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Seminarian killed; dreamed of being 'Father Daniel'

UPDATED: 'Uncommonly large heart,' joy in life suited him for priesthood

Published: January 2, 2013   

First-year seminarian Daniel Phillips was killed in a car wreck Dec. 17 near Danville.

Son of John and Catherine Phillips, he was home-schooled, graduating from high school in May, and entered Holy Trinity Seminary near Dallas in August. He was 19.

He attended Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Booneville (Logan County), where his mother is the director of religious education.

About 3 p.m., Phillips was driving west on Highway 10 in Yell County when his 2003 Jeep crossed the centerline and hit head-on with a Freightliner truck, driven by 34-year-old Victor T. Scrivner of Grapevine. Arkansas State Police said Scrivner was taken to Chambers Hospital in Danville to treat his injuries.

In a profile for the Diocese of Little Rock website, Phillips described his desire to be a priest since he was young.

"I remember every Sunday morning staring up at the pastor, thinking, 'That would be so cool.' I practiced holding my hands like the priest as he consecrated the bread and wine. I played priest when my siblings practiced for their first Communion, handing them potato chips, proclaiming, 'The Body of Christ.' At night, I would quietly whisper to myself, 'Father Daniel.'"

As a teenager he decided he would rather get married and have children, but people in his life kept asking him, "Have you thought about being a priest?"

"Once, as I shook hands with a priest whom I had never met, he looked at me and said, 'This one is called to be a priest.' I began to feel pressured that everyone expected me to become a priest and this caused me to turn further away."

He said the priesthood was again considered after talking with his mother during his junior year of high school, and they examined Phillips' talent of public speaking and his love for the Church, helping people and learning about new cultures.

"My mom also said that my greatest gift was that I have an uncommonly large heart, a heart that has a place for everyone," he wrote. "This kind of embarrassed me so I quickly shushed her and asked about colleges. I decided on being a social worker."

Last December Phillips attended the Come and See retreat hosted by the Diocese of Little Rock at St. John Center in Little Rock.

"I found myself enchanted by the stories that I heard of what a priest's life is really like. I talked to (vocations director) Msgr. (Scott) Friend about all that I had experienced, and I asked him about what the priesthood means to him. What really opened my eyes, was when he said that he had 'the heart of a priest.' He described this to me as having a love that welcomed everyone. And then he asked me, 'What's holding you back?'

Following the retreat, Phillips began actively discerning his calling.

"Even though I still had so many questions, surrendering myself to God's will brought me something I hadn't felt in a long time -- peace," he said.

His leadership among his peers stood out to Father Don Tranel, former pastor of Booneville now serving in the development office of Glenmary Home Missioners in Cincinnati. He was active in Catholic youth ministry programs on the parish and diocesan level.

"He wasn't someone to be prompted or prodded," he said. "When something needed to be done, he did it."

Father Tranel recalled fondly the time they spent in morning prayer and Liturgy of the Hours and how eager Phillips was for those daily sessions.

"At an early age, he developed an awareness of the value of the Church and his personal spirituality and it was a priority for him to share it with others," he said. "He will be incredibly grieved and incredibly missed."

Father Erik Pohlmeier, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock and assistant vocations director, worked closely with Phillips as he discerned his vocation and in his application to the seminary. He remembered him as "someone with a strong sense of wanting to do what God asked him to do."

"He really took delight in all aspects of his life," the pastor said. "He had a childlike way of enjoying all parts of his life, which gave him a good balance. He could be very excited about his faith and the liturgy and also a movie or someplace he wanted to visit."

Father Pohlmeier said the joy Phillips took in his life helped him to laugh at his own mistakes, a quality that put people at ease. As a result, they were drawn to him.

Msgr. Friend is out of the country and was not immediately available for comment.

Phillips ended his diocesan profile for http://www.dolr.org with these two sentences: "Today my desire for the priesthood is stronger than ever. Whether I am led all the way to ordination or not, I trust in God and will continue to seek his will for me."

Other survivors include one grandmother, Barbara Robertson; one sister, Jean Phillips of Booneville; and three brothers, David Phillips of Fort Smith and Matthew Phillips and Luke Phillips, both of Booneville.

The rosary for Phillips was held Dec. 20 at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Booneville. Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Dec. 21 at St. Benedict Church in Subiaco.

Memorials can be made to Our Lady of the Assumption Church, P.O. Box 298, Booneville, AR 72927.

To watch a video on Phillips' calling, visit http://bit.ly/danielphillips.


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