Lord and who does everything with joy and out of a tremendous love for God and His people.”
During the Ordination Mass, Father Joshua Duncan, associate pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jefferson City, ordained three years ago, will help him ceremonially put on his vestments.
“We’ve been friends for a long time and it will be very fitting that he vest me at ordination,” said Rev. Mr. Berhorst. “At various times, he was instrumental in getting me into the seminary and keeping me there.”
“Witness of fidelity”
After years of discernment and preparation, Rev. Mr. Berhorst has come to believe that Priesthood is what God wants for him, and he’s happy about that.
“The desire I have to be a priest is only there because Christ desires me to be a priest,” he said.
That’s not something Rev. Mr. Berhorst could have discerned on his own. He needed help from his family, the people of this diocese and all who had a hand in his seminary formation.
“You know, seminary is really about finding out whether God wants the Priesthood for you,” he said. “But in some ways, it’s also about letting the Church help you see whether you want it.”
The younger of two sons born to John and Rosemary Berhorst of St. Martin parish in St. Martins, he grew up near Centertown, learning from Day 1 that faith and family come first.
“Mom and Dad met on a (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat, and that sort of set the tone for their level of involvement in the Church,” said Rev. Mr. Berhorst. “We prayed together as a family and always went to Mass on Sunday. And Mom and Dad set a great example for being involved in the parish.”
He and his brother went to St. Martin School in St. Martins and to Helias Catholic in Jefferson City.
His strongest priestly role model was Father Edwin Schmidt, who was assigned to St. Martins shortly after Mr. Berhorst was born, and died there in 2017.
“I have very good memories of him,” said Mr. Berhorst. “He was such a gentle pastor, a very good man, such a witness of fidelity to his people.”
Power of suggestion
Rev. Mr. Berhorst’s parents’ participation in the life of the Church — leading and accompanying the singing at Mass, ministering to young people and helping out wherever needed — motivated him to do likewise.
That brought him into contact with people who showed him how to pray and listen to God while making decisions about the future.
He got active in the parish youth group, Teens Encounter Christ and LifeTeen. He attended CHRISTpower weeklong service retreats for young people and Camp Maccabee Catholic summer camps for high-school-age young men.
At Helias, he went on two Holy Week service trips to Mexico.
He decided to attend the University of Dallas, a relatively small, Catholic, liberal-arts university in the nation’s fourth-most populous metropolitan area.
Double-majoring in math and theology, he reveled in the school’s Catholic identity, “great books” curriculum and challenging philosophy courses.
He spent a semester studying at the university’s campus in Rome. He enjoyed the classes he took and got to know the priest chaplains there.
Friends and random people continued suggesting the Priesthood to him, but that wasn’t what he wanted.
His professors were encouraging him to apply for graduate-level theology studies in Europe, but he could not bring himself to follow through on that.
He gave serious thought to applying for an international Catholic community of volunteers called Heart’s Home. A friend who had served in the program cautioned him, almost as an afterthought, “Don’t do this if you’re running away from something else.”
“Our fight song”
Finally, he stopped running. He applied for and was admitted into a two-year program of philosophy studies and priestly formation at Conception Seminary College in Conception.
He remained restless and apprehensive through much of his first year there.
“Having a good spiritual director who helped me understand some of what I was feeling and where it was coming from really helped,” he said. “I wound up having a great experience and getting to know the Lord better and finding a lot of peace in that time.”
Bishop John R. Gaydos, now retired, invited him to continue his studies in Rome.
That fall, he became a student of the Pontifical North American College (NAC), the house of studies for Catholic seminarians from the United States and Canada.
He quickly had to learn Italian, the language all of his classes would be given in.
He pursued and attained a bachelor of sacred theology (STB) degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University, then began working on a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum).
Living and learning in Rome has brought him into contact with numerous men and women from all over the world, helping him develop a broader perspective of what it means to “preach the Good News to all nations.”
He has taken in numerous Wednesday general audiences and Sunday Angelus services with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square.
