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Celebrating 55 years as a priest

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I was an altar boy in grammar school and loved it. But I think I did it mainly because the altar boys got out of class whenever there was a funeral. In high school, I never thought much about the priesthood. However, on my senior retreat, I had serious stirrings that stayed with me. I tried to shake them off, but they persisted.

Father John
Catoir

In late May, I celebrated my 55th anniversary as a priest. Looking back on it, the day of my ordination was the happiest day of my life.

Growing up as a boy, I was pretty normal, showing no special signs of piety. We were normal churchgoing Catholics. I attended Catholic schools, was interested in sports and girls, in that order. The order shifted when I was about 12.

I was an altar boy in grammar school and loved it. But I think I did it mainly because the altar boys got out of class whenever there was a funeral. In high school, I never thought much about the priesthood. However, on my senior retreat, I had serious stirrings that stayed with me. I tried to shake them off, but they persisted.

I wanted no part of the seminary or celibacy. Yes, I wanted to make God the center of my life, but I also wanted to marry and have a family. Clearly, the life of a priest was not for the likes of me. Whenever the yearning to be a priest came up, I diligently squashed it. And yet, it got stronger in the Army. Finally, I couldn't take it any longer. I faced the fact that the priesthood was what I really wanted.

In a way, it broke my heart to give up a part of life that was so important to me, and yet the very decision to say yes made me extremely happy. The tension was at last over, and I never looked back.

I learned years after my ordination that my maternal grandmother, who died when I was 3, had a spiritual role in the mysterious process of my vocation. It happened one day when I phoned my Aunt Letitia to wish her a happy birthday.

In the process of chatting she said, "My mother, your grandmother, always prayed that one of her boys (she had four boys and five girls) would become a priest, and that one of her children would be born on Sept. 8," which is the feast day of the Virgin Mary.

These words hit me like an electric shock. Not only had I become a priest, but I was born on Sept. 8, 1931. My mother never told me anything about it. For the first time I realized that all the inner turmoil that I thought was taking place privately in my soul was not about me struggling with my vocation. It was Grandmother Anna putting her two cents in from heaven.

Many years have passed since then and, looking back, I am filled with awe and gratitude knowing that her prayers were answered. I'm sure she was praying for me through all those doubts and fears.

The priesthood turned out to be the greatest blessing of my life. I have never regretted the decision that Anna and I arrived at -- not for a minute.

FATHER CATOIR IS A COLUMNIST WITH THE CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE.

FATHER CATOIR IS AN AUTHOR, FORMER HOST OF “THE CHRISTOPHERS” TV PROGRAM, AND A CATHOLIC PRIEST FOR OVER 55 YEARS.

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