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A Journey to the Seminary

by Robert Ryan on April 6, 2016

I was raised in a great Catholic family. We prayed together often as a family and went to Mass together every Sunday and holy day. However, that did not prevent me from falling away from the faith due to the temptations of the world.

In college, I embraced the campus lifestyle and began using the good works I was doing with a community service fraternity I had joined to rationalize why it wasn’t necessary for me to go to Mass regularly. As long as I was a good person doing good things, I didn’t think I needed the Church. But once I began down this slippery slope, my life away from grace began to snowball.

After graduating from college, I took a job with a large technology company in Austin, Texas. My diminished faith only dwindled more once I entered the corporate world of sales and marketing. Little by little, the moral code I had grown up with was eroding away because of the culture and lifestyle I was now living. I fully embraced a materialistic life, and at one point on Facebook, I even listed my religious views as “The U.S. Dollar.” I had fallen far away from the Catholic faith I was brought up in.

My life had hit a low. I did not recognize the person I had become. And after I was laid off from my job, I thought my life had ended. At the invitation of my parents, I decided to move back home to Chicago. I needed to re-evaluate my life.

With my parents, I started attending Mass again. And one day, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I needed to go to confession. I was terrified.  It had been more than ten years, and I was convinced there was no way God would forgive me for the life I had led. However, one Saturday in June 2013, I made the leap and I went to confession. After confessing my life, amidst tears of shame and remorse, the priest on the other side of the screen responded by simply saying, “Welcome home.”

After this reconciliation, my life started to turn around. I started to feel this strange call in my heart to get more involved in my faith. I would often be approached by friends at my home parish — St. Peter’s in Antioch, Illinois — asking me if I had considered the priesthood. But I would always respond with a chuckle and say, “There’s no way Jesus would want me as one of his priests.”

One day in January, a friend of my mother’s approached me and very kindly informed me there was a retreat at Mundelein Seminary in a few weeks for men exploring the priesthood. After taking this thought to prayer, I finally managed to gather the courage to reach out to Fr. Francis Bitterman, the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The following Friday, I came to Mundelein Seminary for the Exploring Priesthood Weekend. I was not sure of what I would find nor what to expect. And what I did discover was a group of men playing basketball and eating pizza – just being normal, but all with a deep love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the weekend, we had panel discussions with different seminarians about academics, spiritual life, and their own vocation stories.

On Saturday, January 17, 2015, during Eucharistic Adoration in Mundelein’s Chapel of St. John Paul II, I finally asked the Lord to help me figure out what to do with my life. Then, like a firm brick to the head, I knew in my heart he was calling me to the priesthood. After wrestling with the idea for a few minutes, I said, “Yes, Lord,” and I was filled with an indescribable peace. A few weeks later, I began the application process to Mundelein Seminary.

Today, more than a year later, and for the first time in my life, I know I am where I’m supposed to be. I’m living the life the Lord has called me to live, and it was in no small part due to meeting other men in the midst of their vocation journeys during Exploring Priesthood Weekend. Maybe the Lord is calling you?

The next EPW is held April 8-10, 2016 at Mundelein Seminary.