A traditional feature of the annual Serra luncheon for the newly ordained is the men relating their personal journey. The stories of each spoke volumes on what it meant to ponder the future for those who were born and came to maturity during the challenging era of the cusp of the 21st century.
Father Sean English
Father English recalled when he was in grade school his pastor, Father Daniel Murray, used to pray with the boys in his school. “It was kind of sneaky (in that) we didn’t know what he was doing; he was praying for vocations and building us gradually for a vocation. At a specific time when he was praying he would ask us, ‘Could you be a priest for Jesus Christ?’ I remember feeling, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do that.’”
But at the same time, there was “an overwhelming yes,” he recalls. Also he has an uncle who is a Christian Brother, who showed him one can be happy in life and have a religious vocation.
It was at his eighth grade graduation that he received an award from the Serra Club for being an altar server.
“I had no idea what the Serra Club was,” he told the members. “In my heart my first call from God came through that gift from the Serra Club. It is through your prayer and support that I am here today,” he told the members.
Father Robert Gross
“I never wanted to be a priest, I never thought about being a priest, especially in high school,” Father Gross said. “I thought you were supposed to get married and have kids; that’s what everybody else did. I always thought priests were kind of weird. In high school if a priest would ask me about it, I would say, ‘Absolutely not.’”
A New Yorker, he relocated to the Philadelphia area where most of his college buddies lived, and took a job as a youth minister. At a liturgy when Msgr. Edward Deliman elevated the Host, he heard in his heart, “You are going to be a priest.”
“My response was definitely ‘No,’” he recalls. “After about six months I said, ‘I’ll go to the seminary and think about it, just get off my back.’ That was six years ago and now I’m a priest. Thank you for your prayers.”
Father Christopher Moriconi
“The touchstone of my being a priest was confession, making a good confession,” he said, and after that, realizing that the only way mercy comes into the world is through the priesthood. “I wanted to give my life, to give this to the people of God, by making that happen. It is great for any priest and it is very humbling to be able to say the words of absolution and reconcile people with God.”
There is just nothing, Father Moriconi said, on the face of the earth, except for Eucharist, that is more important. “To give my life for the forgiveness of sins is where my vocation is centered. I encourage all the young men here to consider that it is all worth it for those words a priest can say to the people of God to reconcile them in God’s eyes.”
Father Charles Ravert
“All through grade school I thought being a priest would be kind of neat, and I would enjoy doing that someday,” Father Ravert said. But in high school the idea went out the window. “Like most young people, I struggled with God, the point of religion, and was there any clear reason we do what we do in the Church?” he recalls.
Then Hurricane Katrina happened. His high school was Mercy Vocational School, and he was among a group of volunteers who went down to Pass Christian, Mississippi, to put the skills learned in school to use in the rebuilding effort.
They were working in a parish for about three days when a Jesuit priest brought a meal to the group and went off by himself. He and his friends noticed people coming in and lining the walls sort of like shy, awkward teens at a dance.
“They were hoping to get some food to feed their kids,” Father Ravert said. “The priest took his own food and gradually gave it out as far as it would go. It inspired most of the rest of us to do the same thing even though we were hungry from working all day.
“When I saw teenagers, myself included, so inspired by the example of a priest, all the desire I had as a kid to be a priest came rushing back,” he said. “The question of God and my struggles with faith, all of that seemed to pale in comparison. God began to make sense, religion began to make sense and a vocation became perfectly logical. I pray that my vocation for the rest of my life as a priest is to love as Jesus loved us.”
Father David Waters Jr.
Father Waters was 13 and visiting a neighbor’s house when “this guy looked at me and said, ‘You’d make a great priest,’” he remembers. “I laughed in his face and said, ‘you’re crazy.’ I kind of got disillusioned with the Catholic faith after I had a near-death experience with appendicitis. I really struggled with knowing I’m not immortal. When you are 13 you think you are, and that really changed things.”
He also struggled with what is the real meaning of life, and interestingly, it was exposure through a Methodist group to the Lectio Divina, a way of praying with Scripture, that he began to rediscover his Catholic faith.
“I began to transform my faith in two ways — Eucharist and the Blessed Mother,” he said. “To know both of them was the joy of life. I went to Eucharistic Adoration every week; my mom would have to drive me, because I couldn’t drive. Just those hours before the Blessed Sacrament changed me forever. There is no sweeter thing on earth than the beautiful presence of Our Lord.”
He prayed the rosary daily and still does. The Blessed Mother “supported me as she supports all of her children,” he said. “I heard the voice of God not knowing what was in store for me. That is why I’m here today.”
Father Jason Buck
“When I was younger I thought of becoming a priest,” said Father Buck. “I put it aside when I was in high school, Then when I was in college (Franciscan University of Steubenville) I did a Holy Hour every week and prayed the rosary and I heard the Lord saying, “What are you willing to give up to hold the Blessed Sacrament in your hand?’ I said, ‘Everything.’ I entered six years ago and today I am a priest, thanks be to God.”
Addressing the high school students at the luncheon, Father Buck said, “I speak for all of us six men here when I say to all of you young men here today, “What a joy it is to see you here and what a greater joy it would be to see you as fully priests one day serving all of us through the Blessed Sacrament.”