Deacon Luke Womack admits the path to priesthood was winding. There was shade, rocky ground to travel on and various forks in the road, but he said “every misstep I’m grateful for,” because it’s led him to his priestly ordination May 27.
“I think it’s those experiences that will help me to understand and show forth the compassion that is needed,” Womack said. “When people come to your office to talk to you they’re not looking for really always somebody to tell them what to do. It’s just to listen to where they’re at and to be present to them and not judge them.”
Womack grew up in Hot Springs, attending St. Mary Church. His faith was nurtured at the parish and by spending summers with his grandparents in Bristow, Okla. While his grandmother always said Womack would grow up to be a priest, he did not see it.
“I told her I wanted to be a priest when I was 9 years old … I understand some kids have that firm calling, but it was just kind of a ‘well, you know I might want to do that,’ because at the same time I wanted to be a police officer and a musician because my dad was a musician,” Womack said. “It was one in a myriad of things. When I got into middle school and high school I really didn’t think the priesthood was something I wanted to do.”
He studied history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia before transferring to St. Gregory University in Shawnee, Okla., and found a deep love for theology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in theology in 2007 and his master’s degree in theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. in 2012. In late summer 2011, a prayer of frustration finally led to a new awareness of God’s call to “quit running.”
Womack entered the House of Formation in 2011 and has since studied at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. He said his time away from seminary allowed him to experience some of the things his parishioners may face — fear of not being able to pay bills, living paycheck to paycheck and not trusting God.
“The whole thing about is the grass greener on the other side? There’s never really been that because for me I knew what it was like,” Womack said. “… I understand the difficulties and challenges that people can face.”
While the seminary at times has been stressful, trusting fully in God is something he has worked hard to do, knowing that “I won’t be relying on myself because as a priest I’ll be an instrument of his mercy, an instrument of his love.”
Womack said one of the most helpful pieces of advice he’s received was from Father Anthony Vinson, OSB, at St. Meinrad: “If there’s no curiosity and no feelings of being surprised (as a priest) then you’re not really being present to the people.”
He said he’s excited to see what God calls him to in his priesthood.
“I don’t want to be a priest that comes off as the holiest person in the room. While we’re called to be holy, that’s actually what all the people of God are called to be, holy. That’s what we all try to strive for,” Womack said. “I want to be a priest of the people. A priest that they’re excited about that inspires them to come closer to God, but really how that unfolds and what that looks like is still a mystery.”
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