|Pope Emeritus Benedict XVIFr. Eric Bowman||Fr. David HowardFr. Patrick McMullen|
“As for me, I grew up in a world very different from the world today, but in the end situations are similar. On the one hand, the situation of “Christianity” still existed, where it was normal to go to church and to accept the faith as the revelation of God, and to try to live in accordance with his revelation; on the other, there was the Nazi regime which loudly stated: “In the new Germany there will be no more priests, there will be no more consecrated life, we do not need these people; look for another career.” However, it was precisely in hearing these “loud” voices, in facing the brutality of that system with an inhuman face, that I realized that there was instead a great need for priests. This contrast, the sight of that anti-human culture, confirmed my conviction that the Lord, the Gospel and the faith were pointing out the right path, and that we were bound to commit ourselves to ensuring that this path survives. In this situation, my vocation to the priesthood grew with me, almost naturally, wi thout any dramatic events of conversion.” – Benedict XVI, Apr 6, 2006.
From a very young age (shortly before first grade) I kind of knew I wanted to be a priest and I continued that talk until high school. At that time it simply became a daily exercise not to be made fun of or to get beaten up for one reason or another. During high school I didn’t think very much at all about the priesthood, though I still went to church (mostly because Mom and Dad made me). After high school I enlisted in the army for 3.5 years. During this time I began to go to Church because I wanted to and I became more involved in the choir and other ministries. My final duty station was in Hawaii, and there I met a great priest, Fr. Lee Hightower who took me under his wing and really prepared me for the priesthood. He would tell me, not ask me, that I was going to be a priest. We even had a little game, where he would tell me I was going to be a priest, and I would respond with no I am not. He would call me late at night and say, ‘yes you are’, then hang up. I would call back and respond, ‘no I am not.’
While I was stationed in Hawaii, I learned the wonderful game of volleyball. I actually got so good that I was invited to try out for the all-army team. During the try-out and practice period I met a young woman and we started to date, eventually even getting engaged. On December 18th, 1993 she was killed in a car accident, shortly before we were to be married. I took this opportunity to rebel against God and religion.
Basically, I was at the Ohio State University playing volleyball, and I needed an excuse to ‘hate God’ so that what I was doing, and how I was living my life wouldn’t feel so wrong. I was sexually active, addicted to pornography, an alcoholic and a terrible person. My last three years of college and the first year out of college I was playing pro-beach volleyball and spending my summers living in California. My life style continued to digress into complete self-satisfaction at all cost. But God was not done with me yet. In my first year of teaching special education (severe behavior handicaps/emotional disorders) a student brought a gun to school, and threatened to kill me, even taking the gun and pointing it at my head. This opened my eyes to the fact that because of my life style, if this boy pulls the trigger, I am going to hell. After that I started going to Church again and praying all the time. I met a couple of great families that took me in and prayed with me every night, and I mean every night for several hours at a time. Then on Divine Mercy Sunday of 1997, I went to confession for the first time in over a decade (13 years). I was absolved from my sins and I never felt better in my life, until May 31st of that same year when I said yes to God’s invitation to be a fisher of men, at a summer conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The following year I entered the seminary and was ordained a priest on May 22nd of 2004.
I know several men who first felt the call to the priesthood very early on in life, even as young boys receiving First Communion. But in my case, the call to serve the Church as a priest of Jesus Christ didn’t come nearly that early. In fact, I took a very circuitous path to get to seminary.
I grew up in a large Catholic family of thirteen children whose faith was very strong. Thanks to the devotion of my parents, we were very serious about attending Mass each and every week (like it or not!); about knowing what the Church taught; about doing works of charity such as helping the elderly residents in the neighborhood; about observing the liturgical seasons by special ceremonies in the home; and making the most of the sacrifices my parents made to send all of us to parochial elementary schools and Catholic high schools by taking our studies seriously. So I grew up with a great appreciation for the faith, and the truth and beauty of the Church and her teachings.
But despite all this, I never really gave much thought at all to the priesthood as a young man. In fact, I admired and respected many of the Jesuit priests who taught me in high school. But when one of them told my parents at a teachers’ conference that I ought to think about becoming a priest, I just laughed.
