STAMFORD—“Discerning a vocation for the priesthood is not something you can do alone,” says Colin Lomnizter, a seminarian at the St. John Fisher Residence in Stamford.
“You need the help and support of others who are in the same situation. That includes other seminarians and those who are skilled at helping you understand yourself and whether or not a vocation to the priesthood fits you,” he says.
To anyone who has an inkling of a vocation but is uncertain whether or not he should enter the seminary, Colin’s advice is, “Just do it! There is never the ‘right time.”
He speaks from personal experience. As a freshman at Fairfield Prep Colin began wondering if he had a vocation to the priesthood. The question was stirred, in part, by an older brother, whom he observed searching for a similar answer.
The search led Colin and his brother to a vocations fair at Sacred Heart University , where Colin “nearly” completed an application to the seminary, when he was a high school senior.
However, something held him back. Feeling there were other things he wanted to do before making that decision, such as graduate school and traveling, Colin did not follow through on that desire. Instead, he decided to attend Catholic University of America (CUA), where he studied philosophy.
The notion of the priesthood still called to him. The internal debate ended on September 23, 2015 when the final words of Pope Francis’ homily, during the canonization Mass of Father Junipero Serra, pierced his conscience and his heart.
Repeating the motto that St. Serra was famous for, Pope Francis exclaimed, “Forward! Always forward!”
Immediately, Colin knew he needed to stop equivocating and make a decision. He resolved to do what he had been delaying and applied to St. John Fisher (“SJF”) house of discernment. He was accepted and entered the formation program at the beginning of the 2016–2017 academic year.
His experience in the formation program has been hard and humbling, but very rewarding. The program is structured to provide time for study, prayer, worship, spiritual direction, chores and fraternity, all designed in a way that will help a man understand God’s desire for him and to learn about himself.
“Self-discovery is the hard part”, Colin said. Learning about himself “…has been a humbling experience.” It has also convinced him of his vocation and is giving him confidence in that conviction. That part of the experience has brought him “… joy and hope,” he said.
When he began his formation, Colin struggled with what he thought had to be a decision over whether to marry or become a priest. But that approach, he realized, was too complicated and he needed to simplify it. He came to understand that to be a good father, whether biological or spiritual, he first had to learn how to be a good son and listen to God in order to learn what kind of father God was calling him to be.
Colin has had many strong and positive influences that formed his impressions of what it means to be an obedient son, a good and holy Catholic man and a good father. First, there are the priests. Among them he mentioned Msgr. Shea, who was the pastor at St. Catherine of Sienna in Trumbull, when he was growing up and with whom he said he “was always close” and provided helpful guidance.
Another who provided a positive influence was Fr. Peter Lynch, the Pastor at St. Ann’s in Bridgeport. St. Catherine of Sienna’s current pastor, Fr. Joseph Marcello has provided Colin with friendship, spiritual advice and a holy example as a priest, helping to form for him a healthy impression of the priesthood.
Another priestly influential force was Fr. Frank Donio, a Palantine priest at CUA, whose example not only encouraged Colin to enter the seminary, but encouraged two of his best friends, as well. From each of the priests mentioned, Colin has grown to understand what the title “Father” means in a spiritual sense.
Then, there is the significant influence the religious, particularly The Marian Community of Reconciliation, a group of professed women religious in Trumbull. While a teen, Colin became involved in their youth ministries. From his conversations with them and their example of holiness for him, they have become his spiritual mothers.
Next, there is the influential of friends. Colin learned early in his journey of the need for prudence when choosing friends. Friendships made at CUA have been very rewarding for him and supportive of his decision to enter the seminary. The enclosed picture of Colin shows him with three of those friends from CUA, whose friendship he cherishes. Included among his friendships are the relationships he is building during his time at St. John Fisher. Like the relationships formed at CUA, fraternity with the men in formation and with the priests guiding them are relationships that are supportive of and conducive to living a holy life.
In addition to the examples of the clergy, religious and friends, there are four saints who have helped form Colin’s faith and impacted his vocational choice: St. Dominic Savio (love for the eucharist), Blessed John Henry Newman (his intellectual honesty), St. Josemaria Escriva (everyone is called to holiness by God and employ all things to give glory to God) and, most recently, St. Junipero Serra (whose insistent motto inspired him to move forward with his vocation).
