Hospital chaplaincy a ‘turning point’ for seminarian

Dustin Hungerford, a seminarian in formation for the Archdiocese of Louisville, made his deacon promises and oath of fidelity at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad Ind., Feb. 25. (Photo Special to The Record)

When Dustin Hungerford is ordained to the transitional diaconate April 10, he will be one step closer to fulfilling a vocation he’s been discerning since the second-grade.

Hungerford, 32, is in formation for the diocesan priesthood at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind.

He will be ordained to the transitional diaconate at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St. The Mass is by invitation only because of health and safety protocols but will be live-streamed on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel.

Before entering the seminary in 2018, Hungerford taught theology to Catholic high school students at Mercy Academy, Sacred Heart Academy and Holy Cross High School.

“I absolutely loved teaching but I felt this call,” said Hungerford during a recent phone interview.

Prior to formation for priesthood in the Archdiocese of Louisville, he also spent a year and a half as a Carmelite novice.

“I loved being a Carmelite and I love Carmelite spirituality but I discerned that wasn’t for me,” he said.

Hungerford earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in theology and philosophy from Bellarmine University and a Master of Arts degree in theology, which he completed at St. Meinrad before entering seminary there. He also completed his master catechist formation in 2019.

The diaconate is a transitional step for seminarians as their formation for priesthood nears its end. As the date approaches, he’s experiencing a mixture of emotions.

“In many ways I’m excited; in some ways, I’m humbled and a little scared,” said Hungerford. “It’s been a long journey. I’ve been discerning since the second-grade.”

Hungerford said as a deacon he’s looking forward to preaching and doing baptisms. He served for 10 weeks at Baptist Health Louisville last summer and is looking forward to continuing a ministry to the sick and dying.

“It was the greatest experience of my life. I felt a kinship with the people,” said Hungerford. “I never would have had the opportunity to get that experience anywhere else in my life.”

Hungerford also does a tele-ministry, calling sick and shut-in members of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Our Mother of Sorrows and St. Therese of Lisieux churches.

“I’ve been moved. You don’t realize how much it means to someone just to receive a call,” said Hungerford. “Ministry to the sick and dying is very important. It’s what I’m passionate about.”

Father Anthony Chandler, director of the Vocation Office, said service at Baptist Health Louisville was a “turning point” for Hungerford.

“A big turning point for him was taking part in the clinical pastoral experience at Baptist East. It taught him empathy in working with people during the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with death,” said Father Chandler.

Father Chandler said Hungerford is also “funny, witty, bright and very intelligent” and he’s looking forward to what he’ll accomplish as a deacon. “I understand (from the faculty at St. Meinrad) that he’s an excellent preacher,” said Father Chandler. As Hungerford makes this transition to deacon, Father Chandler said, he encourages him to “Pray, do your work and be obedient.”

Hungerford credits his family, friends and his parish for his success. He is the son of Nicole and Richard Basham. He has eight siblings ranging in age from 29 to five.

“Family is so important. My grandparents were essential to my upbringing. It takes a village,” said Hungerford. “Family is the tether of life. There’s God and then there’s family.”

He grew up in St. Polycarp Church — one of five parishes that merged to form St. Peter the Apostle Church  — where Father William Burks encouraged his vocation.

“He gives himself totally to Jesus. His ministry is beautiful. That image of ministry is what I grew up with,” said Hungerford. “He’s one of the primary reasons I was attracted to vocation.”

During high school, Father Philip Erickson, who served as a chaplain at DeSales High School, also helped foster his vocation, said, Hungerford.

“Father Philip Erickson helped me to see how I can bring my talent (as a teacher) to the priesthood,” said Hungerford. “He really cares about nurturing vocation and encouraging guys.”

Hungerford’s parish assignment has not yet been announced.

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