Bishop to ordain Gregory Clever, seminarian, to the Diaconate on June 1

Will continue preparations for the Priesthood


Gregory Clever grew up in a place where urban and rural overlap.

His heart always leaned toward the rural.

“I like conservation and finding God in nature, and the prospect of serving God in a rural part of Missouri fills me with joy and hope,” said Mr. Clever, a seminarian whom Bishop W. Shawn McKnight will ordain a transitional deacon on Saturday, June 1, 2024.

His diaconal ordination will take place at the same Mass where Rev. Mr. Christopher Hoffmann will be ordained a priest of the Jefferson City diocese.

It will be at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City. All are invited to attend.

The Mass will be livestreamed.

Mr. Clever will continue his seminary formation with the intent of being ordained a priest.

“A mysterious calling”

The third of nine children (five sons, four daughters) born to Dr. Henry and Dorothy Clever, Gregory Clever grew up in a large family that took its Catholic faith seriously.

“Faith was always an important part of our lives,” he recalled. “God was very present to us. We went to Mass every Sunday and usually also once or twice a week on weekdays. We prayed the Rosary fairly frequently.”

His home parish in the St. Louis archdiocese was St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville. The once-idyllic country parish near the edge of the St. Louis metro area has grown exponentially in the past 40 years into one of the largest Catholic parishes in Missouri.

Mr. Clever’s parents home-schooled him and his siblings through elementary school, including robust religious education.

He then went to DeSmet Jesuit High School, an all-boys Catholic school in the heart of St. Louis County.

He admired many priests who served at his parish, as well as transitional deacons who were on their way to becoming priests.

He also looked up to his great-uncle, Monsignor John H. Westhues (1922-2008), a Jefferson City native who served for many years as a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

“I always thought about being a priest,” Mr. Clever recalled. “They seemed cool and mysterious.”

He attended several spiritual retreats with seminarians who were actively seeking God’s unique plan for them.

“That was big,” Mr. Clever recalled, “getting to know seminarians and seeing that they are real people who have fun in their lives and that they’re just like me.”

Spending time in prayer brought him profound peace.

“I think that sense of peace I found in prayer was the really big thing that helped me discern my vocation,” he said.

His parents, siblings and friends were aware of his priestly aspirations and supported his decision to enter priestly formation for the St. Louis archdiocese.

He majored in philosophy at Cardinal Glennon College of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis and continued with post-graduate theology studies and priestly formation at Kenrick-Glennon.

Fellow seminarians included Paul Clark, Christopher Aubuchon and Joshua Duncan, who eventually became priests of the Jefferson City diocese; and Andrew Auer, who’s now a priest of the St. Louis archdiocese serving at St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish in Columbia.

“I have really fond memories of that time,” said Mr. Clever. “We learned a lot. It’s not always easy, but approaching God from a perspective of reason is important, and seeking God through philosophy really matters.”

Keeping watch

Seven years after entering the seminary, Mr. Clever decided not to continue.

“God does funny things to help us get to where he wants us to be,” he stated.

Simply, he was no longer finding peace in prayer.

“There was a disquiet in my soul in which God was saying, ‘Maybe not right now,’” he recalled.

He didn’t feel like he was closing the door on Priesthood forever.

“Generally speaking, it was more like, ‘God, I’m not sure what you want, so I’m just going to be open to it,’” he said.

Mr. Clever accepted and relished the role of middle-school religion and science teacher at Sacred Heart School in Valley Park.

“Those were two very happy years,” he stated.

It allowed him to share his passion for faith and for God’s Creation.

“My degree is in philosophy, but I always find science interesting,” he said. “If you understand philosophy, teaching middle-school science is not particularly difficult. There are a lot of connections there.”

All the while, he continued making regular visits to one of his favorite places, the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg, in the Jefferson City diocese.

“I always feel close to God there,” he said. “I found peace there and I found God there.”

The historical shrine in the Ozark foothills honors the Blessed Mother and the sorrows she accepted upon becoming the mother of the Savoir — not only his violent death on the cross but also the ingratitude with which his sacrifice has been met by so many through the ages.

