Deacon Stephen Hart grew up in Christ the King Church in Little Rock witnessing a powerful figure celebrate Mass and deliver his homily.
Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert, the pastor until 2001, had an influence on Hart’s decision to pursue the priesthood.
“I remember being a young child and being able to see myself in him. I could recognize myself. He was definitely a very big figure in the parish for all the right reasons. That made an impression on me,” he said. “I also remember his homilies, even when I was a kid. I could tell everyone was tuning into him. I would anticipate the homily.”
During those Masses it would solidify Hart’s interest in the priesthood. As he graduated from Catholic High School in 2007, his brother Andrew was discerning his vocation as a diocesan seminarian. Even though Hart at times felt a calling to become a priest, he decided he wanted a “normal college experience in the best sense of the word” and entered Creighton University in Nebraska. Before he earned his degree in corporate communication and business, he started to realize that he needed to answer the calling. During his senior year in college he was communicating with vocations director Msgr. Scott Friend to begin the application process.
“I really realized that I was getting to a point where not everything was laid out for me anymore,” he said. “I really needed to devote time, energy and prayer to where I need to go after (graduation).”
Hart said his parents Evelyn and Robert were also good role models of living the faith.
“I had parents who really passed on the importance and value of the faith,” he said. “They lived it out not just in their words, but in their actions … One great thing my parents gave me was freedom. I never felt pressured to pursue any one vocational path, any one career path. They taught me early on that happiness can be found in God’s will, and if I ask God what he wants of me, God will show me.”
Hart has also the rare position of also having a brother-priest, Father Andrew Hart, who is the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish in Fayetteville.
“He has been a good mentor to me and a good sounding board,” he said. “Now he’s been a priest for five years he can share what being a priest is like in the diocese.”
After 10 years of college and seminary training, language immersion in Guatemala and assignments during the summers, Hart said he is ready to begin ministering in a bilingual parish like St. Theresa Church in Little Rock and working with a respected pastor like Father Mark Wood.
“I was ready to go wherever the bishop assigns me,” he said. “This is the first place where I am going to serve so there is an instant love for wherever that is … I am finding myself very excited to serve and very excited to learn and excited to learn how to be a priest and to love people there.”
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