By Dan Russo
DUBUQUE — A former U.S. Air Force navigator, Deacon Nick Radloff has had his share of adventures in the “wild blue yonder.” Once he is ordained a priest, he will take on a new mission — guiding souls in this life so that they can hopefully take the flight to heaven in the next.
The 34-year-old is slated to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders May 23, with Archbishop Michael Jackels presiding over a private Mass at the Cathedral of St. Raphael.
“My path to the priesthood took a bit longer than others, so there’s a certain amount of relief because what I’ve worked toward and felt called to for so long is finally here,” stated Radloff recently as he was about to enter the priesthood. “Before joining seminary, even though I had my dream job, I always felt like something was missing. After these years of seminary and approaching ordination, what I felt before is replaced with complete joy and contentment.”
The son of Ron and Mary Radloff was born in Cascade and spent his grade school years in Charles City, before the family relocated to Dyersville. The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville is his home parish. Radloff graduated from Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville in 2003 and went to St. Louis University to study aerospace engineering. He was part of the Air Force ROTC program there.
In an earlier interview with The Witness in 2019, Radloff described how a trip to Rome prompted him to discern a vocation to the priesthood more seriously, after having considered it for many years previously.
Because of his commitment to the Air Force, however, seminary wasn’t an immediate possibility. Radloff received his B.S. degree and was commissioned as an officer in 2008, becoming a navigator in the 79th Rescue Squadron. His discernment continued, and he began graduate theology studies while flying full-time. He was deployed three times with the 79th. He left the Air Force when his commitment was complete in 2015 and began seminary the following January. He completed his B.A. in philosophy from Loras College in 2017 and his M.A. in theology from Catholic Distance University in 2018 and also studied at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. He was ordained to the transitional diaconate in 2019. Since then, he has used his last year of formation to grow closer to God and his fellow seminarians.
Two experiences from this time in his life stood out.
“Every seminarian must engage in a retreat, a period of intense prayer, in the months preceding ordination to properly focus on the events ahead,” explained Radloff. “I traveled to Rome in December to pray at the tombs of saints and with the global church as I prepared for my ordination. I was lucky enough to be able to vest as a deacon for Mass with Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Praying with Catholics from all over the world was a beautiful way to finish my retreat.”
About a month after the retreat, Radloff was part of a group of seminarians who attended the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
“The National Prayer Vigil the night preceding the March was another powerful event of this past year,” he recalled. “Uniting with hundreds of fellow seminarians and priests as well as thousands of lay faithful in prayer for a singular intention shows the beauty of the American church and what we can accomplish.”
Radloff still likes to fly as much as possible. He has a private pilot’s license and wishes to incorporate aviation into his ministry through membership in the National Association of Priest Pilots. After ordination, he will be assigned as pastor of St. John Nepomucene Parish in Ft. Atkinson, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Lawler, Assumption Parish in Little Turkey, Holy Trinity Parish in Protivin, St. Luke Parish in St. Lucas, and St. Mary Parish in Waucoma
“I’ve been preparing both spiritually and practically for my assignment,” stated the deacon. “I’m able to do so spiritually by remembering the people of my parish in prayer every day. Practically, I’ve been looking at the parish website, social media, etc. and trying to familiarize myself with parishioners’ names and the activities of the parish.”
In the 2019 interview, Radloff singled out his former pastor, Msgr. Edward Petty, as one of the key influences on his vocation.
“He taught me what a priest should be and was constantly happy in his life as a priest,” Radloff reflected. “His death in 2007 was a great loss for me, but if I can even be half of what he was to me to other people, I’ll consider that a success.”
Deacons Nicholas Radloff (left) and Joseph Sevcik pose with Archbishop Michael Jackels after being installed as acolytes at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois on Oct. 25, 2017. (Contributed photo)