Nicholas Fleming was not a practicing Catholic for most of his life.
He attended a Catholic grade school before going to public high school, and he did not regularly attend church on Sunday.
He was not truly involved in his faith until his early 20s.
“I went on a retreat my senior year of college, and that was when everything sort of came to a head and came back to me,” Fleming recounted. “My senior year of college, I was still finishing up my business stuff in school and going to Mass every single day and really praying every day to figure out what God wanted me to do.”
Fleming, who earned a bachelor’s in finance and economics from Saint Louis University, decided to go to seminary to at least determine if that is what he felt called to do.
Now, he has graduated from seminary and is the new associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Columbia.
Fleming was ordained into the priesthood July 11 at The Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville. Bishop Edward Braxton officiated over the ceremony.
As part of his six-year education at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Fleming has been working for the past year as a deacon at Immaculate Conception, which made his appointment there welcome news.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s exciting to be going back to Immaculate Conception as a priest. It’s just going to be awesome to have a new role with people. It’ll just be an awesome celebration to be with them. I know they’re excited because they’ve been part of the journey with me.”
An O’Fallon native, Fleming said he has missed the parishioners in Columbia during the pandemic.
“With churches being closed, that made it a little difficult in terms of how to best have outreach, how to still be present and do what we were normally doing,” he said, noting one of the best parts of his job is socializing with people after services end. “I think the tough part has just been the lack of physical contact with people and being in their lives.”
Similarly, he said he felt like there was not proper closure when he finished school because of COVID-19.
“It was kind of tough because everything was so abrupt,” he said. “We were all sent home pretty quickly.”
Fleming will look to put that behind him in his associate pastor role, which he said centers on helping pastor Carl Scherrer.
“Most of my job is just going to be supporting him in any way, whether that be helping with the schedule, taking masses or doing confessions and sacraments,” Fleming explained. “But also, I really want to be able to supplement what he’s doing. If there’s any new ideas or new avenues of doing things or ways we can reach out to people, I want to be a part of that.
“Once I get there, it will be exciting to see what new opportunities there are.”
Fleming, who officiated his first Mass as a priest at Immaculate Conception on Sunday, also said he looked forward to working in Immaculate Conception School, specifically getting to know the students and helping in religion classes.
Following the service, parishioners participated in a socially distant drive-by welcome parade for “Father Nick.”