This weekend, National Vocation Awareness Week comes to a conclusion. It seems fitting that this week also saw the transition in the Vocations Office for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, with Fr. Eric Johnson ending his 7 1/2 years as Vocation Director and me beginning that position this past Wednesday. To mark the two occasions, here is a summary of my personal vocation story – the path that led me to the priesthood.
From very early in life – at least second grade – my goal was to become a geologist. I had a rock collection, learned all I could about rocks and minerals, and took classes through high school that would prepare me for the science and math needed to get a degree in geology. Along the way, I assumed that I would get married and have a family and live a happy and productive life. But while I was on my high school senior retreat, everything changed. A teacher asked if I had ever considered the priesthood. My initial reaction was “No, you can’t be a priest and a geologist!” But as I started thinking and praying about it and talking with a few trusted mentors, the first thing I realized was that I was thinking about things the wrong way. Rather than asking what I wanted to do with my life, I needed to ask what God wanted me to do with my life. I started to be open to other possibilities – perhaps the priesthood. That change in perspective was the most important step in my vocational journey.
Since at that point I was already halfway through my senior year in high school and I didn’t yet have an answer to the question of what God wanted me to do with my life, I decided to continue looking at the colleges I had already applied to and take the years of college to discern about God’s will for my future. I ended up attending La Salle University in Philadelphia – a Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers – where I majored in Religion and Philosophy and became active in Campus Ministry. I spent considerable time during college in prayer and conversation trying to listen to what God wanted me to do. By my junior year, I believed that God was indeed calling me to be a priest. There was no one particular moment or event when I heard a clear voice from God, but rather a gradual unfolding and realization that this was the life God was calling me to live. I was at peace with the decision to go to seminary and the possibility of being ordained a priest – it was a peace that has stayed with me ever since. I contacted the Vocations Office for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and began the application process, entering Saint Meinrad Seminary immediately after graduating from La Salle.
As I look back, the turning point in my life and journey toward the priesthood was the change in perspective from “What do I want to do with my life” to “What is God calling me to do with my life.” From there, conversation with trusted mentors and a lot of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, helped me to listen to God and hear His answer to that question. Today, I can’t imagine myself as anything other than a priest, and I have been extraordinarily blessed in my priestly ministry. I am looking forward to walking with other men on their journey of discernment and formation and helping them listen to God’s call in their lives.