From the Monastery to Hillsdale

Written by Liam Martin

Colton Duncan, ’23, took a long and unique road to Hillsdale. Once a student in 2012, he left the College to attend seminary. Now, after seven years, including three in Argentina, he returned to Hillsdale to finish his degree, and currently serves as house director of Niedfeldt Residence. 

A native of southwest Ohio, Colton grew up with his three sisters before matriculating to Hillsdale in the fall of 2012. He says he was drawn to the Catholic priesthood in high school, but decided to attend Hillsdale because of its academic rigor. 

“I remember getting to know Hillsdale a little bit and seeing how academically rigorous it was,” Colton explains. “When I decided to attend in 2012, it was because I was convinced that coming to Hillsdale as an undergrad would prepare me better for the priesthood than going straight away to seminary.”

After completing his first year at Hillsdale, however, Colton felt God calling him to seminary. He decided to enter seminary with Miles Christi (Latin for “Soldiers of Christ”), a small order of priests dedicated to the method of prayer developed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. This form of prayer, based in Saint Ignatius’ The Spiritual Exercises, is focused especially on God’s will and developing attentiveness to God in one’s life. 

In Colton’s words, “Miles Christi preaches the Spiritual Exercises and retreats, and offers spiritual direction and intellectual formation. They are particularly focused on laypeople, especially laypeople in college, which is something unique about them.”

Colton spent two-and-a-half years in prayer and study at the Miles Christi house of formation in South Lyon, Michigan, before heading to a year-long internship with the order in San Diego, California. He then traveled to a Miles Christi school of Philosophy in Argentina for three years to continue his studies. However, as time went on, he began to feel that God had other plans for his life. 

At age 26, he returned to Hillsdale as a student and head resident assistant of Niedfeldt. One year later, Colton has taken over as house director and is pursuing a double major in classics and international business. 

When asked why he chose international business, he replied, “Prudence. It’s that virtue that creates the link between the ivory tower of the contemplative and the gritty reality that everybody experiences. I want to learn the skills and the abilities that would help me bridge that gap. When I was in seminary, I studied wisdom. Now, with international business, I’m studying prudence.” 

For Colton, residential life is another way God is working in his life. “Helping with residence life is a really, really great act of Providence. It’s hard to find a way to be engaged on campus if you’re substantially older than everyone else. At the same time, you’re not in the same place as everyone else. Being house director gives me a way to be engaged with campus life and the student body in a way that’s fitting for me and my circumstances. I’m not just another 18- or 19-year-old; I’m in more of a mentor position.”

After graduation, Colton hopes to spend a few years working and studying in Europe before moving back home to Ohio to start a family. Although his life has turned out differently than he once imagined, Colton is convinced that God brought him back to Hillsdale for a reason, and intends to continue serving God, both on campus and in his future career. 

Life at Hillsdale, as both a student and a mentor to the younger men of Niedfeldt, “takes a lot of wisdom and detachment from self,” Colton says. Virtus tentamine gaudet, “Strength rejoices in the challenge,” is Hillsdale’s motto for a reason. Through this challenge, Colton is convinced that his experience here at Hillsdale will help make him into the sort of man God wants him to be.

Liam Martin, ‘25, is a native of rural Ohio and plans to major in History. In his free time, he enjoys coffee, Shakespeare, Latin chant, and debating politics and religion with whoever will listen.

Published in November 2021