In my early 20s. I had just graduated from college and was laying in bed when the thought “single + male + Catholic = priest” popped into my head from out of nowhere. Of course, I know that “equation” isn’t true for everyone, but I knew it might be true for me. I immediately gave God a list of reasons why I shouldn’t be a priest, but the thought wouldn’t go away.
When I was 7 years old, I remember realizing the importance of God. This realization was the foundation for my desire to serve God. My uncle was in the seminary and could answer my many questions. By age 11, I desired to become a priest. By 14, I could picture myself as a priest. At age 16, I felt God calling me. I entered seminary at age 18 and joy confirmed the call.
I was 20 years old. I was an exchange student in Poland at the time of the martyrdom of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko. I attended his funeral in Warsaw with over a million people. His heroic defense of the rights and faith of his people first inspired me to consider the priesthood as a calling for myself.
It came after I was baptized in the Catholic Church at the age of 25. A year later, the Holy Spirit began to speak gently to my heart in times of eucharistic adoration at St. Martin of Tours. Not long after that, my twin brother out of the blue asked me, “When are you going to become a priest?” And other friends began to do the same … and the rest is history! I’m so glad I answered the call.
During my junior high years when I became an altar boy. I enjoyed serving Mass and participating in the eucharistic adoration at Forty Hours, Holy Thursday and special liturgies. The parish priest inspired me, especially when I served funeral liturgies. They seemed to have a comforting gift when ministering to the grieving. Also, there were priest relatives that my parents admired and spoke of often. My eighth-grade teacher, a nun, was another one who fostered vocations in those days. A few of my friends and I talked about the possibility of priesthood and three or four of us ended up at old St. Mary’s College for high school. The rest is history.
One Saturday evening at Mass when I was about 14 years old, the idea of becoming a priest came into my mind. I felt excited and joyful, yet also afraid. I thought, “How would I have anything to say when I would preach to the congregation?” Then it occurred to me: “If God is calling me to do this, he will help me do whatever he is asking of me.”
I cannot pinpoint precisely the moment the desire to become a priest first entered my mind. But I do know that by the time I made my First Holy Communion in 1952 at the old St. Charles Borromeo Church in Louisville, I had expressed the desire enough that my godfather, my Uncle Bill Andriot, made me a miniature altar as a gift. That altar greatly nourished the seed that had already been planted in my heart.
I was in eighth grade when I first seriously thought about a call to the priesthood. It began with wanting to be “a serious Catholic.” I wasn’t satisfied with just the bare minimum; I never had been. Daily prayer and closeness to the Eucharist brought me to the question, “What if God called me to be a priest?” My only answer at the time was simple: “Well, if He does, then I guess I’ll say yes.”
At the wake of my uncle, Father Ralph Dengler, SJ, I recall passing his coat hook outside the Jesuit’s house chapel. It was simply labeled: “Fr. Dengler.” Even though I knew it was his, I experienced a clear premonition that this was also applying to me as an invitation. I was about 10 years old at the time.
FATHER PATRICK DOLAN,
Good Shepherd, Columbia, Ky.;
Holy Redeemer, Greensburg, Ky.;
and Holy Spirit, Jamestown, Ky.
Although I served Mass from fifth grade on, the real moment of thinking about priesthood came on Halloween evening 1961 when as a seventh-grader. I was trapped in a required school “party” in the church hall and realized that confessions were available in church. The stark difference between the dark, quiet church and the noisy party opened my heart to a sacred call.
With four priests in the family, it was always an option. Good support from family but not coercion.
FATHER OF MERCY BEN J. CAMERON,
St. Helen Church, Glasgow, Ky., and
Our Lady of the Caves Church, Horse Cave, Ky.
The first hint that I might be called to the priesthood came when I was 12, when I chose an unusual Confirmation saint: Melchizadek. But I first really began to think about the possibility of becoming a priest when I was 21. I was in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and the priest asked me after Mass: “When are you going into the Sem[inary]?” I didn’t have an answer, and said that I hadn’t been thinking about it, to which he replied: “Well, you better start. God’s not going to knock you off a horse, you know.” That was the beginning of my journey to the Fathers of Mercy, and to the priesthood.
I first thought about becoming a priest in the second grade. It was outside recess at Holy Trinity School, and we were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember not giving it much thought but remembered seeing the assistant pastor around school that day. We had three priests at the parish, and I thought all the priests seemed to be fun and friendly, but also important people, and so I told my classmates, they told the teacher, who told the pastor, who told my parents. And the planted seed grew.
Since I was a small boy, I admired the chasuble. I remember the first time I saw a priest wearing it, I told my mother that I want to be a priest like him. My mother told me that priests work hard, study hard and are obedient, so, if you want to be a priest like him, you have to do the same. Immediately, I followed my mother’s advice. That is the story of my calling: it started when I was still a small boy. Eleven years later (since ordination), I am still always happy when I wear the chasuble during Mass!
Two memories are still very vivid that inspired me to become a priest. When my father suddenly died in 1979, I witnessed the great impact that our parish priest had on our family, as well as with our friends and the broader community. Also, when I made my first holy Communion at the age of seven I knew that I was being called to the priesthood. And even though my life had many twists and turns, I continued to raise my eyes toward Jerusalem. The greatest challenge that I had as a teenager was when my 16-year-old sister, Marcia, and I were thrown out of the car and she was instantly killed in a car accident on Dec. 6, 1966. Marcia and I were best friends and confidantes. The pain of losing so many of my family members in my youth was almost a burden too great to bear. However, it was my deep abiding faith that consoled me, as did my family and friends during the months and years of grief after Marcia’s death.