Jesus is always at work, calling men to the priesthood. Sometimes, he calls them when they are young. Other times, he calls them later in life. Sometimes, they respond to the call immediately, but many times the process of discernment can take months or years.
Fr. John Connaughton, Vocation Director for the Diocese of Bridgeport, says, “God is definitely calling young men to be priests. We have almost half a million Catholics in Fairfield County, the Diocese of Bridgeport, so it is a mistake to think that God is so stingy he has stopped calling men. There is no real crisis of vocations, what we’re dealing with is a crisis of faith.”
There is often a fear among men that it’s not worth giving their lives to Christ, that they would be happier pursuing worldly things. “But if the Creed we profess on Sundays is true,” he said, “then, there is no life more noble and majestic than that of a priest.”
Here are stories of men who heard the call and pursued that noble and majestic life.
Christopher Ford, a third-year seminarian at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, believes God first called him to the priesthood when he was in second grade at St. Francis of Assisi School in Naugatuck. To prepare for the sacraments, his class was pretending to have a baptism. While the other kids wanted to portray parents and godparents, Chris wanted to be the priest.
“From that point, it was always in the back of my mind and something people would comment on that they saw in my future,” he said. When he was a senior at Naugatuck High School, he met with the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Hartford, but “It just didn’t seem right.”
He enrolled in Southern Connecticut State University, planning to become a funeral director, and began what he called “the normal life of a college student.” On Sunday, sleeping in took priority over Mass.
“I wasn’t really practicing my faith strongly, which may have been a kind of blessing because the time I spent away from the Church gave me a chance to come back to it on my own,” he said. “I had been given the gift of faith from my parents, but now it was my choice.”
He went to Kent State University for a master’s in education, and one weekend, when he returned to Connecticut, he met a friend who was at St. John Fisher. When Chris questioned him about the seminary, the young man could sense a deep inquisitiveness.
“He asked whether I ever thought of the priesthood,” Chris recalled.
From that conversation, his interest was rekindled, so he went to talk to Father Rob Kinnally, then vocation director and in autumn 2013, Chris entered the seminary.
“When you start the discernment process, you’re giving it over to God for a while,” he said. “It is very easy to set your own path and say, ‘This is what I want to do when I grow up.’ But in the seminary, you are giving it to God and asking, ‘What do you want me to do?’”
On May 19, Chris will be ordained a deacon along with David Roman and Peter Adamski, and next summer, he hopes to be ordained a priest.
As part of his formation, he did pastoral work at St. Vincent Medical Center and regularly visited patients who had surgery and long-term illnesses. One man was there for the second time in two years because his cancer had returned. Chris listened as he talked about his fear that he would no longer be around for his two children in school.
“If you ever needed more proof that your life is not about yourself, spend some time in the hospital,” Chris said. “You provide a listening ear and a listening heart, but it is all about God.”
Chris looks forward to his ordination and says, “For me, there’s a recognition that the most fulfilling thing I can do and the most peace I can find in my life is in doing what God wants. The idea of being a priest is a seed that was planted in me when I was very young. It took until I was 23, after college and graduate school, to answer that call. The reason for the delay was that before I could find my vocation, I had to find my faith.”
Ferry Galbert was called to the priesthood at 9 years old during the Good Friday service at the Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The night before, he had watched “The Passion of Christ” and was deeply moved.
“I began to cry at the service because I didn’t want Our Lord to suffer the way He did the night before,” Ferry recalled. “I said, ‘Jesus, is there anything I can do so you don’t have to suffer like this?’”
As he wept, he felt the strong presence of Christ. “Jesus was sitting next to me in church,” he said. “I felt He was there, understanding that I was having compassion and sympathy for his suffering. Little did I know the seed for the call was being planted in my heart at that very moment. And now I’m seeing the fruit of it.”
Ferry, who will enter his second year at St. John Fisher, says he lacked trust as a young man and didn’t believe God would provide totally for him. In 1997, his family moved to the United States, and he eventually started working at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist when he was a student.
In the shadow of Monsignor Stephen DiGiovanni and Father Paul Check, who was Ferry’s confirmation sponsor, he began to learn more about the Catholic faith … and the priesthood.
Coming to America was a big transition for his family, who became involved in a charismatic prayer group and the Haitian-American Center in Stamford.
“The priests would ask me, ‘Have you ever thought about the priesthood?’” he recalled. “But I wanted to get married and have a family. At the same time, I wanted to give my all to Christ. He was patient with me during this inner battle. Looking back, it was my own stubbornness of heart and lack of trust.”
When he graduated from Westhill High School, Msgr. DiGiovanni encouraged him to enter St. John Fisher. “He was always telling me to think about it, pray about it and try it for a year.” Ferry went to talk to a priest at the seminary, but believed his calling was to be a lay missionary. “I left and thought, ‘This is not for me,’” he recalled.
At the time, he and his girlfriend were involved with the youth group at the Haitian-American Center. He continued working at the parish and took courses at Norwalk Community College and became an RN. He took a job at Stamford Hospital on the medicine-stroke floor.
In 2008, Msgr. DiGiovanni arranged to have him in the procession for Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass at Yankee Stadium. “I felt so blessed, and I wondered again, ‘Could it be that the Lord is calling me?’ And so I told Jesus, ‘If this is you, Lord, you really have to show me. I want to be more sure.’”
Then, Jesus picked up the pace. In his hospital work, Ferry began to see Christ in suffering patients.
“I met hospice patients who had given up. I met hearts that were hardened,” he said. “What good was I doing them?” He was helping their bodies, but not their souls.
At 2 am one morning, he was transferring a patient who didn’t have long to live and Ferry was tormented by the question, “What am I doing for their souls?”
Then came a decisive meeting with Vocation Director Father Connaughton. Ferry was at a gathering of Catholic youth, and when he went into the chapel for Adoration, he noticed Father was two pews in front of him. Ferry was about to leave, but he looked at Jesus in the monstrance and got back down on his knees.
Later, Father came up to him and asked, “Are you still discerning? What are you afraid of?” He handed Ferry his card and said, “Call me.” A week later, he gave him an application, and in several months, Ferry entered St. John Fisher.
“It is everything I hoped it would be and more,” he said. “I fought it so long, and here I am. I’m very grateful and humbled to be part of this, and I’m prepared for whatever God has in store. I want to be a priest. This is what God wants for me.”
When Ferry meets men who are discerning, he uses his story as a cautionary tale and tells them, “Don’t wait for the angel Gabriel to come to you. You need to be courageous and say ‘yes,’ Our Lord will bring you peace and light to help show the way.”