By Father Christopher M. O’Connor
VERY OFTEN people will ask me why I chose to become a priest. My answer is that God chose me first (John 15:16). Let me share with you a story that helped me in my discernment.
In March of 1990, I went to visit Chiarelli’s Religious Goods store for the first time, based on the recommendation of then-Father Richard Marchese. I was home on emergency leave from the Air Force to bury my father. For whatever reasons, my father decided to take his own life at the young age of 45.
Didn’t Even Own a Bible
I had begun thinking of the priesthood the previous year, but was not sure of the call and still did not know enough of the faith. I did not even own a Bible. I explained to Father Marchese that I was looking for a place to buy a Bible and maybe some books on the faith.
He said the place to go is Chiarelli’s, and the day I went there will stay with me until the day I die.
I was in mourning, and so I was not too concerned with my appearance. I went to the store wearing a heavy metal T-shirt, a leather jacket and I had not shaved in several days – not exactly a military bearing.
I was bent over looking at some music CDs when John Chiarelli came over to me and asked, “Father, can I help you find anything?”
I looked around to see if he was talking to someone else, but there was no one else there.
I responded, “I’m not a priest.”
His response was, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were. If you need anything just ask.”
I was shocked. Based on the way I was dressed and the fact that I was only 21 years old at that time, I took it as a strange occurrence.
I continued shopping and then a lady approached me. She asked me to help her find a book on the Blessed Mother. It turns out that I was standing right next to the book. I picked it up and asked her if this was it.
We talked for a few moments and then she asked, “Are you a priest?”
“No, I am not, but I am thinking about it,” I responded.
She said, “You would make a great priest.”
“How would you know that? You just met me,” I said.
Her response was, “There is something about you, you remind me of my priest on Staten Island.”
I thanked her and then walked away, shaking my head.
After I found everything I wanted, I went to pay for the items. I put everything on the counter and the lady said to me, “Father, how can I help you?”
I said, “I’m not a priest yet.”
Then she asked if I was a seminarian, and my answer was “not yet.” She gave me a clergy discount anyway.
Through the Eyes of Strangers
In the span of just one hour, three complete strangers identified me as a priest even though I was too young to be one and I was definitely not dressed like one.
I ran to my mother’s house, called Father Marchese and told him what had happened.
His response was: “Someone is trying to tell you something. What are you going to do?”
From that day forward, I believed in my vocation to the priesthood. Although I did struggle at times, I have been a priest now for 18 years and I cannot imagine myself being anything else.
The priesthood has brought great joy to my life, but more importantly, I have been able to bring Jesus to others, especially in the sacraments.
Even a Hint
If you have even a hint that the Lord is calling you to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, you have an obligation to pursue it, to see what the Lord has planned for you.
Go before the Blessed Sacrament and open your heart to Him. The Lord Jesus will show you the way; He still does for me.
Father O’Connor is the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside.