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Fr. Nathan Haverland, pastor at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Marysville, Kansas, will receive the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from Benedictine College on May 10.
At Benedictine College’s 2016 all-school Mass, he described how Benedictine College moved him from his interest to science to his interest in God.
“I studied science, all of creation. Then I gave myself to the one who made it all in the first place,” he said. “I wanted to be an astronaut — to sail among the stars. Little did I know I would do just that, but as a priest.”
Haverland came to Benedictine College wanting to be an astronaut and studied nuclear engineering after graduating in 2005.
To pursue his desire to be an astronaut, Haverland had only two Kansas choices. Only Benedictine College and the University of Kansas offered degrees in astronomy and physics, and after a visit to KU, Haverland knew it was not for him.
He enrolled in Benedictine College, despite the fact that he had grown up without religion in his life.
“Sunday was just another weekend day, just another Saturday,” he told The Chieftain newspaper. “I didn’t know anything about God. I think we all have the inherent desire to know God. I mean, I had a lot of questions, but I didn’t know anything growing up.”
That all changed at Benedictine. During his junior year, he fulfilled his Theology requirement with a course that changed his life. Later that year, he was baptized and confirmed and received his First Communion.
“I kind of took my first leap of faith, I guess, going to this small, Catholic college that I didn’t know anything about, knew nothing about the Church, knew nothing about the college, didn’t know a single soul there,” he told the paper. He was baptized at Benedictine College as a junior.
“It was very beautiful — it was the beginning of my life as a Catholic,” he said. “I still never would have imagined that I would be a priest at that point.”
By graduation in 2005, his dream of becoming an astronaut had passed and he had turned to nuclear engineering. He received a scholarship to the University of Michigan, one of the top nuclear engineering programs in the country. After a while, though, he realized nuclear engineering would not make him happy and he began looking at religious orders.
But it was the thought of going to the seminary that brought the most peace to Haverland. He visited with Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and began studies for the priesthood.
When he gave the Convocation homily to his alma mater, he joked with students that his scientific studies were not totally wasted.
“You have to know nuclear engineering if you are going to make something out of nothing!” he said with a smile.
He went on to cite other places where science and religion mix ironically in the New Testament: in biology when Jesus heals the sick, astronomy when the star appears over Bethlehem and chemstiry, when Jesus turns water into wine.
On a mores serious note, he noted the compatibility of faith and science.
“People often think the two are somehow opposed to each other, but history shows that the two have worked well alongside each other,” he said. “The conflicts between science and religion tend to occur when either of them steps out of their area of expertise. But overall, the two shouldn’t be contrary to one another because they study two different things. Science studies the universe and theology studies the author of the universe.”
Benedictine College’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award recognizes alumni who are under 35 years old, have distinguished themselves in their community and profession, and who support the values promoted at Benedictine College. Each year the honoree returns to address the graduating seniors at the traditional brunch the day before Commencement.