What brought you to St. John’s Seminary?” “Why did you decide to become a priest?” Over 50 years ago, I was thinking about how I should answer these questions if someone at the seminary asked. It was not a flash of lightning or a voice from the clouds. None of these spiritual thoughts came to mind. These thoughts, however, did get me thinking; how did I get here? The answer: it was the love, the kindness, and the good example of so many people. (As an aside, no one ever asked me these lofty questions.)
We do need good people in our lives, and we need to be good people to others. I know a vocation comes from God, but he uses many others along the way.
These people were my parents and sister with their quiet and constant strong faith, love of God, the Church and our parish. Also, the priests in my home parish of St. Mark’s, Dorchester, whose example of a good priest inspired me. One was Father Robert Adams who, when I had no clear idea about what I wanted to do with my life, got me into St. Mary High School in Brookline where he had attended and where I had to take courses needed to enter the seminary. The Sisters of St. Joseph and Notre Dame Sisters, who taught me in grammar and high school, are dedicated and extraordinary women. In addition, as a newly ordained priest at St. Andrew’s in Forest Hills, there were priests who with much patience guided me -- mostly by example.
Another big decision, and one of the best in my life, was to join the Society of St. James the Apostle. Again, it was the example of others, no voice from heaven. It was the enthusiasm of Cardinal Cushing and the joy and the dedication of those who were already members. I will give you one example: Father Joe Martin. Father Joe was in the first group of priests to go to Peru in 1959. He was in an isolated parish high in the Peruvian Andes. He received word that his father had died, and he began the long journey to Boston by truck and airplane. He became seriously ill on the flight to Boston, was rushed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, and never got to his father’s funeral. I visited Father Joe while he was recuperating in the hospital. I was so impressed that despite all that he had endured, he was so enthused about the St. James Society and was anxiously waiting to return to Peru -- I wanted to join.
Up until that time, I had never asked my mother what she thought about me going to South America. I asked my sister what she thought my mother’s reaction would be. (My father had died six years before.) She told my sister that if I wanted to do this, it would be fine with her, a mother’s intuition. My mind was made up. I wrote to Cardinal Cushing and he replied the next day accepting my request. Being a member of the Society of St. James was a tremendous blessing for me in so many ways, receiving much more than I gave.
As we celebrate the bicentennial of our Archdiocese of Boston, we all have many thoughts of blessings, accomplishments, failures, and things to do. For me, as a priest of the archdiocese, I need to say thank you for the love, the care, and the good example of so many people during my life. Some I can, and should thank personally, for others, I say a prayer of gratitude.
Father George Emerson is a senior priest of the Archdiocese of Boston in residence at St. Timothy Parish in Norwood.