Grant Wilson in Rome

by Maria Ferraro

As they used to say, “All roads lead to Rome…” The saying isn’t true anymore, but for some like Grant Wilson, born and raised in Murrayville IL, his “road” has led him to Rome, to study for the priesthood. It’s an exciting thing for a local boy to study in Rome, be immersed in the Italian culture and language, meet the Pope, taste Italian food, live with an Italian family, and more. What led him to Rome? And what does his story there look like?

As an introduction, Wilson lived most of his life in small town Illinois, and grew up going to small town schools. He says, “… My family lived in Murrayville until we moved to Jacksonville around 2011.” With a long family history in Illinois, Wilson added ”… my great-great-great grandfather was the first one to live in Murrayville.” Jacksonville is home for Wilson. Through high school he attended local schools and was shaped by what he learned here, saying, “I was definitely formed by the people of the area!”

However, one Sunday, and one homily, began to alter the trajectory of Wilson’s life. Father Tom Meyer gave a homily at Our Savior’s Church of his journey from engineering to the priesthood, which greatly impacted Wilson’s heart and mind. Wilson said, “His obvious joy [which I saw] that Sunday was one of the reasons that I started thinking about the seminary.” Although this homily greatly inspired Wilson, it was not the sole reason he began considering the priesthood. He shared about other events that previously touched him, saying, “Two other experiences that helped me grow in my faith were a Teens Encountering Christ (TEC) retreat in middle-school, and leading a Bible study in college where I was a part of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).”

It’s a rigorous study process to get the priesthood. But for Wilson, the hardest part thus far isn’t the study – it’s changing course. He says, “After [getting a business degree in] college, I spent two years studying philosophy at Mundelein Seminary, north of Chicago. The philosophy wasn’t the most difficult aspect for Wilson. He says, “The most difficult part was switching from business classes to philosophy.” At times philosophy has been far more then difficult, it’s been quite confusing. Wilson illustrated this by quoting modern philosopher, Martin Heidegger, who stated, “Temporality temporalizes as a future which makes present in the process of having been.” Okay? Wilson answered this question by saying, “Don’t ask me!”

After his philosophy studies, Wilson didn’t originally plan on going to Rome for further study. Like some things in life, the opportunity unexpectedly came about on a normal day. Wilson and fellow seminarians from the Springfield area were having dinner together. Afterwards, Wilson was called into the bishop’s office for what he thought was a normal check-in. Wilson shares, “After asking how I was, he said that he wanted me to study in Rome!” Something Wilson was not at all expecting. Despite the exciting prospect before him, Wilson did not make the decision hastily. “I didn’t accept on the spot, but after a few weeks of thought and prayer, I decided to go for it.” Although studying in Rome seems like a huge leap, Wilson explained, “it’s definitely not a career-climbing step, just a different route to the same goal.”

Since his arrival in Rome in mid-summer, Wilson has been getting fully into the Italian culture. “I spent my first month in Siena, doing Italian immersion, where another seminarian, Chris Trummer, and I lived with an Italian family.” Their schedule definitely kept them busy, with classes all morning, and afternoon, and evening Mass, all in Italian! “After a few days,” Wilson commented, “my brain was turning to mush.” However, every night their Italian host mom made them a full four-course dinner. Which Wilson described as “fantastic!”

He’s had his moments of culture clash, as well, sharing about Italian’s disdain for credit cards. He says, “They always want you to pay in change that is as exact as possible.” One day, Wilson entered a shop to buy a banana. He chuckled, “When the shopkeeper found out that I only had a credit card and a large euro bill, he disgustedly said, ‘Prendela!’ (Which means ‘Take it!’), threw the banana on the counter, and turned his back on me. On a different day, I managed to pay in exact change, and the cashier acted like I had just finished a marathon, saying ‘Bravo, ragazzo, bravissimo!’ (Which means, ‘Good job, boy, really good job!’).”

Back in Rome now, Wilson is keeping busy with a couple more weeks of orientation sessions and classes in Italian. He’s not sure what to expect when it comes time for theology classes. However, from what he’s gathered from older students, he explains, “The European style of education is like this: The professor lectures; there is no discussion; there is also no homework; at the end of the semester, each student takes a ten-minute oral exam, and that is your grade for the course.”

Regarding future steps, Wilson said he plans, “to study for four more years, then the Bishop of the Springfield area will hopefully ordain me a priest and decide where to send me.” Ultimately, he looks forward to being in a parish of his own someday. That is the direction in which Wilson is going. He has a long road ahead of him. But, as it has been thus far, it will continue to be a wonderful experience he will never forget. Wilson emphasized that it is not easy to be so far from home. He concluded his thoughts by sharing, “I went to the Angelus with the Pope last week, and he ended his post-prayer address by saying, “Don’t forget to pray for me,” so I’ll say the same! If you’ve ever lived abroad, you know that it [can be] a struggle.”

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