At 17, I got my vocation on a silent retreat with 19 other boys and six Jesuits at St. Francis Retreat in San Juan Bautista, CA, about 100 miles south of San Francisco. It happened while walking alone by the lake, filled by rain months before, or tears. The meals were delicious, and we watched On the Waterfront on Saturday night.
Up until that moment, I had never thought about the priesthood. Not once. I was making plans for college, but the environment at home and school allowed for the moment to occur. People will not understand what happened, unless it has happened to them, but I will try to explain.
I was told to contact a priest the following week. I did. I walked down the hallway between the counseling rooms and chose the first room on the left. It was the office of Father John Enright, SJ. It was unplanned and perfect.
Now, the Jesuits knew. I had taken the plunge into the lake.
Enright gave me a brochure, like a travel brochure, for the Society of Jesus. On the front cover was a picture of two young Jesuits, probably scholastics, in cassocks. I said to myself, “Yes, this is what I am supposed to do. I like it.”
I saw Enright once a week. Sometimes, he asked me if I wanted to serve Mass before school in the residence, and I assisted him, just the two of us, immersed at the table of the altar.
A few months passed, and Enright handed me two items, a prayer book, which he inscribed with a message just for me, and a new brochure. The picture of two young Jesuits in cassocks was gone, and no recollection of what was on the cover remains. I knew something was changing. I was not happy.
As graduation approached, the desire to stay behind proved the desire for brotherhood.
Enright asked me several times how I knew.
I said, “I just know.”
Enright had to leave for two weeks for an in-service training, and I was turned over to another Jesuit. He asked the same question, “How do you know you have a vocation?”
“I just know.”
Indeed, God had called. Most people, most Catholics, do not understand that the call comes directly from God. No priest, no parent, no other adult gives you a vocation, and though they might serve as good examples, and many did, the call does not originate with them.
I told my parents and no one else. My father said, “Do what is best for you.”
My mother was adamantly opposed. When she learned of my strong interest in monastic life, she said, and because she is deceased, I can repeat what she said, “If you do that, I will consider you dead.”
I became a little disillusioned at the start of college. No Jesuit contacted me. I could find no one interested in guiding me, and I could not understand why. They never invited me for a look-see.
Was I not a desirable prospect?
Was my family not a suitable one to develop a vocation?
Was I not flexible enough?
At the same time, men and women were leaving religious life as if a dam had burst.
As I look back, though the Church will never admit it, religious life was collapsing.
Religious life is based on family life. My parents never changed, and they provided stability, but religious life was changing and there was no stability.
Years went by. I found myself alone, trying to guide myself. Mistakes were made. I am not sorry for the mistakes, because I grew up and learned about loving someone. God preserved me throughout this time so that I could learn and repent. Confession took care of all that. God forgives and forgets, and I was supposed to, too.
I like stability and structure, and, but for a few monasteries, such as Solesmes and Fontgombault in France, which is so far away, religious life could not provide it. The only change that is good is change that is good. That is how I see things.
Today, still longing for brotherhood, I am convinced that God preserved me from the chaos and corruption in religious life. God kept me going, and He kept me close.
And here I am today, having accepted this lesson: our Lord wanted me to learn to rely on Him and Him alone and on no one else. That is a hard dunking by the Admiral, the Master.
Rarely I get asked if I ever considered marriage and children, but people wonder.
The problem at 17 was that there was no religious community to my liking. The only communities resisting modernist reform were the Benedictines at Solesmes and Fontgombault in France.
My parents gave me stability, and the communities near me had none to offer. My parents did not encourage me to enter religious life. On top of that, I loved Mom and Dad and did not want to leave them. We had an extraordinary relationship – they had placed me on a golden throne, and what king wants to abdicate his throne? In the late 90s a job transfer to the Chicago area was offered, and another job in Palmdale, CA, as business editor for a daily newspaper covering Edwards Air Force Base, came my way, but I turned them down. Living far away was just not possible.
Now, to answer the question, the desire to be a priest came first and clipped the desire to marry and have children. Here is a quote from Father Thomas Ewing Sherman, S.J. (1856 – 1933), fourth child and second son of Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman and Ellen Ewing Sherman: “People in love do strange things. Having a vocation is like being in love only more so, as there is no love so absorbing, so deep, and so lasting as that of the creature for the Creator.” Young people might think about being a priest or nun and it passes; whereas, the thought inside me never let go.
But for an interlude in my late 20s and 30s, I remained single.
Our Lord worked on me over time until we came to a vocation truce requiring the plenary expenditure of my adult efforts be confined to the secular world, where lips were clamped. Even with students, I do not proselytize, though it is hard for me to keep the truth from coming out of my mouth. They like me and respect me. With a few exceptions, adults do not. Faith and experience have taught me a hard lesson: give and expect nothing in return.
I conform myself to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and avoid dissenters; they are unrecognizable. A recent interview of ex-seminarians revealed corruption in the seminaries and the Church. I’m guessing the men are ages 25 to 50 because their tales began in the 1990s and ran through 2020. They told the unvarnished truth about doctrinal problems and men living double lives. Some of the ex-seminarians were forced out, and others left. I let one of them know that God protected him from corruption...as He had done for me.
In 2020 I found a community of priests and Catholic lay people in Sacramento. Most parishioners are families with young children. We have no school and don’t need one. The priests do all the catechesis. Home schooling is the preferred choice and mine.
The chateau style abbey and gardens flaunt French geometry:
- Round tower with conical roof
- Steeply pitched hipped or gable roof, often with cresting
- Tall chimneys with decorative caps
- Round arch or flattened basket-handle arch entry
- Multiple dormers
- Quatrefoil or arched tracery decorative elements
- Balustraded terrace
Here is the link to the dramatic drone tour. Then try the gardens tour. If you think people who lived 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, or 1,000 years ago were stupid, maybe that means you are.
Video Tour | Editions de Solesmes
The website states that they suffered as a result of, “scarce money, expulsions in 1880 and 1882 forcing the monks to live in private houses in Solesmes village and surrounding area, exile in England from 1901 to 1922, world wars, etcetera.” Solesmes is pronounced “solem” with accent on the second syllable. I checked that with the monks themselves. They sing in Latin.
The video takes me to that time. Unquenched thirst.