How did you become a priest? (asked by a six-year- old)
I thank the parents of our six-year-old questioner for encouraging their daughter to ask. I will gladly try to answer the question in a manner that can either be read to her, or that she can read herself (though I would probably recommend the first option.)
For many, becoming a priest begins with the idea that “I want to be a priest,” or that “God may want me to be a priest.” Sometimes this idea comes from what others say. In the church where I grew up in Effie, Minnesota, there were some prayerful ladies who more than once said to me, “Joel, you are such a good altar server; I think you would make a good priest.” God places His idea that He has for each one of us into our hearts by helping us to see what will give us true happiness. For me, His idea sounded like this, “How wonderful it would be to be able to share my faith with others.” I began to think about this idea more and more when I was in 10th and 11th grade. I started thinking to myself that, “Maybe I should think about becoming a priest, because I like to altar serve and I want to share the faith with others.”
When I was in 11th grade, some pretty important things had happened in my life. This was the year I received confirmation. As part of getting ready for confirmation, I went on two retreats. The first was a NET Retreat that lasted one full day and was at the church in the town of Bigfork, where I went to school; the other was a TEC Retreat that lasted for three days and was held at the church in the town of International Falls – right next to Canada! During these two retreats, I learned many things about God and what it means to be one of His children – especially how we should not be afraid to be what God made us to be. Thanks to these experiences, I became more courageous in following Jesus and in wanting to do what God wanted for me to do. So, in 12th grade I told the priest at my church for the first time that I was thinking about being a priest, and he helped me find out what I needed to do next.
After 12th Grade, my schooling to become a priest started. I spent my first year of college just “going to college” at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had decided to go to St. Thomas because I knew St. Thomas had a place for young men who might become priests. After that one year, I entered that place: the St. John Vianney Seminary at St. Thomas, where I spent three more years – enough time to begin learning basic things about Jesus and the Church and about being a priest. After going to college at St. Thomas for those four years, I still had another four more years of school as all men who become priests have to go to school at a “major seminary.”
I was blessed to be able to go to major seminary in Rome, Italy – where the Pope lives and where the Vatican is. Now Rome is a long way from home – it takes 9-12 hours in an airplane to go from Duluth to Rome! I spent four years at the seminary in Rome called the North American College, which is the seminary in Rome for those from the United States who desire to become priests. I was only able to come home to see Duluth and my family members who live in Minnesota for parts of two summers during those four years. While I was there, I had to go to school to learn many things about who God is, what’s in the Bible, what the Church believes, and how to do the works that priests are meant to do. It was a very special time for me, as I learned these lessons along with other lessons about who God calls me to be and how I should try to live. Most of all, I learned some very important lessons about trusting Jesus because it was not always easy to be so far from home, and there were times when I felt discouraged, such as when I badly hurt one of my knees, or in the times when I didn’t think I was good enough or really meant to be a priest.
After the eight years of school after 12th grade were finished, I came back to Duluth and was ordained as a priest by the bishop at our Cathedral church. I have served at several churches in northeastern Minnesota ever since. It is great to be a priest and I thank Jesus for calling me. I pray that I will always be faithful and will serve well. I also pray that all who read or hear this story will know how much Jesus loves you and how you will truly be happy when you follow the idea He has for your life.
Fr. Joel Hastings