A Seminary Story
Professionally, the last few years have required several changes in direction–chair, faculty, interim jobs, and children leaving home for college. At times, those shifts have left me disoriented, as well as carless.
It’s not that I expect such changes to be easy. Just, on some level, I assume, or more accurately hope, that my experience will enlighten me when the plans I have made and shared become obstacles to overcome.
My last year in the seminary was a rough one–much of it my own making.
It was actually my fourth year working with the diocese. My junior year of college I had attended retreats and a pilgrimage across New Mexico. My senior year, the vocation director had placed me in an impoverished Hispanic parish. By the time I entered the seminary, my commitment to the priesthood was established, public, and financed by my parents, parish, and friends.
That second year as a seminarian, I had begun dating an undergrad from a local Catholic university during the Fall. By the Spring, the relationship had become serious. I had set myself on two paths. And things had become difficult.
The Franciscans saw me at Cappy’s having dinner with her; Josh came over to say “Hi” and asked to be introduced. The Oblates were behind me at a light when I drove her home after a movie. My dad noted that my gas charges now originated at the station across from the college (at the time, a predominantly women’s college). The rector had stopped by at five one morning to remind me that mass was not optional. People–priests, rectors, seminarians–had begun to notice and comment on my lack of commitment to the liturgies, community, and ministries–to my vocation.
By the Spring. I was being urged, told, to make a decision. For a twenty-two year old from an old, conservative Catholic family, the pressure to be ordained was intense. (An old Irish priest had pointed me out two years earlier as one of the natives whose family owed the church a priest.)
I was not eating. I was not sleeping. I was holding my ground, but I was less and less certain what that ground was.
One Thursday in February, Father Marcus came by. (I remember it was Thursday because I was sitting in front of Cheers without watching it.)
He didn’t say much. He just came into my room, sat down, and watched the show for a bit with me. As he was leaving , he stopped at the door. “There’s no need to do anything until the end of the semester.” That’s all he said.
Thirty years later, my eyes tear as I write this. I feel his loss. Selfish, I wonder who to look to.
It was a good lesson to have at twenty two. Sometimes, I do not have to act. I can wait.
What frustrates me is that in my early fifties, older than Marcus was when he stopped by that Thursday, I still have to learn and relearn that lesson. I still try to force events, decisions, directions when I learned long ago to wait and let the path unfold. I want to know what the outcome is. I want to be decisive for those around me. I want to appear in control.
Marcus did not pontificate. He did not suggest or lecture. He just stated the obvious, a passing comment on the way out. It is a lesson I still struggle to learn.