“I’ve always been able to see God in the sorrows of Our Lady, so I find a lot of solace in prayers for her intercession,” said Mr. Clever.

His sense of peace in prayer gradually returned, and he knew God was calling him back into priestly formation.

This time for the mostly agrarian Diocese of Jefferson City.

“It was pretty much the same thing as the first time,” he stated. “Get in touch with the vocation director and set up a meeting and go from there and follow the Holy Spirit.

“You’re trying to follow God,” he said. “He’ll take care of you it if it’s something he wants.”

Gold standard

Mr. Clever’s parents welcomed his decision to continue discerning Priesthood in a diocese so close to their own.

“Their faith in God is my foundation,” said Mr. Clever. “I’m still very close to them.”

Bishop McKnight enrolled Mr. Clever in Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.

This is how Mr. Clever described priestly formation: “You’re obviously going to school. But you also have a lot of discernment and meeting with formators and trying to figure out, ‘What does God want for me?’

“It’s certainly not easy,” he stated. “You’re trying to grow and become what God wants you to be — finding the things about yourself that have to die so that you can become that person God made you to be.

“So, as St. Paul talks about, you’re becoming ‘like gold tested in fire,’” he said. “Seminary is like a fire that is good for you, purifying you and helping you become the person God made you to be.”

As part of their formation, Mr. Clever, Jacob Hartman and Shane Klithermes — fellow seminarians of this diocese — spend time each week at St. Peter Damian Parish in Bartlett, Illinois, in the Chicago archdiocese, forming bonds with parishioners and fully investing themselves in the life of the parish.

Mr. Clever’s favorite courses so far have included human formation, St. John’s writings, and practicum classes on praying the Mass and praying the Rite of Baptism.

“So, you’re learning not just how to do it right but how to properly pray through that experience,” he said.

He’s also found the homiletics classes at Mundelein to be excellent.

“I’m grateful for those as well,” he said.

“Just the Gospel”

Mr. Clever received a letter from Bishop McKnight a couple of months ago, formally summoning him to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

“I was ecstatic!” said Mr. Clever. “It’s something you think about for such a long time, something you’re preparing for, and to finally have it in hand, it’s just kind of surreal.”

Having attended many diaconal ordinations, he said the part that stands out most for him is when the man being ordained lays face-down before the altar while all the faithful ask the saints to pray for him.

“There’s something very powerful and beautiful about that,” he said. “You lay yourself down in total surrender to God.”

Father Anthony Yates, a priest of the St. Louis archdiocese, who served as Mr. Clever’s spiritual director and as pastor of a parish where he helped out for a year as seminarian, will ceremonially help him put on his vestments during the ordination.

“He’s been a very positive influence on my discernment,” said Mr. Clever. “He showed me a lot about how to be a holy priest, a good priest at a parish.”

Mr. Clever will remain a deacon — an ordained clergy member who engages in and facilitates the day-to-day and sacramental life of the Church — for the rest of his life, even after he becomes a priest.

Two things he’s especially looking forward to about being a deacon are preaching homilies at Mass and administering the Sacrament of Baptism.

“There is something particularly beautiful that Christ is working through you in claiming someone for God,” he said of Baptism. “That person becoming a child of God right there.”

As for preaching: “Just the Gospel. Jesus rose from the dead! That’s what we’re always here to reflect on.”

“Be saints!

When asked about his favorite Bible verse, Mr. Clever cited without hesitation John 3:30, in which St. John the Baptist, referring to Jesus, says, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

“It’s about growing in holiness and putting Jesus out in front,” said Mr. Clever. “Making sure things are in their proper order. Making sure we resist the tendency to make ourselves into gods. Whenever we try to put ourselves out in front of Jesus, something has gone wrong.”

He likewise called to mind Jesus’s last words in John’s Gospel: “Follow me.”

Mr. Clever asks for continued prayers as his diaconal ordination approaches and as he continues preparing for Priesthood.

“Just pray for me to be a saint,” he said

To help God answer that prayer, he suggested: “Be saints, too!”