from college athlete to friar
One’s first encounter with a religious Vocation can happen in the most unexpected ways. For Donald “Digger” Rank, it was when he met a Carmelite monk skateboarding around campus.
Rank, a Monument, Colo. native, was a student-athlete on the golf team at the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif. when he was first introduced to FOCUS by the ‘skateboarding monk.’ Graduating in 2007, he’d planned to travel throughout Europe before starting his career. Instead, Rank was encouraged to apply for FOCUS staff, and accepted an invitation to serve as a missionary with Varsity Catholic.
Rank served two years with Varsity Catholic, first at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and later at Seton Hall in South Orange, N.J. It was during his time as a missionary, said Rank, that he really “caught the fire” for the faith. He certainly was put through fire, and described his missionary years as a time when he struggled and was stretched, but experienced incredible growth.
“I came to a point where I failed in FOCUS,” said Rank. “I was supposed to give a talk at a recruitment event about Vocations, and for some reason I couldn’t get it together. I was wrestling, and I didn’t feel settled in my Vocation, or like I was where God wanted me to be.” In that moment, Rank knew he had to seriously discern his Vocation.
He joined a discernment group at Seton Hall, and while home for Christmas break that year, he met a group of Capuchin Franciscans from the Mid-American Province, known as the “Mall Monks,” at the Citadel in Colorado Springs, Colo.
At the invitation of the monks, Rank attended a retreat at the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colo. He said he was moved when he heard one of the brothers talking about the poverty of Christ. Reflecting on what Jesus did, Rank said he thought, “It can’t be just him giving himself to me…what is my response?” He finally took the step to join the Capuchins when he realized “I couldn’t run from it, because I wanted to meet Jesus in that total self-gift.”
On July 18, Rank (now Brother Donald) professed his first vows with the Capuchin Franciscans. Rank said much of his experience as a FOCUS missionary prepared him for his Vocation, especially prayer, service to others and living in community. He said he learned what it meant to “have the same mission, and live and pray together.”
It was not just missionary life that prepared him for his vocation, but his experience as an athlete as well. “What I liked most about golf,” he said, “was walking around in nature…now I do that as a Franciscan.” And it is in nature, he says, that he sees God the most.
Brother Donald said he’s excited to be a part of a religious community during the movement of young people many call the “John Paul II Generation.” He sees new life in the Church, especially from the perspective of religious orders, as more and more young people are answering the call to religious life.