By JOHN PAUL SHEA
I was born and grew up in Mesa, Arizona. As a child, I lived with my mother, sister, grandma, and four uncles. I did not know my biological father. We were a close family and did many family activities. Unlike many men who enter the seminary to become a priest, I was not raised in the Catholic faith. I grew up as a Mormon and received what is a Mormon baptism at age eight.
I can remember really enjoying church and learning about Jesus as a child. However, during my teenage years I began to doubt the Mormon teachings and lost my desire to learn about religion. I stopped going to church and practiced no religion for several years. Like many teenagers today, I had adopted an attitude that fun and entertainment was more important than learning about God. I converted to the Catholic Church through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1994 a good friend of mine was told that he was dying.
He was Catholic but had not been to church in several years. He was a father figure to me. I considered him as my dad and he considered me as his adopted son. I had been close to his family since I was a teenager. With the fear of his death, I had begun to question the purpose of my life and began to search for God. In my search for God, I began to listen to different radio programs and watch television shows that focused on miracles and the supernatural. One night I had heard a show on the radio that spoke about the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I had an instant attraction to her and soon bought a Rosary. After praying the Rosary for a couple of years, I knew that God was calling me to become Catholic. I came into the church in 1998 after receiving baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion and my dad came back to church and went to confession. He died about a year later.
-When did you first think about becoming a priest? My first thoughts about becoming a priest began while I was in RCIA. During that time, several people asked me if I was going to be a priest. It happened so much that I knew there was no possibility that it could be a coincidence. I had discovered that it takes eight years of school to become a priest. I had dropped out of school in the tenth grade, so eight years of school seemed like a tremendous challenge. Yet, I was falling in love with the Catholic faith, and I did have a desire to devote my life in service of God. I earned my GED in 1999 and received my General Associate degree from Mesa Community College a couple of years later. In 2001 I joined the Discalced Carmelite religious order. After being in the order for 2 ½ years, I left because I felt that God was calling me to be a diocesan priest. I worked for a few years as a caretaker for people who are developmentally disabled, and then I became a seminarian for the Diocese of Tucson.
-Did you have a priest you looked up to in your youth? Since I did not become Catholic until my 20s, no. However, since becoming a Catholic, many priests have inspired me for their faith and devotion to God. While I was in the Carmelites, I saw how some of the priests devoted their life to prayer and service. My novice master was a great influence in my vocation. I also admire my current pastor at St. George, Father Domenico Pinti. Among other things, he has shown me an example of how important it is to be personable with people. He is a very welcoming and generous priest. He always acknowledges and encourages people. At my seminary, I see the dedication of love and sacrifice that the priests give to us seminarians. <br>
-What do you envision your priesthood to be? I envision my priesthood as making a difference in people’s lives. Life is sacred and blessed. Yet, we live in a world and culture where many are unaware of the love and joy that is available to each of us. I desire to serve people and be a witness that Christ is within the heart of every individual. God has made himself present to me in my life, and I desire to make him present to others should God choose to use me. The church offers healing and joy to the world through its sacraments, and I envision myself to be an instrument of these sacraments I want to share Christ with those who are facing death or difficulties. I have a desire to allow God to use my hands to consecrate the bread and wine. As a priest, I hope to bring healing and comfort to the sick and elderly through Christ working in me.
-What is your greatest joy as you contemplate the priesthood? I think my greatest joy is that, as a priest, I will serve the church in the person of Christ. I can be a special part of the lives of many individuals, and I can allow God to use me to my fullest potential. As a priest I will be free to serve everyone. I find joy knowing that as a priest I can become the person who God has called me to be. I can fully give myself to God in the service of our church.
-What do you tell someone who is considering the priesthood? I suggest for anyone who is considering the priesthood to seriously consider entering the seminary. The seminary is a wonderful place for one to learn about himself and get closer to God. The seminary is a time of discernment. One would have nothing to lose by entering the seminary but would have much to gain. I have spoken with many men who have entered the seminary and later decided that God was calling them to a vocation of marriage. The time they spent in the seminary helped them to become a better husband in their marriage. Men who enter the seminary and become priests find much joy because they are fulfilling God’s call.
-Do you have a favorite devotion? My favorite devotion is the Rosary. I prayed the Rosary before I became Catholic, and it will always be part of my daily prayers. I also pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy each day. I believe that prayer is very important for my vocation. I have had a devotion to the brown scapular since before I became Catholic also.
-How do you relax? I like to go driving to my favorite stores on a Saturday afternoon. I also have my favorite restaurants that I enjoy. When the weather is nice, I enjoy riding a bike. I love to exercise and run. When I get the chance, I like to ride the train to downtown Chicago. Every once in a while I like to go see a movie at the theater or relax with a movie in my room. Every Wednesday night I get together with the seminarians on my hallway to talk, watch a movie, or go out to eat. I also get together with the other guys from my diocese once a week to pray and eat together. Right next to our seminary there is a shrine called “Marytown.” I enjoy going there!
-Describe a good day at the seminary. I think that every day is a good day at the seminary. I have better days than others, but each day is filled with many graces. God is present everywhere at the seminary. We have Mass every day, I get to hear wonderful lectures from great teachers, and I have a chapel near my room that I can pray in.
-Finish this sentence: "It would surprise people to know… I fought some amateur boxing matches in my earlier days.