A Call to Missionary Priesthood: Where Does It Come From?
A long time ago now, 1953, I graduated from high school. Around that time, several people asked me if I had a call to the priesthood. There were enough of them that I began to wonder if I was wearing a sandwich-board sign that said, "This Guy is Being Called."
Why did they ask this question? I'm not really sure. Maybe my love for the Eucharist, or my service as an altar boy, or my friends who were priests gave it away. But the more I heard such questions and comments, the more I began to take them seriously.
So when graduation came and I completed my job in a paint store as clerk/paint matcher and mixer/floor sweeper, I made my way to the seminary outside Baltimore.
Challenges hit me right away. There were 200 men in each of my classes that first year. My high school graduation class totaled 26. Then there was Latin, my nemesis. Since I wasn't sure of my call, it didn't take much to make me start asking questions.
All the men in the seminary were studying for the diocesan priesthood. As time went on, my call to a diocese became increasingly questionable. It would take another year and a lot of help before it became clear I was headed in another direction.
The answer came one day in a large white envelope. I opened the mail wondering what was inside. It turned out that it was a number of pieces of information about Glenmary. I found out a few years later that it was sent by my cousin. She was a Glenmary sister. She had no idea how important that information was to me. As I read it, I knew I was on the right track toward my vocation.
So I contacted Glenmary and they invited me to come to Cincinnati. I spent a few days there, and then they asked me to go to a mission parish in Virginia. My destination was a little coal town nestled in the mountains.
I boarded a Greyhound bus in Cincinnati. It was July, very hot and humid. About ten hours later, after riding all night in a bus without air conditioning, I arrived in Norton early in the morning. I was awakened by the rather gruff voice of the driver who yelled, "Norton, Virginia! Everybody out!"
I exited the bus in front of the only drugstore and stepped into a town blanketed in coal dust—coal dust on the sidewalks, on the streets and in the air. As I looked around, I noticed miners on the other side of the street coming out of the mines as the shifts changed. They were covered with dust. It was on their faces, in their hair, and on their coveralls. They all carried aluminum lunch buckets.
I did not know where St. Anthony Church was, so I asked someone and they directed me down the street about two blocks. I arrived tired and uncertain about my missionary call and entered the small church building. It only took about five steps to reach the front. I knelt and prayed: "Jesus, are you sure this is what you want?"
I met the Glenmarians and was impressed. Around 4:30 in the afternoon, Father Bob Berson said, "Come on, Wil, we're going street preaching." Luckily, he was the preacher! I just handed out little pamphlets about the Catholic Church. We kept at it till sundown.
I left a few days later with a good sense that I was going to be happy as a Glenmary missioner. That sense has continued through the past 57 years.
In that time I have come to see that the Spirit calls individuals through many people and events. All I had to do was listen, learn and follow. I also learned that missionary is not something I do, but who I am.