A vocation, whether it is to the priesthood, diaconate or the religious life for either men or women, is a very simple thing on one hand and yet quite complex on another. In the Catholic Church, a vocation is always a response to God who is calling a particular person to a particular ministry; yet, the ways in which that call is made can be rather complicated.
There are two basic actions that are involved: the first is the call as it is received, perhaps first in the mind and then in the heart of the person in question. Secondly, and maybe just as importantly, it is the perception of a call given to that individual by others around him or her. It can be said that just looking back over my own life and the manner in which the call became more and more clear to me is very enlightening. In this short article, I just want to concentrate on the priests of the parish in which I grew up who helped me hear it more clearly. They, as it were, become the medium through which God calls ever more clearly; hence, in the process, all of us have a great responsibility toward the Church to continue this vocation call.
First, there was a priest named Father George Gaynor. My first recollection of him is as a youngster who watched him walking up and down between the church and the school dressed in the traditional cassock and praying his breviary. Later, I was privileged to get to know him as the assistant pastor of the parish in which I grew up. He was a man of tremendous love, especially for the poor, long before it became popular. He also had a great charm with us youngsters. He often took us with him for an ice cream cone or on short day jaunts while he performed some of his charity work. He inspired us and by reaching out to me, he helped me think about the possibility of being like him.
Next, there was Father Chris Leahy. He had been in World War II and, upon leaving the military, was appointed pastor at the parish in which I grew up. He was different than Father Gaynor but very much concerned about the church and the people who made up the church. I remember his philosophy of keeping the church building and properties in good condition so they would invite people to enter and participate. He also reached out very specifically to the boys in the seventh and eighth grades; oftentimes, it was for fun things like getting out of school to play hockey and then returning just ten minutes before the final bell rang for dismissal. In our contact with him, we saw he was a person of prayer and this brought another part of the priest's life into clear focus for us and especially for me.
The next three priests who influenced my vocation were assistant pastors as they were called at that time. The first was Father Charles Fleckenstein. He was newly ordained when he was sent to the parish. He was full of life, always with a smile on his face and always willing to listen. In my eyes he could do just about anything and everything. Again, he was very good to each of us and, in his own unique way, helped us to question whether or not we, too, were called.
Next was Father Joseph Lisee. This priest probably showed me more of the diocesan priesthood than anyone else. I was amazed at the tranquility in which he saw and suffered reverses and difficult times. At the same time, I was impressed to see how he lived with the successes of life. The third was a priest named Father Joseph Nosal. He was different than all the others but brought his own wisdom and caring.
From my contact with each of these men, and all of them together, I began to believe it was possible I had a call to the priesthood and, as I saw these men live their lives, that life became more attractive not because it was charming but because it was important.
I was fortunate...these priests were all in the parish in which I grew up and they shared their visions with me. In a way, I discovered a call within myself and found it re-echoed in these five men. I am convinced the process through which I went is the same process through which everyone goes. It is a call from God, mediated in a very rich way through the lives, the friendships and the care of others.
As we pray for an increase in vocations, I think it is obvious we are also praying for those other people who, through their care and friendship, mediate messages that often are not clear at the beginning but that will become clear as we try to find God's way for us.