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John Paul Hartnedy, 18, commits to seminary

Catholic High honors him during signing day for showing ‘self-sacrificing love’

Published: May 15, 2015         
Aprille Hanson
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor talks with Catholic High senior John Paul Hartnedy (left) as Hartnedy prepares to sign his letter of intent to become a seminarian, amid a crowd of cheering students, priests and relatives.

Amid a gym full of cheering students, Catholic High School senior John Paul Hartnedy signed his letter of intent to play on God’s team. In a ceremony mirroring the signing of a student to a university’s athletic program, Hartnedy signed on to be a diocesan seminarian, studying at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas.

After the official signing, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor gave him a T-shirt and ball cap with the diocesan logo. After a big hug, Hartnedy’s younger sister Catherine Marie promptly turned the cap backward for him, with loud approval from his fellow seniors.

Catholic High signing days have been a staple at the school since 2009. From 2009 to 2014, 11 CHS alumni have joined the seminary. Hartnedy, 18, was the only student this year to commit. He was surrounded by diocesan seminarians, priests, youth leaders, relatives, teachers, coaches and his classmates.

“I’m really honored, it’s definitely going to be a challenge, it’s a hard, tough life decision,” Hartnedy told Arkansas Catholic of his coming eight-year discernment process to the priesthood, adding his family has “always supported me in whatever God wants me to do.”

“This world is crazy at times and chaotic — be open to God and receptive to the Holy Spirit working in your life. Especially for us young men, be lights in the darkness.” John Paul Hartnedy

Diocesan vocations director Msgr. Scott Friend opened the ceremony by recognizing those that have made an impact on Hartnedy’s life, including his parents, Deacon Danny and Stephanie Hartnedy, and by reading the Gospel (John 15:8-12). Msgr. Friend explained to the students that this is only the beginning for Hartnedy and that each person is on a journey of discernment.

“I want all of you to take the time to ask the Lord, what is it that he calling you to do,” Msgr. Friend said. “While John Paul is signing today as a witness of how the Lord is speaking to him and how he is taking the next step, just the next step, in that process of following the Lord, which is going to the seminary … That’s a long process, a lot of studying, a lot of praying.”

A copy of a prayer of vocations was handed out to all students.

According to Hartnedy’s parents, their son has practiced “self-sacrificing love” his whole life.

“There’s not one event, it’s 100,000 times,” his mother Stephanie, a teacher at Catholic High, said of her son’s willingness to give to others. “With his sister, he’s always sacrificed. It’s been about what she wanted to play or movies she wanted to watch.”

And for that, Catherine, a 16-year-old sophomore at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, is grateful to her brother.

“I’m very proud, we support him a lot,” Catherine Hartnedy said. “He is a great older brother, he looked out for me … we really love each other.”

His father said his son’s attitude is one of willingness to God’s plan.

“We are proud of him, mostly because of his courage to seek and to know and to do God’s will,” Danny Hartnedy said.

Father Jason Tyler, pastor at the Hartnedy’s home parish, St. Edward in Little Rock, told the crowd he’s known the Hartnedys “since I was in the seminary.”

“So this is a joy on my own level as well to see John Paul grow up and to seriously discern,” his calling, Father Tyler said. “John Paul I just want to let you know … our prayers are with you … and if it be the will of God in eight years, I’ll be happy to call you my brother priest.”

Then it was time for, as Principal Steve Straessle later called it, Hartnedy’s “first homily” where he shared thanks and gave some advice.

“Pray. That’s the first and most important thing. Like Msgr. Friend was saying, if you want to live a truly happy and fulfilled life in this world, develop a strong prayer life … pray for yourselves, pray for each other, pray for the world,” he said. “This world is crazy at times and chaotic — be open to God and receptive to the Holy Spirit working in your life. Especially for us young men, be lights in the darkness.”

Aside from the fanfare, the decision to make this step toward religious life wasn’t just spur of the moment. It is something Hartnedy said started when he made his first Communion.

“I can trace it back to second grade. I had a great love for the Eucharist,” he said, adding his continued formation through going to Mass, participating as an altar server and being in a supportive environment like Catholic High shaped his faith.

After the presentation, Hartnedy’s fellow seniors all rushed down from the bleachers to celebrate with him, as if they were running to hug the quarterback after the game-winning touchdown.

“I think it’s a good tradition started here,” Hartnedy said of signing day. “Athletics is important and so is spiritual life.”

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