He made a winter pilgrimage to the Holy Land and spent a summer teaching English to young Catholics in Ukraine.
An enthusiast of many musical genres, he learned traditional sacred music of the Church as a member of the North American College choir.
“I want to be a priest who sings,” he stated. “I’m lucky that the Lord gave me a musical family and musical interests and gifts to facilitate that.”
It’s not uncommon for the seminarians at the NAC to sing the Nicene Creed at Mass on Sunday.
When people ask why, the liturgy director there replies: “This is our fight song! It’s about what every martyr in the history of Christianity died for! Why wouldn’t we sing it?”
Called to community
On Sept. 27, 2018, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston ordained Rev. Mr. Berhorst and 39 other seminarians to the diaconate.
Shortly thereafter, Rev. Mr. Berhorst got to assist as a deacon at the opening-of-the-year Mass at the Casa Santa Maria, the priests’ house of studies at the NAC.
The presider was Abbot Gregory Polan, abbot primate of the Benedictine Order. He had been abbot of Conception Abbey when Rev. Mr. Berhorst was a seminarian there.
“I saw that as sort of a connecting of the dots of my formation and life as a deacon,” he said.
Since then, the bulk of his diaconal ministry has been serving as a chaplain to students from the University of Dallas who are studying in Rome, just as he did.
“It’s been an opportunity I’m very thankful for,” he said.
Returning to Missouri for Christmas, he served as one of the deacons at Midnight Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph on the 50th anniversary of the first Mass there.
He had no classes during Holy Week and Easter Week. So he arranged for him and some fellow seminarians to assist at the Easter Triduum at a parish near London, where one of his friends is pastor.
Around that time, his godmother, Jackie Kampeter of Jefferson City, recognized that same priest in a picture taken during Rev. Mr. Berhorst’s diaconal ordination.
As it turns out, the priest, Father John Harvey, had visited her hometown of Boonville shortly after being ordained, to spend time with his cousin, Father William Flanagan.
Now deceased, he was pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul parish at that time.
“Fr. Harvey actually met my godparents, Kevin and Jackie Kampeter, when they were in high school, before they were married — probably before my parents even met each other,” said Rev. Mr. Berhorst.
“To be on my way to assist him as a deacon and then come to find out that his story and mine intersected long before I was born — I saw that as a tremendous manifestation of the Lord’s providence in my life,” he said.
Now is the time
As Father Berhorst, he will offer a Mass of Thanksgiving at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, in St. Martin Church, 7148 Business 50 West in St. Martins.
Bishop McKnight plans for him to continue his studies in canon law this fall at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
In the meantime, as Priesthood draws near, Rev. Mr. Berhorst looks forward most of all to celebrating Mass and administering the Sacraments.
He acknowledged that for many reasons, now might not be the easiest time to embark on priestly ministry.
“But I also know I can’t be a priest any other time than right now,” he said. “This is the time the Lord is asking me to be a priest. I don’t have to know why, and I don’t have to pretend it is easy. I just have to say ‘yes.’”
He believes his most joyful experiences will come from sharing in baptisms, weddings and other important milestones for the people he serves.
“Priesthood allows you to enter their lives at some very, very joyful moments,” he said.
He asked for prayers for God to send “more priests, more good priests, more faithful priests” to serve His people.
Just as his time in seminary and the diaconate have been more than he could have imagined, he believes the Priesthood will be beyond anything he could hope.
“I can’t do any of this without God,” he said. “If my desire to be a priest is not based in the Lord’s desire for me to be a priest, then I’m not going to be a very good priest.
“And if my exercise of the Priesthood does not rely totally on Him, I will not be able to do what He wants me to do.”
He is tremendously grateful to God, his parents, his fellow seminarians, “a lot of great priests,” Bishops McKnight and Gaydos, and all of the other people who have helped him, encouraged him and prayed for him.
“I’m aware that this is something I could never do on my own,” he said. “And I’m sure I’ll never know all of the people who have helped make it possible. But I pray for them and am deeply grateful to them.”