Priest Discernment Stories

Fr. Eric Weber - Ordained 2001

Fr. Eric Weber knew in high school that he was being called to the priesthood. He answered God’s call and went directly into college seminary after graduation.

Growing up, I tried to follow the news and politics, but I was unsure about a great many issues. Over time, I have come to believe strongly in what the church teaches, even when it involves controversial issues. I came to see Mass as the best place to be here on earth. I came to see holy Communion as a gift unlike any other.

I was a sophomore in high school when I began feeling the call to the priesthood and a junior when I made my decision to try seminary. My parents were very supportive. They are both practicing Catholics and take their faith very seriously. However, they would have been happy with whatever career I would have chosen. Yet, even though I knew they would approve of my decision, it still took me over five months to tell them. I was nervous about doing something so out of the ordinary.

By my senior year, I was really into my faith, so I don’t think my decision completely shocked people. Several of my friends mentioned they could easily see me as being a priest. I only remember one friend being hostile to the idea. He said, "What do you want to do that for?"

In high school I was kind of lonely. Not many of my friends seemed to be into their faith as I was. I didn’t have many people I could talk to about what was really important to me. College seminary was better than I imagined. At seminary, living with many other men who had the same commitment to Jesus and the church really provided me with deeper friendships.

College seminary also gave me the opportunity to do many things involving my faith. For example, I took meals to AIDS patients, worked at soup kitchens, did hospice care, taught sixth-grade religious education classes, organized talent shows at a home for the emotionally ill or mentally impaired and picketed outside Planned Parenthood Clinics. [Through these] I was able to learn more about my own talents and how God could use me to serve others.

I also learned more about some areas I am not good at. It was great to have the Blessed Sacrament in the same building so I could pray before Jesus in that way whenever I wanted.

Priesthood is an extremely, extremely, extremely blessed life. You get to meet an enormous number of people and talk with them about the things most important to them. Oftentimes they tell you things they have never told another human being. You give up your own family to be invited intimately into hundreds of other families.

The priest is given the awesome grace to say the Mass, allowing people to receive Jesus’ body and blood in holy Communion. He is blessed to hear confessions, baptize, conduct funerals and witness weddings, as well as anointing the sick and dying. These are privileges almost beyond description.

If you are being called to the priesthood, you don’t want to miss this great calling. Priests rely on God’s strength and the prayers of others rather than their own strength. Thus, if God is calling you to the priesthood, you don’t have to worry about being too weak in any way. Priesthood is an extremely blessed and happy life.

Fr. Bill Ashbaugh - Ordained 1993

I was a party animal during college. It was funny though. Once in a while I would think about the priesthood. My friends told me to have a beer. Back then, if someone had told me I would be a priest in Howell, Michigan, I would have found that completely unbelievable.

Later on, I went to graduate school to work on a Ph.D. in biochemistry. During my second year, I had what I now call a religious conversion. At the time, I had no idea what to call it. All I knew is that God became very real for me. Prayer became very important. Scriptures were alive and were filled with God’s word that spoke to me. The Blessed Mother became very real as well. Before too long I was involved in the church. The youth minister and others from the parish spoke to me about the priesthood and gave me some books to read.

I had a huge struggle going on inside me because the idea of priesthood was no longer just a distant idea. Now it was coming to the surface as a possible life choice. I was very nervous about it. I was on a different path, but I wanted to be open to what God wanted for me. Each day I would try to make at least a holy hour to pray for help.

After Mass one Sunday, an old priest who had Alzheimer’s started yelling at me in the parking lot. He told me to come see him. I was pretty far away. I thought he might be talking to someone else (hoping he was), so I did not pay any attention. He kept yelling, so I turned and approached him. We began some small talk, then he suddenly interrupted and asked me if I had ever considered being a priest. I was stunned and was thinking that my worst nightmare was coming true. I told him yes. It was actually a great relief! He told me to come and see him. And I said I would – someday.

