Finding My Mission Vocation

Posted: 10/7/2016

Father Bob Dalton

His timing was perfect. He had my attention. It was a few weeks before graduation, and Father Bill Davis, my high school principal, had just verbally ripped the hide off me for some disciplinary problem. He then called out “Come back here!” as I started to leave the office.

His tone changed, and his question was very direct. “Have you thought about becoming a priest?” I reminded him that I was already enrolled to study chemistry at a local Catholic college. “Well, think about it. I think you would make a good priest.” I thought about it and entered the diocesan seminary in Rochester, N.Y., that September.

Listen to the invitation from other people. They may see in you something special that you do not see in yourself. 

I liked what I was experiencing at St. Bernard’s Seminary, and I had made some good friendships there, but there was still restlessness inside me. I really wanted to be a priest, but the thought persisted that this was not the place for me. I wanted to be a missionary. Perhaps that call was the result of all those mission magazines which were in our home when I was a child.

I talked to Father Louie Holman, a trusted friend who knew me well. I told him that I wanted to join the Maryknoll Missioners. Father Holman knew me well, he was very direct in his response to me.  “No, you don’t. You want to join Glenmary.” In that very Catholic area, I had never heard about Glenmary or home missions. He explained the home mission need and made an appointment for me to see the Glenmary vocation director, who happened to be in town that very day.

Listen to your heart. Keep searching. Share your thoughts with a trusted guide. Pray.

The “chemistry” between the vocation director and me was not good that day. He turned me off. I would be looking somewhere else for my place in ministry. Years later, when I was a Glenmary priest in a position of responsibility, he shared with me his notation about our first meeting:  “Don’t bother to follow up on this one.” We had a good laugh together.

Look beyond the personality or foibles of any one individual. Any organization is much bigger than any one person. As a famous comedian (Groucho Marx) once commented, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

The home mission bug had bit me, so I systematically investigated several groups including the Josephites, the Paulists and the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity.  For one reason or another, none of these groups seemed to be a good fit for me. I even considered joining the missionary Diocese of Savannah (Ga.).

During July 1956, I set out with my buddy Joe Sheehan (later a priest of the Hartford [Conn.] archdiocese) to hitchhike through Georgia to investigate the possibility of joining that diocese.  We received a warm welcome in Savannah, and it appeared to be a real possibility. We then set out for Dublin, Ga., for another look at the Missionary Servants. We got a ride as far as Statesboro, but then stood there beside the road in the south Georgia mid-summer heat. Nobody stopped to pick us up. At a distance, but within sight of where we stood, was a Catholic church.  Perhaps the priest would let us stay overnight.

Father Joe Nagele not only welcomed us but put us to work. He was a Glenmary priest with two very energetic Glenmary seminarians there on summer assignment—John Garvey and Pat Breheny. We stayed there three days and never got to Dublin. My search was over.

I applied to Glenmary and was accepted for the next novitiate class in 1957. I never looked back.

Keep searching. You will know when you have landed just right. In one sense, the discernment of God’s will never end. 

I am now a contented “senior priest in residence” in the small town of Houston, Miss., the only priest in a three-county area.  However, I am still praying to discover God’s will for me and how I can best serve, with good health but some diminished energy, at 82 years of age.