Patric Nikolas has lived a full life. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from California State University — Chico and worked as a professional musician and arts executive.
Nikolas remembers feeling drawn to Gregorian chant in 1993 when the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos released their CDs.
Though he was living a successful life, he longed for more. In his early 40s, he lived as a Trappist monk for three years at the New Clairvaux Abbey in Vina, California.
“After experiencing what I would come to see as an indispensible foundation in contemplative life, my discernment was that the will of God would be most magnified in me, and my capacities would best lend themselves to apostolic life,” he said. “I discerned to leave in order to continue accordingly, and subsequently applied to the Society (of the Divine Savior).”
In his second year with the Salvatorians, the 46-year-old San Jose native joked about being one of the older novices in the order.
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“Perhaps in this weather there is something fitting about novices that are left over from the Pleistocene age,” he laughed.
With vocations up 17 percent in the Society of the Divine Savior, and 20 men studying to become priests, the Salvatorians created a campaign called, “Adopt an Apostle” to support those in the Milwaukee formation house. Annual tuition and cost of living increases total approximately $55,000 for each man.
In order to foster support of the campaign, as well as a better understanding of the Salvatorian order, four men studying to become priests traveled cross-country from Milwaukee to California at the beginning of the year, speaking and experiencing several ministries.
Nikolas, Octavio Trejo-Flores of Zihuantenejo, Mexico, Michael Johnson of Woodbury, Minnesota, and Marcel Emeh of Nigeria all in their second year of formation, spent most of January experiencing Southwest Medical Aid, Jordan Ministry, a soup patrol, the Nogales, Mexico border, a safe house for anti-trafficking ministry and other ministries.
“We engaged in a plethora of activities,” explained Nikolas. “Some highlights included a stay at our former novitiate building, which currently serves as a faith-based rehab for troubled youth. We visited our various parish communities and saw some of their ministries that include excellent adult faith formation, went out to places where homeless people congregate, feeding them out of vans, and acquiring, inventorying, and sending out perfectly good medical supplies that would otherwise be discarded to people who need them the most.”
Nikolas said he was moved as he walked across the border into Mexico and witnessed the plight of migrants firsthand. He also learned about corruption in the area, and said his eyes were opened in a new way after visiting a safe house for escaped victims of human trafficking.
“During the trip we were asked to speak on several occasions, and for the most part questions revolved around our vocation stories, such as why we want to be priests,” he said. “For myself, I believe that I’ve always been called, though I did not directly respond until middle age. I had a good life in which I satisfactorily accomplished my goals, and after the initial struggles of getting professionally established, life amazed me by suddenly becoming easy. In gratitude, therefore, I responded to God at last, resigned my positions, and embarked upon an extended sabbatical until entering religious life.”
Marcel Emeh, 39, felt called to religious life as a child. He was an altar server and looked up to the priests
about the salvatorians-society of the divine savior
Salvatorian priests and brothers are members of the Society of the Divine Savior, a Catholic religious community founded in 1881 by Fr. Francis Jordan. The U.S. Province, headquartered in Milwaukee is led by Fr. Joseph Rodrigues, U.S. Provincial.
As men of prayer and action, Salvatorians use their unique and diverse talents through “all ways and means” to spread the word of God. They work as equals within the family of Salvatorian sisters and lay, priests and brothers.
The Salvatorian priests and brothers partner as equals with the other members of the Salvatorian family – the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Savior and Lay Salvatorians.
during eucharistic celebrations.
He told his vocation story during a Mass at Divine Savior Parish in Orangevale, California, noting that he became an altar server at age 5.
“My high school was in the minor seminary run by Missionaries of St. Paul and I studied philosophy at Claretian Institute of Philosophy in Nigeria,” he added.
While on sabbatical in Rome, a friend encouraged him to join the Salvatorians, and after a lengthy application process, he was accepted, and moved to Milwaukee.
“This I considered as a leap of faith, just like Abraham in the Bible. I trusted and believed strongly that God would not mislead me. I am very happy as a Salvatorian novice,” he said, noting parishioners responded positively about Adopt an Apostle.
Because he always felt spoiled in his comfortable life, Michael Johnson, 31, wanted to give back to those living in a Third World country. Through the assistance of Salvatorian Fr. Joe Rodriguez, U.S Provincial and vocations director, he spent three months serving a clinic at the Jordan University College in Tanzania taking blood pressures, starting IV’s, and distributing medication.
“I also learned Kiswahili when I was there in Morogoro and then I spent the second half doing the same thing down in Namiungo, which is more in the bush. It was a very poor area,” he said. “The main focus on Morogoro is the college and the Salvatorians have a few clinics in different areas. They also have a water project for digging wells, and educate children and run a seminary. They also have a large farm in the south for growing and raising food. I think God worked on me for those years and there were little signs that led me toward the priesthood.”
While he understood and expected the poverty in Tanzania, he was unprepared for poverty in the United States, especially serving soup on a mobile patrol to the homeless, before they ran out of soup, in Tucson, Arizona.
“We headed to Oceanside, California where the Salvatorian Sisters run a safe house for battered women,” Johnson said. “They are in collaboration with many organizations to put a stop to trafficking of human beings. Some of the stories we heard were very sad.”
The final stop was in Orangevale, California where each of the novices gave another talk during the Masses on their vocations and the Adopt an Apostle campaign. Following Mass, during a panel discussion, the parishioners had many questions.
“The community in Orangevale are doing great things,” Johnson said. “They are very involved with numerous ministries, from homeless to jail, to prayer, to yoga, to just about anything you can think of. It was nice to meet so many passionate people that are working hard to make the world a better place. It was a very inspirational trip.”
Though Octavio Trejo-Flores knew that the cross-country trip was a requirement in the program as a Salvatorian novice, the journey affected him more than he imagined.
“To be honest, this trip marked my life significantly because I became aware of the apostolate that Salvatorians make in various parts of the country,” he said. “Fr. (Francis) Jordan, founder of the Salvatorians, urged all members to spread the message of salvation of Christ, which is for everyone and they are accomplishing Fr. Jordan’s exhortation.”
The 41-year-old served as a lay missionary for more than five years. In his final year, he realized God was tugging at his heart.
“At that time, it was hard to understand and discern my religious vocation because I was supposed to spend just a couple of years as a lay missionary,” he explained. “After that experience, I wanted to go back home and continue with my life. However, there was something in my mind and within me calling me to do more, to stay in order to continue spreading the Gospel of Jesus. The love of God.”
After his service as a lay missionary ended, Flores searched for a seminary or religious community. He recalled the frustration of knocking on many doors, but not getting any answers.
During that time, he met Salvatorian Fr. Raul Gomez.
“It seemed like finally my quest was over,” he explained. “Fr. Raul was a real person, that is, he was not proud or an arrogant priest. On the contrary, he seemed to be close, down to earth, a real person. At that time, I thought that if I ever were ordained a priest, I would like to be like him. He invited me to join the Salvatorian community. After a few weeks, I decided to move to Madrid, Spain, to get to know the Salvatorians.”
After living in Madrid for a while, Flores applied to the U.S. Province and moved to Milwaukee in summer 2012 to begin his formation as a Salvatorian.
“I do believe that this place is where God wants me to stay,” he said. “I feel at home. It feels like home. I am very happy, but above everything, I feel blessed to belong to the Salvatorian family.”