Newly ordained live vocation with faith, friendship

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Dianne Towalski
The Visitor

A year of service in another country can be a life-changing experience for anyone. But for Nickolas Kleespie and Lewis Grobe it had a profound impact on their lives.

The experience led them to a religious vocation, and the two were ordained together at St. John’s Abbey and University Church May 2 — Kleespie to the priesthood and Grobe to the transitional diaconate.

The St. John’s University students met briefly in Tanzania when Kleespie was finishing a year with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps and Grobe just beginning one. They made the decision to join the abbey at the same time, six years ago, and became fast friends.

Neither had considered monastic life before the experience teaching in Tanzania, but the monks at St. Maurus Abbey in Hanga there, where they lived at its guest hostel, got them thinking about it.


Benedictine Father Nickolas Kleespie, left, and Benedictine Brother Lewis Grobe were ordained together May 2 at St. John’s Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, Kleespie to the prieshood and Grobe to the diaconate. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

“The idea that they were young monks who were excited about their way of life and then living that with joy seemed very important in my initial engagement into monastic life, because I hadn’t considered it before,” Father Kleespie said. “They have these young guys who are filled with life, living it out, going to prayer, going to work and finding this very unique way of getting along with each other.”

Brother Lew had always been drawn to the church, attending St. George Parish in Long Lake, even after his parents told him it was his choice. He hadn’t considered religious life, but once he experienced it, he found what he was searching for.

“I don’t know if I would have done that if it hadn’t been for the volunteer corps, because I don’t know if I would have ever had that experience,” he said. “I don’t think you really know until you try it out.”

Both would return to Tanzania in a heartbeat, they said, but wouldn’t want to leave St. John’s for too long.

“This has become my community,” said Father Kleespie, who grew up in Morris and attended Assumption Parish, “but I think both of us learned a lot from there, from that community. It really was a formative time in our lives.”

New perspective

As seminarians at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, Father Kleespie and Brother Lew have been in the minority in a lot of their classes, they said.

“We’re probably two of very few seminarians in the world whose seminary education is fully immersed with lay students,” Father Kleespie said. “The [experience here] is very unique in that you’re being educated right alongside lay ministers, and so it helps you understand your role.”

The experience gives them a whole new perspective on issues affecting people in the pews, Brother Lew said.

“Something like infertility in a married couple, you have a woman that’s in your class and it’s a whole different issue now that it has a face to it,” he said.

For now, Father Kleespie will be serving as a chaplain for the university, as well as continuing his work as a firefighter with the abbey’s fire department.

“I’ll have a targeted group of young men to provide spiritual care for,” he said. “Everything from celebrating Sunday Mass to daily Mass, spiritual direction, [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] and a whole host of other things, just being present to their life in a way that makes Christ real and present for them.”

Nick K ordination

Bishop Donald Kettler places his hands over Nickolas Kleespie during the Rite of Ordination at St. John’s Abbey and University Church in Collegeville May 2. (Photo courtesy of St. John’s Abbey)

He looks forward to the changes.

“I hope priesthood becomes a way that I can show other people a life well lived,” Father Kleespie said. “I’m excited to do the ministry, I feel prepared to do it. The community prepared me, the School of Theology prepared me, and now I’m ready to go out and start practicing.”

Brother Lew hopes to continue his work in the woodshop during his transitional diaconate year preparing for the priesthood.

“Your vocation is bigger than just your call to be a monk and pray, it’s also to a type of work. I think it allows you to live out your gifts,” he said. “Here at St. John’s, you can teach, you can do manual labor, you can do research, you can do music, art.”

Brother Lew said working in the woodshop has given his life balance.

“There’s the craft side of it, but then there’s just the fact that it’s a raw resource being made into a fine piece of furniture — there’s some satisfaction in doing that,” he said. “I think that’s what helped me get through seminary. [It gave me] that side of the balance.”

The life of an order priest is different than the life of a diocesan priest, Brother Lew said.

“[You have to] maintain that identity as a monastic, because if you’re going out there and do the same thing as a diocesan priest, I don’t think you’re living out your vocation,” he said. “You’re not bringing who you are as a monk into your priest vocation and I think there would be something missing there.”

Being there for each other is important to them, too.

“There is something special and nice about being ordained alongside your good friend,” Father Kleespie said. “There’s just something very touching about going through the monastic life along with people you trust, know, love and really care for.”

Benedictine ordination

Brother Lewis Grobe, left, and Father Nickolas Kleespie with Bishop Kettler after their ordinations.