Well, I kept putting it off. On my 25th birthday, I attended daily Mass, and guess who was celebrating the Mass? I thought for sure that, since he had Alzheimer’s, he would not recognize me and I sat in the back of the church. He had a missionary with him preaching on, of all things, vocations! He was talking about how wonderful it was to be a priest, and I was eating it up with a spoon. I was thinking, "OK. I will do it!"

Well, believe it or not, Father got up after Communion and started to tell everyone about this young man he met the other day outside. He asked everyone to pray for this man because he thought he had a vocation to the priesthood. By this time, I had turned a bright red and I was sinking down into my seat. Before I made it underneath the seat, the priest was pointing at me saying, "There he is, right there! Stand up, young man! Stand up!" Before I realized what was happening, I was standing up and everyone was clapping.

This happened on my birthday. This was the reason I was born. I am in awe of this vocation and thank the good Lord for such a gift. Jesus said, "Amen I say to you, there is no one who has given up [everything] for my sake and the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age." Jesus’ words are true.!"

Fr. Peter Clark - Ordained 2002

Fr. Peter Clark is a priest and a doctor. He left a career in medicine to enter the seminary. Read his story about vocations as a "second career."

I grew up as the youngest of five children in a happy, middle-class Catholic family.†We were faithful churchgoers, but I always attended public schools and did well.

The challenges of college life in the crazy 1960s caused me to turn more seriously to my faith.†I learned to pray, fast and read Scripture regularly. Protestant Evangelical and Anabaptist thinking influenced me more than the Catholic tradition at this point.

I eventually traveled to Europe to study medicine and enrolled in a university in Antwerp, Belgium.†Although studying in a foreign educational system in the Flemish language was difficult, life among the Belgians was delightful.†I supported myself there as a street musician, singing and playing the 5-string banjo.

After transferring to the medical faculty in Brussels, Belgium, I made contact with a Catholic charismatic prayer group, which helped me deepen my spirituality and identify [myself] more clearly as a Catholic. I graduated in 1980 with an M.D. and moved to the Ann Arbor area for specialty training in internal medicine at hospitals in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The medical residency went well, and I elected to stay in the Ann Arbor area where I set up a private, solo practice in internal and geriatric medicine. I made many lasting friendships, dated and was even engaged at one point, but none of the relationships ended in matrimony. Along with participation in my parish, I also became active in the Word of God (a charismatic group), Hope Clinic (free medical care for the poor) and Operation Rescue.

These caused me to trust more in God and reconsider my life’s priorities. Complementing this introspection was an awareness of the needs of my patients who were facing serious illness. I became accomplished at describing their diseases and various treatments. Yet their pressing questions would fall outside the medical field. "Why did this happen to me? What does this illness mean? Am I a bad person because of this cancer?" I recognized the Catholic faith had much to say to these troubled ones.

I yearned to contribute to the church’s ministry in some way. While sensing a change was due in my career, I also grew in appreciation of the church’s sacraments and healthy parish life. My pastor helped me consider how I might best love the church back for all the blessings and mercies I had received from her.

I quietly reorganized – and then sold – my medical practice. To earn a living, I modified my hobby of collecting antique postcards into a business. Priesthood was not on the agenda. [But] after three years of seeking God, I recognized priesthood could be a possibility.

When I first met with the diocesan vocations director, I was surprised by my answers to his questions. I moved easily into the discernment process. After extensive interviews and screenings, I sold my house in Ann Arbor and began seminary training in 1997. My fellow seminarians included many other second-career vocations. These former professionals became dear friends. [In addition, my] support from priests, religious and the faithful grew, making it easier to give over my life when I was ordained on June 8, 2002.

For someone already heavily involved in a career, stepping out toward the priesthood involves sacrifice and achieving a distance from superfluous attachments. Prepare yourself to respond to the call. Do things that free you to move on with a clear conscience.

Be patient. Consideration of the priesthood is a long-term project with highs and lows, clarity and obscurity, confidence and doubt. We are in this Kingdom of God for the long run, so the vocation process takes time.