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Joel Brackett will be first priest ordained from Rogers

Former football player first heard call after Hendrix game

Published: May 22, 2024   
Deacon Joel Brackett (kneeling) is prayed over by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor during his diaconate ordination Mass May 15 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers. (Alesia Schaefer)

ROGERS — After decades of praying for vocations, parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers witnessed those prayers come to fruition at Joel Brackett’s diaconate Mass. 

Brackett, the first transitional deacon in his home parish, professed his vows before Bishop Anthony B. Taylor with more than 500 family, friends, clergy and seminarians in attendance May 15.

Father Jeff Hebert, vocations director, said it was a moment in time where “the Church on earth and the Church in heaven join together,” when the Litany of Saints was prayed for Brackett in the Mass. 

Father Hebert said he feels the most moving moment of any ordination is when the ordinand lies prostrate before God and the parish.

“It’s always so powerful to me, and Brackett’s gift of himself to the Church gives me great hope,” Father Hebert said.

Father Hebert was associate pastor of St. Joseph Church in Conway when Brackett was attending Hendrix College and discerning his call. Father Hebert recalled being able to minister to Brackett, encouraging him to enter the seminary. 

“Priests don’t always get to be a part of a seminarian’s journey that closely, so I was extremely grateful to walk with him all the way to his diaconate ordination,” Father Hebert said.

A former college football player, Brackett said he first received his calling when returning from a football game in Texas with his teammates. He said it was a “silent night on a dark interstate” when he felt the call of the Holy Spirit. 

“I underwent a conversion to Christ and a reversion to the Catholic faith that I had received as a child,” Bracket said. “It was October of 2017, and I was with my team on a bus ride back and was scrolling through YouTube to pass the time, I stumbled upon a video in which a priest was encouraging young men to consider a vocation to Catholic priesthood. As I watched the video, I suddenly began weeping and knew that I was being called to explore this vocation more deeply.”

His parents, Burke and Kristi Brackett, said they have also experienced a “rollercoaster of emotions” for the past six years as they have watched their child journey down an unfamiliar path. 

“We have watched him grow from a confused college student into a man of faith,” said Kristi, longtime music, band and choir director at St. Vincent de Paul School and Parish. “Joel's journey to priesthood has dramatically changed our family. Watching him grow has brought us all closer together and brought each one of us closer to our Catholic faith.”

Being a longtime member of his parish also played a crucial role in his discernment and Brackett attributes his successful journey to the prayers he received. 

“I pray that, as a deacon and priest, I am able to have as generous a heart as the faithful of my home parish. I am sure that their countless prayers for my vocation have carried me through these years,” he said.

Pastor Msgr. David LeSieur said the parish’s first diaconate ordination of a man who will become a priest touched many people because Brackett was notably a graduate of the parish school.

“Since before I became pastor (in 2006), the parish has been offering a prayer for vocations at Sunday Mass and at school Mass,” he said. “We’ve been blessed with two classes of permanent deacons and now with three men in the seminary. I believe that the prayers we’ve been offering as a parish are bearing the fruit of religious vocations — of men and of women. There are three women religious from our parish, and three seminarians, including Joel, so prayer for future and present vocations is important.”

In his homily, Bishop Taylor emphasized the sacrifice of obedience and that the sacrifice of the will is a special kind of listening. 

“There is something uniquely powerful about ordination Masses,” Father Hebert said. “Every sacrament in which we get to participate in is witnessing the mystery of Christ, but an ordination uniquely displays young men responding to the gospel with their entire life.”

“We all need to see those concrete moments in which the Gospel bursts forth into our lives, and few do so as clearly as an ordination.”

Brackett, 26, is scheduled to be ordained a priest in May 2025. This summer, he will serve at St. Theresa Church in Little Rock before finishing his final year at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana.

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