Meet the Diocese of Belleville’s new seminarians

The Diocese of Belleville’s newest seminarians come from diverse backgrounds of education and have different life experiences, but they all heard God calling first in a gentle whisper and then, a little louder voice.

Luke Fitzgerald, Josh Elmore and Casmir Cozzi are now in formation and studies, and continuing to discern God’s call more clearly.

Cozzi, at 19 the youngest of the group, comes from a military family which moved around a lot when he was growing up.

“I lived in New Jersey, Oklahoma and North Dakota,” he says. Eventually his father, Daniel Cozzi, retired from Scott Air Force Base and the family settled at Holy Childhood Parish in Mascoutah.

Daniel Cozzi was ordained a permanent deacon in 2018, and that experience had a big impact on his son’s own discernment.

“It was a cool experience, seeing his ordination and the process he and my mother (Jody) went through,” he says.

Cozzi says that when he was young he told his parents that he would be either a pilot or a priest when he grew up, but he really began thinking seriously about the priesthood while studying at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

“I realized the transient lifestyle of a pilot wasn’t for me,” he says. At Benedictine College, he studied mechanical engineering, and spent a summer interning at Boeing in St. Louis.

“I realized it was not something I wanted to do the rest of my life. It just wasn’t spiritually satisfying,” he says.

Benedictine had lots to offer a discerning young man. “It was a very faith filled campus, and I was able to do a lot of discerning there with the Benedictine monks,” he says. “I felt the calling press on my heart.”

He went on a seminary visit right before the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. After that, his mind was made up. He will start seminary at Kenrick-Glennon this fall.

Elmore, 23, is also from Holy Childhood Parish, the son of Mark and Mary Elmore. He says that even though he was four years older than Cozzi, they knew each other in school.

It was at Mascoutah High School that Elmore first began thinking about the priesthood. Later, while he was attending Maryville University and studying to be a physical therapist, and later for an accounting degree, that he began to have what he calls a genuine spiritual awakening.

“I studied accounting because it used the strengths God gave me, but it didn’t feel as fulfilling as it should,” he says. “The truth was I didn’t have much of a relationship with God. I realized that was lacking in my life, so I started waking up early before class and going to chapel. Daily Mass attendance is what caused me to start considering the priesthood.”

He would often attend Vespers after Mass at St. Louis Abbey in west St. Louis County with the local Benedictine monks. There he found a spiritual director who encouraged his discernment.

“I reached out to Father Brian Fallon, vocations director at the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and he put me in touch with Father Nick Junker, vocations director for the Diocese of Belleville.

Elmore graduated from Maryville last December, and has since worked for Coalition for Life as an accountant and sidewalk counselor. He will begin Pre-Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary this fall.

Fitzgerald, 35, has taken a longer path to seminary. Originally from Jonesboro, Ark., he spent 14 years in the U.S. Navy, where he served on submarines and aircraft carriers, until several on-the-job injuries forced him to leave the service.

As a high school student, Fitzgerald was deeply involved in his church, in particular youth programs. As a high school senior, he helped start a Life Teen program. “People said ‘you’re going to be a great priest some day,’” he says.

But the Navy had his number, he says. “They promised to educate me for free,” he said.

After completing his Navy service, Fitzgerald ended up in Richmond, Virginia, where he earned his realtor license and again became involved in his local church. “I served as an adult chaperone on a trip to a Steubenville Youth Conference,” and the youth minister told me ‘you’re going to be a priest someday.’”

“I started to think maybe it was time to take discernment seriously,” he says. Five years ago, he attended a “Come and See” Retreat in Little Rock, and the experience clinched it for him.

After he decided to study for the priesthood, his next decision proved equally difficult. Should he be a priest in Little Rock? Richmond? Neither of those options appealed to him. While at Sacred Heart Seminary in Wisconsin, he befriended Joel Seipp and Steve Pautler, both of whom are now diocesan priests in the Diocese of Belleville.

“The more I learned about the Diocese of Belleville, the more I liked it,” he said. He especially like it being a missionary diocese, the small town parishes, and best of all, it wasn’t that far from Arkansas where he still has friends and family.

Fitzgerald will begin First Theology this fall at Sacred Heart Seminary in Wisconsin.