Underlying the influence of the priests, religious, friends and saints is that of his family. His home environment has provided a sound formation for his faith. His family has has supported his growth in faith by affording him an education at Catholic schools (Fairfield Prep and CUA). Equally important is that they have never discouraged him from exploring his calling to the priesthood.
Colin’s journey has had its challenges though. While having healthy relationships and positive influences in one’s life are critical to good formation, “the biggest risk to a vocation is doubt,” Colin shared. “It is the greatest temptation the devil wields,” he said.
Underscoring that point is an old, Italian saying that he recalled, “The devil dances on the roof of the seminary.” “Nothing gives the devil greater joy than to use doubt to rip a seminarian from the Church,” he said. The best things to counter that force, so that the right vocational decision is made, is “strong fraternity, regular prayer and trust” in the formation program.
Trust is a critical element for the next step in Colin’s formation. Next summer, Bishop Caggiano will decide which college he will attend to pursue his advanced studies in preparation for the priesthood. While most young men might be worried about the assignment or angling for what they perceive to be a preferred appointment, Colin’s view is prudent and patient.
His perspective of the process of vocational development is that it is not solely his decision to make and it involves multiple parties. While it will ultimately be his decision to say, “Yes,” there are guideposts on the journey to direct and confirm his vocation. They are the Bishop and the Church.
Rather than confining, he finds that process liberating. It offers him the freedom to trust in the good judgment of others who have his and the Church’s best interests at heart. His anxiety over what that phase of his future holds is reduced, enabling him to focus his attention and energy on his immediate tasks of study and formation.
When asked about the obstacles that might be preventing men and women from considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, “It is due,” in Colin’s opinion, “to a lack of urgency in how we live our lives.” Society offers the lure of comfort that can distract us from the fact of our mortality. He used Christ’s passion as an example. Rather than keeping watch with Christ like He had asked His disciples to do with him at Gethsemane, we often don’t pay attention and fall asleep like the disciples did. We don’t know when we will pass, yet people worship only occasionally, rather than preparing themselves.
Christ chided the disciples for not being able to keep watch with Him for an hour. It is the same way with many today who won’t go to Mass and keep watch with Christ for only one hour a week. People do not comprehend that the decisions they make on earth will affect not only their lives here but their life after death, too. The key, Colin believes, is to meet people where they are, encourage them to see how Christ is active in their lives, and walk with them on their journey. “Be an example of someone who loves God and is working at living a good, holy life,” he said.
Sidebar: How can the Serra Club support vocations?
My conversation with Colin concluded with the question of “How can The Serra Club of Bridgeport help?” There are several things that he suggested:
- Pray for the seminarians.
- Pray for an increase in vocations.
- Continue to support the seminarians with Serra’s various activities. That support is very meaningful to them.
- Help people understand that a vocation is something that “normal people” do. Normal people love Christ.
- When we meet someone who is considering the priesthood or religious life encourage them to speak to a priest and to frequently attend Mass and confession.
- Make St. John Fisher Seminary a normal part of our conversation.
The underlying messages I drew from my conversation with Colin are that he is not alone on his discernment journey. There are many people who care for him and who are accompanying him, which tempts one to paraphrase a common cliché, “It takes a community to form a vocation.”
Another message is that a vocation to the priesthood or religious life is a natural thing to do. And lastly, is the importance of taking action. There is no benefit to waiting for the “right time”. The right time is right now. So, as Colin said, “Just do it!” Or, to quote St. Serra, whose three words have had a dramatic impact on him, “Forward, always forward!”
(See all about vocations at www.bridgeportvocation.org. For Serra Club of Bridgeport, go to www.facebook.com/serrabridge.)
Please keep in your prayers Colin, his seminarian brothers and the priests at St. John Fisher who are shepherding them.
Deacon David Flynn
October 11, 2017
Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII
Serra International, founded in 1935 in Seattle, Wash., has chartered 1,170 Clubs in 46 countries across six continents. Inspired by their patron, soon to be canonized Blessed Junipero Serra, the club’s objectives are to foster, encourage and promote vocations. Serra Club members are also called to dedicate time each day in prayer, specifically for vocations.
Serra Club of Bridgeport
The goal of the Serra Club is to promote vocations to the priesthood and other forms of consecrated religious life in the Catholic Church.