Seminarian John Wesley Lawrence is being remembered for his easy-going nature, his steady and calm presence and his generosity. He died Aug. 31 in his sleep at age 30.
Lawrence, a certified public accountant, entered the seminary after volunteering during two summers at Catholic Youth Camp.
He was visiting his mother in Anamosa before turning to school at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he would have been starting his second year of theology.
Lawrence was expected to be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Des Moines in June, 2018.
The son of the late C.W. and Denise Lawrence, he was raised on a farm near Monticello in eastern Iowa with his younger brother, Michael. He graduated from Monticello High School in 2004 and earned an accounting management degree from Iowa State University in 2009.
He worked at McGladrey in downtown Des Moines as an accountant and was a parishioner at St. Boniface Parish in Waukee before joining the seminary in January 2013.
In his vocation story, Lawrence said that while growing up, it was a local religious woman, Sister Damien, who told him he would make a good priest.
"I was a little shocked after hearing that, because I wasn't sure what Sister saw in me," Lawrence wrote. "For some reason, though, I have always remembered what she said."
While still working for the accounting firm, Lawrence took time off from work to counsel young people at Catholic Youth Camp in the summers of 2011 and 2012. This is where Lawrence first realized God may have been calling him to the priesthood.
He heard a homily by Father Joseph Pins, diocesan vocations director, which resonated. Father Pins had also been an accountant when he decided to discern a vocation to the priesthood.
"My heart goes out to the Lawrence family and to the seminary community at St. Paul," said Father Pins. "We saw Christ when we saw John. He was a steady and calm presence. May the Lord's perpetual light shine upon him."
Seminarian Ryan Andrew often spent time watching Iowa State football and basketball games with Lawrence. They grew close over the summer, as their days consisted of studying hospital ministry together at Veterans Hospital in Minneapolis.
"He had a very compassionate heart, loved people and was a great person," Andrew said.
Ryan Welch always enjoyed seeing Lawrence, who lived right across the hall from him at seminary. In fact, Lawrence showed Welch the ropes when he started at seminary.
"He was one of the first guys I talked to," he said. "He showed me around the seminary when I came to visit - always willing to give the time. He gave me that time and I was a complete stranger."
Welch will never forget Lawrence's good nature.
"It didn't really matter what was going on - if he had broken his wrist playing broom ball or broke his other wrist playing broom ball [the next year]," Welch said with a laugh. "Or just had a lot of school work due at the same time, he just always had an easy-goingness about him that just wouldn't be defeated by external struggles or circumstances. Definitely, that's an amazing feature."
"He was a very kind man who had a heart for people," Welch said.
"For John's mother, Denise, and his brother, Michael, John's death is a huge loss," Bishop Pates said. "We extend our heartfelt condolences and assurance of prayers to them. For the diocesan seminary community it is also heartrending. For the last three and a half years, John has been an anchor to that group. He was steady, good-natured, balanced and extraordinarily generous. He was a man of prayer and deep faith. We will greatly miss him but will be motivated by his spirit and example in the days ahead."