Deacon Hopper: Profound encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist planted seeds

Deacon Nathan Hopper assists Bishop Louis Tylka at the altar after being ordained a transitional deacon last May. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Deacon Nathan Hopper had started to think he was growing out of the faith during his sophomore year in high school when Jesus made it clear he had other plans for the young man.

He went on a retreat with the LifeTeen group at his home parish, Epiphany in Normal, and on the first night he came face to face with Jesus in the monstrance.

Deacon Hopper’s first Mass will be on Sunday, May 28, at Epiphany Church in Normal. It will begin at 11 a.m. A reception will follow.

“I just had a profound encounter with the Lord in that moment,” he recalled. “It really hit me how much he loved me and had done for me in my life. It also hit me in that moment how little I had actually cared for him up to that point.”

That changed pretty quickly as he got involved in LifeTeen activities — including a weekly hour in Epiphany’s perpetual adoration chapel.

“That’s really where I came to know the Lord and share my life with him be willing to hear his plan for my life,” Deacon Hopper said.

While he wasn’t thinking of the priesthood at that time, the seeds had been planted.

When he went to Illinois State University to studying accounting, he got involved at the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center right away, serving as a sacristan and assisting at the altar. He liked being able to help the priest as Jesus became present in the Eucharist during Mass.


Deacon Hopper said the people at the Newman Center saw his vocation before he did. While he graduated and started working at Insight CPA Accounting in Bloomington and loved it, he was talking to Father Timothy Hepner, director of vocations for the Diocese of Peoria.

In 2016, he went to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and never looked back.

“There are many confirmations I’m grateful to God for,” Deacon Hopper said of his vocation. Among them were his Scripture classes.

“I could bring my puzzle-solving to it and see God’s big plan for the world,” he explained, noting that accounting had appealed to him for the puzzle-solving aspect of it. “I realized I can bring my whole self to this.”

Deacon Hopper said his time in prayer is humbling as he realizes more and more that he didn’t get to this point on his own. He called it a complete gift of God.

“I’m not becoming a priest for myself,” he said.

His experience at summer assignments to the parishes of Heart of Peoria Catholic Community, Emmaus Days, St. Michael the Archangel in Streator and Sts. Peter and Paul in Leonore, and St. Matthew in Champaign have taught him to trust that wherever he is assigned after ordination, it will be wonderful.

“All of the parishes are great places,” Deacon Hopper said.

He is grateful for the prayers he has received and promised to continue to pray for the Diocese of Peoria, as well.

His vesting priest at the Mass of Ordination will be Father Hepner, who will also preach at his first Mass on Sunday, May 28, at Epiphany Church in Normal. It will begin at 11 a.m.

A reception will follow.

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