Trenton Redmond’s grandmother always knew he’d go into the ministry, and a couple years ago, he proved her right.
The 27-year-old is one of 10 men recently accepted as seminary students by the Catholic Diocese of Charleston who will spend the next six to eight years preparing to become priests.
Why has Redmond — who currently practices real estate law with the Myrtle Beach firm Newby Sartip & Masel, grew up in various Protestant churches and was in a long-term engagement — decided on the priesthood?
It’s a calling, he says, one that’s part of a lifestyle he believes he’ll be comfortable in.
His mother, Nikki Hufnagel, calls her son brave and wasn’t surprised when he told her his decision.
His pastor, Father Roger Morgan, calls him humble, intelligent and eager to learn.
Born at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center and a graduate of North Myrtle Beach High School and the Scholars Academy, Redmond’s lived his whole life in Horry County except for his time at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and Notre Dame Law School in Indiana.
He converted to Catholicism when he was 21, having been to various Protestant churches as a kid.
His mother, who has also converted to Catholicism, is the executive assistant to Pastor Daryle Bush at Ocean Drive Presbyterian Church in North Myrtle Beach.
“It wasn’t a particular moment, it was an ongoing process of discernment and prayer,” Redmond, now an altar server at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Myrtle Beach, says.
After visiting several Protestant churches as a kid, he wondered why there were so many different denominations.
He wondered if Jesus created a church and if so, which one.
He wondered if that church still existed in a physical sense and if it was something he could find today.
The answer to all Redmond’s questions was Catholicism.
His many conversations with his one-time fiancé, a theology major at Notre Dame, led to more questions and more answers, and those answers were always consistent.
“Eventually,” he says, after much study, “I became convinced that the Catholic church was founded by Christ, that it has the historic pedigree, that it bore the burden of proof and I wanted to be a part of that.”
He prayed, talked with those already in the priesthood and his family and came to the conclusion that God was calling him to be a priest.
“If we wait for some sort of scientific degree of certainty about what we should do, we’ll wait all our lives,” Redmond says about how he heard God’s call. “In the same way, if we wait for something to fall out of the sky, we will always be waiting.”
He’s going into his six years in seminary with what he calls “a level of certainty that God has called me,” and it will help, he says, to be around other men discerning the same vocation.
“The seminary formation period is certainly a challenging time, filled with study, a demanding prayer life, as well as ministry outside the seminary in parishes, schools and hospitals, but I’m sure Trenton will thrive in this environment,” Morgan, his pastor, says.
According to a prepared statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, the process of being accepted as a seminarian is a rigorous one.
Fifteen letters of recommendation, a background check, safe environment training, physical and psychological evaluations, full financial disclosure, interviews with a review board and at least a year of conviction about the decision are foundational.
“These men are the future leaders of the church in South Carolina,” says Father Matthew Gray, diocesan vicar for vocations. “We put them through such a stringent process because we want to make sure they are spiritually and mentally ready to serve and care for the spiritual needs of the faithful.”
Redmond’s family, his mother says, played devil’s advocate when he told them about his career choice.
“We asked him if he was sure, and what about having children? It’s a way of life, not just a vocation,” she says.
She and Redmond’s three younger sisters all had questions, Hufnagel says, adding, “We’re all on board now to go through this journey with him.
“It’s been quite awesome as a mom to have a front-row seat to watch this, and I want to be as supportive as I possibly can be.”
Hufnagel says that because Redmond has always been smart, she used to say he could end up being the president of the United States. But her mother, who she says was very intuitive, said, “‘No, he’ll be a pastor.’”
On the plus side, Redmond says of course, he believes he’s called to the priesthood.
In practical terms, he enjoys studying, learning and teaching. He also likes talking to people about God.
“A lot of people talk about religion just like a lot of people talk about politics. But people need to talk about God on a personal level.”
And while he says all Christians are called to a life of sacrifice, the priesthood takes that to a different place.
“Jesus was both the priest and the sacrifice and that’s what the Catholic priest is also called to be.”
On the minus side, there is the reality of not having a wife or children, but Redmond says that’s not a negative.
“That’s part and parcel of the vocation, and I will be a father in the spiritual sense,” he says.
Redmond’s first day of school at Theological College in Washington DC is Aug. 24.
“After my six years in seminary I’ll come home and hopefully be a parish priest,” he says.
“I believe God is calling me to serve Him in this particular way and I feel blessed. I want to answer Christ’s call. I want to serve Him.”