I was ordained on Easter Monday, 19 April 1965 in the Church of San Marcello along the Via del Corso in Rome Italy about a block off the well known Piazza Venezia. The day was a very pleasant weather wise but also an awesome day culminating years of preparation. My mother, sister and cousins came from the United States and military postings in Germany. I hadn’t seen my mother in four years. She awe struck with historical monuments around every corner. Then a friend arranged an audience with Pope Paul VI. I have a picture of the event. My mother’s eyes are popping out of her head. I have classmates in England, Ireland, Canada, and Portland Oregon and also with God in eternal rest.
Anniversaries are time points that invite us to pause and look back and to also look ahead. I think that it is time well spent if we discover how much has happened over those years. In my owe case, I am very aware of how different my life as a priest has been over these 50 years than what I would have thought it to have been. It is almost scary. When I was ordained I expected one of two assignments: teach at Saint Philip High School on the West Side of Chicago or serve as an associate pastor in one of the Servite parishes. I ended up teaching at Servite High School Seminary in Hillside and helping out in a variety of parishes for weekday and weekend Masses. Without going into the details of each assignment, I can honestly say that some were complete surprises. Some I accepted gladly, others made me hesitant, and a few I strongly resisted. I tended not to volunteer and the few times that I did volunteer, I wasn’t selected. Sometimes people ask me to name my favorite assignment and I find that a very difficult question. My best answer is the place where I am at the time of the question. I honestly can say that I have had no bad assignments, even the ones I resisted. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching though I am not sure all my students shared my enjoyment. I find the parish probably the most challenging, but also the most fulfilling in those sacred moments when the sacraments bring calm, joy, peace, or healing. My priestly ministry in the military was basically parish ministry with the added dimension of being an officer that involves a lot of administration and also military formalities. The military was very affirming through positive annual written feedback and promotions. A friend of mine called it “external stroking” and I guess he is right, but it also motivated a willingness to work hard to do a good job. I have enjoyed my priesthood. Yet when someone asks me “why did you become a priest?” (A couple preparing for marriage asked that question in the last month.) I don’t know the answer. I can explain it anecdotally with little stories, some funny and others not so funny, but I cannot say this is why I became a priest. I can’t speak for the other priests celebrating anniversaries, but I suspect that there is mystery in every vocational decision and I like to see this as the hand of God. When I look ahead that mysterious hand of God reminds me to be open to the unexpected. We find scriptures that refer to the idea of the shepherd, which is an image associated with vocation—the feeding and tending command given in the Gospel. Is there anyone out there that wrestles with the idea that the mysterious hand of God might be pushing them towards the priesthood or religious life? The fact is that today more seminarians and people in religious formation programs are older than people imagine. Many have had successful careers, including physicians, lawyers, bankers, military officers, just to mention a few. I’ve encountered priests who were ordained at sixty or older and ministered for fifteen years and longer. Father Brown, with whom I live, is over ninety and is still active in ministry. Each priest has a unique experience of his personal vocation, but all share many common experiences. The shepherd’s ministry is the journey that searches for the sometimes elusive life-giving water. Is God somehow calling you to that ministry? Think about it!
Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.