It wasn’t until graduate school, when I joined a Catholic fellowship group when I really had a chance to take a good hard luck at my faith. In that student fellowship, we talked and prayed a lot about how we could put our faith into action and make the great gift of our Catholic faith the center of our lives. We attended Mass together, organized praise and worship sessions, and become very dedicated to pro-life work on our campus. We worked to transform what Pope John Paul called “the culture of death” into a culture of life and love. Through all of these, I developed a personal prayer life I had never had before. I began to pray very hard about what my faith meant to me, began to read the Bible more devotedly, and began to ask the Lord in prayer how he wanted me to respond to Him in faith.
I found myself spending more time in adoration of the Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament (a devotion which was almost completely new to me). While listening to Him in the Blessed Sacrament, I began gradually to hear Him tell me what He wanted me to do: He wanted me to serve Him in a very radical way, to give up the plans and hopes and dreams I had for my own life, of becoming successful in the academic or corporate worlds, of having a wife and many children of my own. He wanted me to give these up for a plan that would be better for me. He wanted me to put my entire life at the service of His Church; to bring His salvific presence to the world in the Mass, and confession, and the sacraments.
This was not at all an instantaneous process for me. I didn’t want to let go of my own dreams so easily. But over the next few years, the more I prayed, the more I became certain that this was His will for me, even though it wasn’t my own will. One year, I was working as a volunteer in an inner city school in New Orleans, Louisiana. Every time I took our school children to Mass, I was blown away by the beauty of Christ’s total gift of Himself to these children–and the whole world–in the Holy Eucharist. After I went back to work for a couple years as a computer programmer, a job I enjoyed, I found myself less and less attracted to the corporate life and more and more attracted to the apostolates I did “on the side” after working hours. Finally, one Good Friday, I was praying the steps at Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams. I was praying the Rosary, asking the Blessed Mother for her guidance, all the way up the Hill. When I got to the top, I knelt before the Crucifix to pray to Our Lord, and He made it pretty clear that I had been running too long, that it was time to go into the seminary and prepare for the holy priesthood. So I finally relented, quit my job, prepared to sell my condominium, and completed the application process which I had halfheartedly started with the vocation director a while back.
I knew the Lord’s will, and I knew I should follow it. As reluctant as I was along the way, dragging my heels in the process, I look back now and wonder why I was so hesitant. The priesthood has been a tremendous privilege and joy, and I know now that, as unworthy as I was, God created me to serve Him and His Church as a priest. Nothing could possibly make me happier.
So my advice for any young man considering the priesthood, or wondering if he is called or not, is to make your prayer simple. Just ask the Lord for two things: the wisdom to know His will for your vocation, and the courage to follow it, even if that means making great sacrifices to get there. Pope John Paul the Great was a great priestly model for me, and an inspiration for me following the Lord into priestly service. He was very fond of reminding young people throughout his pontificate: “Do not be afraid!” The same words that the angel Gabriel proclaimed to Mary Mother of God at the Annunciation, the Lord speaks to you. If you sense a call to the priesthood, Do not be afraid to follow after the Lord, to answer the call and challenge to do the greatest work any man could ever do on earth: to save souls and bring them to Heaven.
Growing up in the rural town of Botkins, Ohio, and living just a block north of the parish, the faith was always something that just made sense to me. I have four older siblings and a twin brother, and we all joined in the parish life as best as we were able. My two brothers and I were servers from the fifth grade, while my sisters sang in the choir among other things.
Around the time I was in third or fourth grade, Fr. Jim O’Conner was named pastor of our parish. He brought a wonderful spirit and vigor to the parish as he started to implement some changes to bring the parish alive. He would often call on my brothers and me to serve weddings and funerals since we lived so close to the parish. He would usually tell some joke to us, or explain something about the faith that helped it to come alive. Looking back now, he was the inspiration for me to enter the priesthood.
By the time I was in High School, I was dating more and involved with different things at school; so while I was still a server, I was not thinking about the seminary. My family did go on a few pilgrimage trips during this time, during which a few of the ‘gray hairs’ said I should become a priest, but I just passed them off at that time.
When I graduated, I wanted to change the world (and make money doing it!) Since my grandfather was pretty sick at the time with cancer, I applied to Ohio State University as a Pre-Med major, hoping to go into Oncology. However, God had another plan. I was involved with the Catholic Student Group at the Campus Newman Center when I heard a talk on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I could not shake the thought from my head. When I got back to my dorm that night, I tossed and turned the whole night, trying to shake this thought.
I couldn’t shake it, though. I came home for Easter of my freshman year debating on whether or not I should tell my parents about this. I finally told them about five minutes before I left to return to OSU. Mom was excited to say the least, but we looked at each other and said, “So, now what?”
Shortly thereafter, I visited the Josephinum in Columbus and felt like I was home. I decided to apply for acceptance and transferred there beginning my sophomore year in college. I graduated in three years, and after some soul searching, felt called to continue on with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which I know was the right decision. I enrolled at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati and continued to grow in faith and in understanding of who I was, and who I was in God’s eyes as well.
During my time there, I interned under Fr. Tim Kallaher at St. John the Baptist Parish in Dry Ridge. Finally, I was able to start practicing what I was hoping to be able to do. It was wonderful working in the parish school, with the youth ministry and visiting the homebound. The idea of priesthood started to become more concrete, and more exciting. It was great to return to the parish as a deacon to preach on Sundays and to perform Baptisms and Weddings.
Just before ordination to Priesthood, I received my first assignment that I would be teaching full time at Elder High School. I immediately felt in over my head. I had graduated from a small, co-ed, public school and was now going to be working at a large, boys only, Catholic school, as different from my experience as I could get! But I loved it. Elder is a unique environment that allowed me to challenge my students to come to a deeper awareness of the faith while I also grew to become hopefully a better priest.
After two years, Bishop Moeddel once again called to say that I had been appointed Director of Vocation for the Archdiocese. Once again, I felt thrown into the deep end of the pool with a rock tied around my waist. But, with faith that God gives us the right words when we need them and that He gives the necessary graces to overcome our own weaknesses, I take up this new call to help those being called to feel the courage and strength needed to answer the call to come after Him, and be made fishers of men.
Ordination Class of 2006
Although I had been baptized in the Catholic Church, I was never raised in the Catholic Faith. And, in fact, I was not even exposed to religion at all. I grew up in the public school system, graduated from public high school, embarked on what I believed to be a successful business career, and was preparing myself for a married life. However, after several years of working in the business world and dating, I began to feel that something was lacking in my life. I began to feel a sort of emptiness. After great deliberation and reflection, I began to discern a “calling” to something more.
Since I had already planned my life, I thought that the “calling” that I was experiencing was directing me to re-explore my religious roots. And, since I knew that I had been baptized in the Catholic Church, I began to start there. So, I attended Mass one Sunday morning and the journey began.
As I sought to further discern this “calling”, I began to explore other faith traditions that were a part of my family constitution. Yet, I always found myself drawn back to the Catholic Church and the Mass. Since, at this point, it seemed that I was on the correct path; I contacted my parish priest and inquired about my return to the Catholic Church.
Eventually, I was introduced to the RCIA program at my parish, where I began to learn more about the Catholic Church. The following year at the Holy Easter Vigil, I was brought into Full Communion with the Church by receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and first Holy Communion.
After this experience, and believing that the emptiness had been filled, I continued with my business career and preparation for married life for awhile. However, in a very short period of time, I began to experience a “tugging at the heart”, as if Our Blessed Lord was trying to tell me that my journey was not over.
I spent a great deal of time talking to Jesus in prayer, and discerning the priesthood. After much struggling, telling Our Blessed Lord what I had planned for my life, and continuing to experience his “tugging at my heart”, I contacted the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to further discern this “calling”.
After much discernment, and even many attempts at ignoring such a “calling”, I made the decision to enter into the seminary at the Pontifical College Josephinum. I knew that the only way that I was going to keep Jesus from “tugging my heart” would be to take the next logical step, and actually enter the seminary, which indeed was a big step. So, I made a deal with Jesus. I told him that I would go to the seminary for one year, prove to him and everyone else that I was not being called to the priesthood, and then return to my life plans.
Before my first year was over, I had unilaterally made the decision to leave. Very shortly after my departure, and conversing with God in prayer, I knew that if I did not return, then I would be breaking my end of the deal. So, I returned to the seminary, and finished the first year.
At the end of the first year, my level of certainty regarding my life plans had diminished. And, in fact, I had resolved to return the following year to continue my discernment. At the end of each year, I began to believe more and more that I was, in fact, “called” to be a priest. And, so it was a process. It was a journey. There is an old saying, “we make plans and God laughs at them”, and such turned out to be certainly true in my life.
I spent nine years in seminary formation—i.e. four years at the Pontifical College Josephinum, and five years at the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary. While such a journey was filled with many challenges, joys, and struggles, it has brought me closer to Christ, and has given me the privilege of serving him in a very special way.
After the 1997 death of my mother, Margaret Ann McMullen, I seriously began thinking about the priesthood. My father and I were looking for some sort of spiritual renewal. We heard about the Catholic Men’s Conference and we went. Mr. Gerry Faust got up and said “Okay, let’s pray for vocations.” The Holy Spirit just kind of hit and I’m like, “Okay, this is the third time. I can take the hint.”
That experience strengthened a faith journey that started when I heard a homily while in high school. Our parish pastor, the late Rev. Vincent J. Bramlege at Holy Name Church in Blanchester, spoke of vocations that day. The focus of the homily was “I can’t believe we haven’t had anybody from this parish who has ever gone to the seminary.” He went up and did this homily and I thought, “He might be talking about me.” But then I thought, “No. Forget it. I’m not going to do it.”
I grew up in St. Ann Parish, Groesbeck, but my family moved to rural Clermont County while I was in junior high school. I gave little thought to the priesthood, finished high school and went on to enter the Pre-Dental program at the University of Dayton. At the time, my parents hosted large picnics with plenty of friends and co-workers at their home. During one of the picnics, I felt the call again. It was a Fourth of July party and somebody my father worked with from the west side of Cincinnati came out and said “Patrick, you’d make a good priest.” I just kind of looked at him said, “Right.” I just kept putting it off, and putting it off, and putting off.
I transferred from the University of Dayton to Chatfield College, a small school in Brown County and earned an Associate of Arts degree, planning to become a teacher. Few teaching jobs were available, so I eventually found a job in retail. I was working in the benefits department of Federated Department Stores in Mason, Ohio, when my mother died.
Shortly after losing my mother, I found himself at the aforementioned Catholic conference with my father. There, Faust, the former football coach at Moeller High School, Notre Dame and Akron University, spoke to the crowd and led them in prayer.
I knew it was time to start talking to my parish pastor in Blanchester, Father Mike Savino, now pastor at St. Joseph Church in North Bend. Father Savino had worked at the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary of the West in field placement. It turned out to be the timing was right. It was, “Let’s just see if it’s for me. I’ll go in with an open attitude of discernment trying to figure out if this is where God is truly calling me.” It was more of an evolution, and I think a lot of people have that type of experience. After talking with Father Savino, I went on a life awareness weekend, a retreat sponsored by then Archdiocesan Vocations Director Father Mark Watkins. Father Watkins was supportive and assigned me a spiritual director.
It seemed this was the right choice — to at least try it to see if the priesthood was for me. It is difficult giving up a full-time job. It’s somewhat of an unknown. You have the thought “What if this isn’t the right path?” But, you also have the feeling “This is where I’m supposed to be.” It gets stronger as you go along.
Mom’s death brought things into focus. Later, when I talked to my aunt, she said “Your Mom always thought you would do something like this.” I think Mom had the idea. She never saw it happen, but I think she wanted it to be my decision. She didn’t encourage it; she didn’t discourage it. I think she wanted me to be the one to say “Okay, this is where I think I need to go.”
My father, James Thomas McMullen, who died in 2002, was very supportive of my call. My vocation was strengthened when I did my seminarian internship at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Cheviot. The discernment was reinforced by parishioners during the yearlong internship in which a seminarian lives and works with other priests in a parish. This gives us firsthand experience of a priest’s working life, and typically allows the seminarian to develop a mentoring relationship with the internship pastor.
I can’t say enough good things about when we go out for our internship year. It gives good exposure to the people, what parish life is like, what it’s like to live with another priest, functioning with a parish staff, functioning along side a priest. You don’t have the authority that priests do, but you do have some authority simply because you’re the seminarian. You grow very close, hopefully, to your internship pastor.
When working with men thinking about the priesthood, I encourage them to talk to their parish priest first. He then points them to the Vocations Director and urges them to get a spiritual director to help them in discerning if the priesthood is for them.
As I write this, it has now been approximately 2 months since my ordination to the priesthood, one of the happiest days of my life. Each day as I serve God’s people through doing what we as priests do, I grow closer to Christ and his people. I do not regret the decision to investigate if this was the correct vocation for me. I would urge you if you are even for a minute contemplating becoming a priest or any religious vocation to consider prayerfully your decision. You just may find out that the Lord has plans for your life in this holy vocation.
In the second grade, while preparing for my First Holy Communion, our teacher, Sr. Mary Regula spoke to us about receiving a call for a vocation. Being in the second grade, I thought the call would be a telephone call or some major sign. One Sunday morning, I was out at the brooder house feeding the chickens when I heard bells ring. I was so excited because I knew God was calling me to be a priest, so I ran into the house and told my parents. My dad looked at his watch and said, “It is 10 o’clock silly. Those are the church bells. Go out and finish your chores.”
From my earliest years, my parents and grandparents promoted vocations in our home. They often spoke of how each family should send a son or daughter to religious life, and they also respected that God would call us if he wanted us to serve him in this way.
Throughout my childhood, I thought about being a priest, but I also thought about being a farmer, teacher, movie star, and professional athlete, the types of things that all children think about. As I got older and got into high school, I was involved in my parish, school and community activities. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, dating, and having fun. After high school, I went to Columbus to attend the Ohio State University.
Coming from a town of 150 people and moving into a dorm housing 100 students per floor was quite a change for me, and I loved being there. I continued attending Mass, but did not think much about the priesthood. At the beginning of my freshman year, my niece Danielle was born, and I was asked to be her Godfather. I took this responsibility very seriously and began to study Scripture and become more mature in my faith.
In the spring of my sophomore year, my niece, Danielle, passed away very suddenly, and I was devastated. I was angry at God and felt bad about that anger. I didn’t know that I could be angry at God, and I could take that anger to my prayer. Instead I got frustrated and decided that I would never want to be a priest for a God who would take an 18 month old baby. As the years progressed, and I graduated from college, my faith was weakening, although I still attended Mass and prayed; I was really just going through the motions.
I graduated from OSU and started teaching high school, but I realized that I did not want to be a high school teacher. So I decided to go back to OSU and get my Master’s degree. While in graduate school, I met some of the most intelligent people I had ever known. Some of these people, while very intelligent, had little or no faith, and I realized that in order to appear intelligent, I should not share my faith with others. As my faith continued to weaken, so did my understanding of the faith and my desire to attend Mass.
After graduating from OSU with a Master’s degree, I decided I needed to get far away from Ohio. Despite all of my anger and weak faith, I still felt pulled towards the priesthood. My hope was that by getting away from everything I knew, God would stop calling me.
I went to Arizona State University to work and after one year, I realized I wanted to be close to home where I had a good support of family and friends. I worked for two years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and began to become stronger in my faith. After two years at Miami, I returned to Ohio State to work and spent a couple of years running a graduate student dorm. At this point, I became very involved in a parish in Columbus. At this point God was calling me again to the priesthood, and I just could not feel at peace.
As I was going through this stage in my life, I realized that I was not worthy to be a priest. I wasn’t good enough or holy enough to serve God and his Church in this way. So I decided to look at careers overseas, foolishly believing that God would not call me there. None of those opportunities worked out, so I started a job at OSU as Academic Counselor for the College of Food, Agricultural, & Environmental Sciences. This was the greatest job I could have ever asked for or gotten. I was so happy in this job. I worked a lot of hours and really enjoyed what I was doing. I was also working with some very strong Christians which helped me continue to study and learn about my faith. I was considering starting a PhD, when God made it very clear that he was calling me to be a priest.
As I said, I loved my job, but I was restless. I could never feel at ease or comfortable. Finally one night, I went to church and I knelt before the tabernacle and I prayed. I threw everything out there that I needed to say. I finished my prayer with something like this, “Lord, you know I am not worthy to be a priest. I do not know what to do, so you need to show me the way. I can’t fight any more.” As I knelt there in silence, I was suddenly filled with this sense of peace. All I needed to do was speak with my pastor. The joy I felt at the time is impossible for me to articulate. I smiled for four days straight.
I met with my pastor who directed me to the vocation director for the Columbus Diocese. He suggested I contact the Archdiocese of Cincinnati because that is the diocese in which I would want to be a priest. I met with Fr. Watkins, and before long the whole process was completed and I was ready to be a seminarian.
Throughout my years at the seminary, I continued to struggle with the thought about my worthiness to be a priest, but I was confident God was calling me to this life. Instead of fighting and telling God what to do, I would try to listen to the Lord and to do his will. Psalm 121 really helped me through the whole process of surrendering my will to God. I raise my eyes to the mountains. From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
All of us have different stories to tell. We have all suffered. We have all experienced joy. God is calling each of us to a vocation in life as a priest, sister, brother, married couple, parent or single person. At some point, we need to quit fighting the Lord and accept his great love and faith. Only then can we truly be free to be the person God made us to be.