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Meet the Millennial Who Gave up Success to Become a Dominican Friar

"I thought, most people want to pursue money, power, honor, and fame. So, why don’t I go the opposite way? Why don’t I do something radical?'"

John Wilson F. Nucum had it all planned out. The eldest of two siblings, he completed his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (major in Business Economics) at Tarlac State University and was poised to take over his family’s two businesses—a school and catering company.  

But a trip to the United States led him to a path not even he expected. While in Washington, DC, where he worked as a manager for a training agency for a year and a half, he took to attending Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

One Sunday, then Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle happened to be celebrating a Baccalaureate Mass for the graduates of the Catholic University of America. (Read: Words of Wisdom from Cardinal Chito Tagle) “In his homily, he invited the graduates to testify to Jesus in the place that is prepared for them,” said Wilson in an email interview with My Pope Philippines. “That event…opened the door for me to explore the thought of this vocation.” 

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COMMUNITY OF BROTHERS. Br. Wilson (center) and fellow friars stand before the ceremonial entrance to the Arch of the Centuries to mark the beginning of formal studies at the University of Santo Tomas. (Photos courtesy of John Wilson F. Nucum)

Now 28, Br. John Wilson F. Nucum, OP, belongs to the Dominican Order (formally known as the Order of Preachers). He stays at the Dominican Studentate (Dominican House of Formation) in Santo Domingo Church, Quezon City, and is an incoming second year theologian taking his Bachelor in Sacred Theology at the Ecclesiastical Faculties of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). (Read: Pope Francis Before He Became a Priest)

What made Br. Wilson realize his vocation? The young friar recalls that pivotal moment when he decided to embrace the religious life, what he most looks forward to as a priest, and what his purpose is in his chosen life.  

When did you first realize your priestly calling?

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I HAVE A DREAM. Br. Wilson at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, DC, where he decided to answer God’s call. (Photos courtesy of John Wilson F. Nucum)

The decisive moment came when I was at the Lincoln Memorial standing near the plaque where Martin Luther King Jr. stood and gave his famous speech in 1963, “I Have A Dream.”  Overlooking Washington, DC, made me realize that I was in a very powerful place. The “American Dream” was at my fingertips if I continued with my ambition. 

But I asked myself, “Why am I not happy?” I was in the land of my dreams, the land of the free and home of the brave! I had a nice job and a decent salary. All I needed to do was to move forward and climb up the ladder of success. Why was I not happy? (Read: Was Pope Francis Always on the Path to Popehood? We Find Out!)

After all my preparations in my education, I thought of doing something more—or less, depending on one’s perspective. Something that people who are fighting their way up the ladder of success wouldn’t even think of. I thought many people are after money, power, honor, and fame. If most people want to pursue money, power, honor, and fame, why don’t I go the opposite way? Why don’t I do something radical? 

Have you ever thought that priesthood was not the life for you? 

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Prior Provincial Br. Naopleon B. Sipalay Jr., OP, and Br. Wilson’s parents Ranilo and Jo-ann vest him with the Dominican habit at the chapel of Letran, Calamba. (Photos courtesy of John Wilson F. Nucum)

Even now that I am a friar, there are times when I reminisce about the days that I spent in Calamba and Manaoag; visiting the States and other countries; eating the food that I like; drinking wine whenever I want to, or having a relationship and eventually a family. Whenever those thoughts cross my mind, I always go back to the very reason why I am here. (Read: 3 Uplifting Prayers to Help You Embrace Your Life Purpose)

I always look back to my experience when I first heard the call of God through some seemingly superficial things, like that of the homily of Cardinal Tagle, or the grandeur of the Mass, or the happy community life of the friars of Santo Domingo Church. I always go back to my desire for happiness, which no money, power, honor, or fame could fill. And I think, being a religious, more importantly being a Dominican friar is the perfect way for me to achieve that lasting happiness. (Read: We asked grandparents: How do you attain genuine happiness?)

I do not need money, power, honor, or fame. I only need a life of prayer, study, community, and apostolate to serve the source of all happiness—God. 

What do you most look forward to as a priest?

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At his first profession in Manaoag, Pangasinan, with his parents, Ranilo and Jo-ann Nucum, and Archbishop Socrates Villegas, DD, OP (Photos courtesy of John Wilson F. Nucum)

While in formation, I am always in awe whenever we see our friar-priest consecrate the bread and wine. (Read: Food For the Soul: The Holy Communion) What a power God gave to priests in transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ! No other being, not even angels, can summon God to be transformed from manmade bread and wine. I always look forward to receiving that grace, to be an alter Christus (other Christ) where sins could be forgiven through the sacrament of reconciliation. 

How has being a seminarian changed you?

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LOVE AND MERCY. Candidates lie prostrate on the floor and ask for God’s mercy and the mercy of the Prior Provincial. (Photos courtesy of John Wilson F. Nucum)

Being a Dominican friar in formation, I learned that all this time, all God wants me to do is to love. Love is the whole point of our vocation. Whether we are married, single, consecrated, or ordained, God wants us to find the greatest path for love. 

Looking back at who I was before, I see there were substantial changes, especially with the way I look at things. This vocation is not about me. This vocation is about God. With this, I begin to look at things through the lens of faith and substantially through the lens of mercy. (Read: Is it possible to serve God simply by living your life with a sense of purpose? This modern-day saint says so!)

In our profession of our vows, while we lie prostrate, we are asked by the provincial, “What do you seek?”  “God’s mercy and yours!” we answer, our faces on the floor. 

Every single day of my life in the Order, as sinful as I am, I am thankful to God and to my community for their boundless mercy for me. And that thought of overflowing mercy assures me of the hope I cherish in this beautiful Dominican life. 

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