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The Freedom to Say ‘Yes’: Discernment 180 Retreat led David Nelle to apply to seminary

Oct 9, 2023

It took David Nelle 180 days to realize God wasn’t going to choose seminary for him.

In 2020, after graduating from Texas A&M, David got a job in Panama City, Florida and during this time decided to try Discernment 180, a discernment program used by Fr. Greg Gerhart in the Diocese of Austin.

During D180, which is essentially a six-month period of “intentional discernment,” David embraced the program’s Rule of Life and committed to daily reflections and readings from scripture, church documents and the lives of the saints.

“With the Rule of Life, you agree to do a retreat at a seminary at some point, and you agree to a dating fast and avoiding one-on-one time with women. It’s a six-month period of trying to be open to your true vocation.”

The retreat led him to understanding God wanted him to use his free will to make the choice.

“I went on retreat with Encounter ministries and the theme was on Identity,” said David. “I knew this was an area I wanted to grow in.’

At the retreat, one of the speakers mentioned a time when he was having trouble discerning something in his own life.
This idea of a free will choice offered David the clarity he had been praying for. David realized he had been waiting for God to almost force him to become a priest, and at the retreat he understood the act of love that comes with freely making that decision.

“I think part of me wanted a call with so much clarity that it was almost impossible to say no to. But if you’re doing it that way, that’s less of a gift and more straight up obedience. Sometimes you want God to make the choice so you don’t have to,” he said. “I have the opportunity to do this as a gift.”

David first felt drawn to the priesthood in middle school but wasn’t sure if the feelings would last. He was at Mount2000, a retreat at Mount St. Mary’s seminary in Emmitsburg, MD, when retreat organizers asked the young men if any were interested in the priesthood.

“That was the first I had any draw to it,” said David, adding he didn’t dwell on it much after that. “At first I thought it was a retreat high, and I didn’t start taking it seriously until college.”

David headed to Texas A&M to study ocean engineering after graduating from high school in the small town of Jefferson, MD. During his freshman year, feelings from the middle school retreat resurfaced.

“I was in prayer at some point during my freshman year, and something in me just felt drawn to the priesthood,” said David. Soon after this, he decided to get a spiritual director for added guidance.

“It was very intimidating,” he said, describing those initial feelings about a vocation. David was worried he would need to drop out of college to become a priest. But his spiritual director helped him realize he could finish undergrad as he continued to pray about a call to the priesthood.

After graduating from A&M in 2020, he went to work and began his Discernment 180 journey.
David will begin his first year of seminary this fall at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas. David’s parents are both from Texas and have since moved back there.

David asks that Serrans pray for him, for peace and clarity in the discernment process, peace and faith, and docility to formation.

Learn more about D180 at: