Growing up in a remote part of EL Salvador, Father Luis Romero, C.M. remembers that when a priest would arrive once or twice a year, the Masses were major, festive occasions: “I would always ask myself, ‘Who is this man, and what does he have that gets people so excited? What is it he brings that gives so much happiness and joy to the people? I want to be like him.’ ” Fast forward many years and a move to the United States. Working in a factory on Long Island, New York, Romero’s childhood dream was reignited when the Vincentian who always celebrated the Spanish Mass at his parish invited him to join a vocation discernment group. Six years later, he entered the Vincentians.
"I'd thought about being a priest, but I thought about it like most Catholic kids--idly, poking at the thought here and there, never really facing what it might mean, the joys of it, the hard parts, the reality."
Priests don’t tend to worry about “job security,” but nonetheless Father Andrew Laguna, S.J. is pretty sure people will keep wanting what he and his community are offering. “Even though it seems that people are becoming less and less explicitly religious in the United States, I think that there are more seekers than ever,” he says. “More and more are drawn to spirituality, are searching for something beyond themselves. This desire is at the heart of what it means to be a religious.” When Laguna discovered how much he loved helping with parish retreats, he considered priesthood, met an encouraging Jesuit, and 11 years ago cast his lot with that community.
Father Daniel Kim, M.M. says his impetus to become a missionary priest grew out of a tragedy. Kim was at a Taizé prayer service in France when a murder took place before his eyes. The founder of the Taizé ecumenical monastic movement in France, Brother Roger, was stabbed to death by a mentally ill woman in 2005. This event had a tremendous impact on Kim and on his faith. Not long after, he met a Maryknoll priest and began the move toward priesthood. Today he serves at a Maryknoll mission in Hong Kong.
It was bound to be emotional when Paul Chu returned to Vietnam in his 20s after leaving as a 9-year-old. But he didn’t know it would set him on his life’s course. During an eight-day family trip to Vietnam in 2006, Chu encountered a Salesian priest who made him think: I want to be like that! Priesthood had been at the back of his mind, but that meeting triggered him to act. Today, true to the Salesian mission to work with youth, Chu ticks off 15 ways he’s ministered with young people since entering his community, from leading summer camps to organizing mission trips to Haiti. “The life of total self-giving is ever attractive to me,” he says.
“God is always more,” says Father Greg Boyle, S.J., quoting Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Boyle takes the limits off love and has spent three decades extending it to gang members, inviting others to join him.
Father Rob Hagan, O.S.A. left a successful legal career to answer a call that had hovered in his heart for years. Today the Augustinian priest leaves the door to his dorm room at Villanova University open for athletes and anyone else who needs a listening ear.
When Sergio Perez told people he was joining the Oblates of St. Joseph, his friends said, “Yeah, right!” His mom was so upset she cried. What was the guy who loved dancing, founded a fraternity, and aspired to being an actor or teacher with a wife and plenty of kids doing? He was letting go so “God could lead me to my happiness and holiness,” he says. Eleven years later his large family and once skeptical friends accept and embrace his vocation as a religious priest.
Jimmy Hsu met the Paulist priests on his college campus, the University of Texas in Austin, where they ministered. At the time, he was struggling to figure out if his path led to priesthood or a religious community. He began to take vocation discernment seriously, embraced his sense that God was calling him to be a Paulist, and today he is “Father Jimmy,” associate pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Los Angeles.
Several years ago, college student José Velázquez’s curiosity about religious life overcame major barriers of distance. A native of Mexico studying in the Guadalajara region, Velázquez met some Indonesian priests who were Crosiers. Impressed, he wrote to the congregation’s office in Rome, striking up a correspondence with a Crosier priest. Eventually, he got to know Crosiers in Arizona and sensed God was calling him to join them. Today, he is a Crosier seminarian.
If you grow up in Detroit with a mom who’s a cop and a dad who works in a steel factory, chances are you learn something about service and resilience. Those traits come in handy in the missionary life, which is where Peter Latouf finds himself now. These days the seminarian is learning Mandarin Chinese to prepare to serve as a priest in Asia.
Following an exciting stint of overseas teaching while in college, Peter acted on a lifelong interest in religious life and found his community, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, through the VISION Vocation Network’s VocationMatch.com. “I saw in the Maryknoll priests the same willingness to serve and spirit of adventure that I had,” he says.
Father José Lucero’s vocation story and ministry demonstrate his belief that “being a priest or a religious . . . is actually the beginning of an amazing life, allowing you to bring all your gifts to the table.”
It seems hard to dampen the excitement Juan Ruiz has for religious life. This new Jesuit says that entering a community “has already brought 100 times the fruitfulness I had ever expected.” And he isn’t exactly working in a cushy job: He ministers with Hopeworks ’N Camden, an agency in inner-city Camden, New Jersey dedicated to job-readiness and education of poor youth. Juan blogs at jesuitnovice.blogspot.com about his experiences as a Jesuit novice, a two-year part of the process of entering the Society of Jesus.
For Father Manuel Williams, C.R., there was no one blazing moment of insight that called him to the priesthood. Instead, he walked for years among priests and sisters who were always quietly planting seeds, making the world a better place. In time, he dared to follow them—all the way back home.
Why do some people explore the possibility of religious life? As the person in charge of ushering new members into his community, Father Marvin Kitten, S.J. wanted to know. So he put the question to the men he knew who were considering life as a priest or brother. Here’s what 11 men had to say about what draws them to a life lived in religious community.
Even in the face of opposition Sacred Heart Father Guy Blair and other homeless advocates did not shy away from their mission: calling people to do what they were supposed to do for the poorest of the poor.