Answering God’s call to the priesthood

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When Archbishop Robert J. Carlson ordains five new priests for the Archdiocese of St. Louis next week, no one will be happier than Jesuit Father John Horn, president-rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

"I'm very proud of these men," Father Horn said. "I regard them as younger brothers and as spiritual sons, all at the same time. I am joy-filled to see them go to the altar and be ordained."

Quoting St. Paul in the second book of Corinthians, Father Horn said, "'When I am weak, then I am strong.' When a man is in awe of the overwhelming beauty of the priesthood, he certainly feels his human weakness and inadequacy. But looking to the Lord, he knows the Lord desires to complete his joy, and it is precisely in weakness that the glory of the Lord shines forth."

A priest is an ordinary man called by God to "an amazing vocation of service," Father Horn said. "Rather than put a priest on a pedestal, it's the opposite. The more a priest serves, the more people are invited to see their own call of holiness, that what God does with our ordinariness is awesome and beautiful."

Scouts, science, youth

"My role as a priest is not to give people myself, but to bring them Jesus," explained Rev. Mr. William Dotson, 26, who finds working with youth particularly rewarding. As transitional deacon at St. Paul Parish in Fenton, he's been active with the parish young people, who call him "Chappy Will," a reference to his service as chaplain at S-F Scout Ranch.

"I grew up in Scouting programs," he explained. "The beauty of Scouting is it teaches life lessons disguised as good, old-fashioned fun. ... And Catholic Scouting ties in the faith aspect, so you are not only maturing as a person, but also in your faith. It's much easier to teach a group of 11-year-old boys about faith on a hike in nature than in a classroom."

But, Rev. Mr. Dotson added, with a smile, "That 'Chappy Will' — traditionally chaplains go by 'Chappy,' and the St. Paul Youth Group found out about it and call me that. My family and friends call me William."

At a youth group meeting this spring, the teens all happily greeted "Chappy Will." Youth minister Sandy Reynolds called him "a treasure." She said, "We love Deacon Dotson. Not only does he come to the youth group, he started a separate study group, we call it 'The Chappy Will Hour,' on Sunday mornings, for youth who want to dig a little deeper in their faith."

Corey Phillips, one of about half a dozen youths who attend the Sunday discussion, said, "A lot of times I have been questioned about my faith and couldn't answer the questions. Deacon Dotson doesn't think any of our questions are stupid and helps us find the answers."

That reflects Deacon Dotson's own public school education in St. Peters. "I went to public school until I went into seminary," he said, which "gave me the opportunity to learn more about my faith through meeting people of other faiths. ... I could ask questions of them (about their faiths), and they would ask me questions, like 'Why don't you eat meat on Fridays in Lent?' So I'd learn how to find that answer myself to tell them."

He remembered first thinking of the possibility of becoming a priest in high school. "It was a thought in the back of my mind. I couldn't put my finger on why. It kept coming back, and by my junior year I decided I had to go to the seminary and try, or I would spend the rest of my life asking why."

Deacon Dotson attended the Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing in his last two years of high school, a two-year boarding program in Maryville, Mo. "There were 50 people in the class, and my best friend from there is now a Southern Baptist pastor. I don't see — and the Catholic Church doesn't see — science and religion as pitted against each other."

Studying science and learning about "the complexity of the natural world" strengthened Deacon Dotson's faith. "And I have a solid understanding of science, so when I talk to people on issues of science and faith, I can talk to them intellectually."

A long journey

Priests should "foster the holiness of the laity," explained Rev. Mr. Fadi Auro, 30, who was born half a world away from Deacon Dotson's hometown of St. Peters, in Abu-Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

His parents were Iraqi Chaldean Christians, Eastern Rite Catholics who lived in Baghdad and came in contact with Jesuit and Dominican missionaries of the Latin Rite. After several years living in Great Britain for work and education, they moved to the United Arab Emirates. During a family vacation in California in 1991, the first Gulf War broke out in the Middle East and the Auros remained in the United States. Rev. Mr. Auro attended Catholic schools in California, several colleges and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome as he discerned the vocation to the priesthood he first felt in childhood.

As a boy in Abu-Dhabi, "our life revolved around the Church," he said, with the possibility of a religious vocation supported in his family. "My mother has videos of me 'saying Mass' as a child." He said being a Catholic in California was different than among the "close-knit, family-based, highly moral culture among the Christian families in the United Arab Emirates."

In elementary and high school, as his parents "only grew more holy," he was "intellectually unconvinced" about his faith until about age 17. "I had a real conversion then" and began, with the help of good priests and spiritual directors, to discern his vocation. His spiritual adviser in Rome recommended St. Louis and he met then-Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, who later invited him to come to St. Louis.

"St. Louis is my new home," said Rev. Mr. Auro. He is a member of the Cathedral Basilica Parish and "I love it," he said. As a transitional deacon at St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville, "the people made me feel so welcome. It has been a joy there." The largest parish in the archdiocese, with more than 5,000 families, St. Joseph kept Rev. Mr. Auro busy. "I kind of thrive in situations with a lot to do," he said.

"People here really do like him," said Msgr. James Callahan, pastor at St. Joseph.

Transitional deacons from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary spend the summer before their last year in the seminary and weekends during the school year at their assigned parishes. "I think ministering in a parish is the best experience a transitional deacon can have for his future as a priest," said Msgr. Callahan. "They are exposed to everything that goes on in a parish." The parishioners benefit as well, both by experiencing "the deacon's enthusiasm ... and (the) tremendous influence on our teens and college students when they see a young man who will devote the rest of his life to ministry."

Rev. Mr. Auro, who is fluent in several languages, will be a bi-ritual priest, able to celebrate Mass in the Eastern and Latin Rites.

He advised other young men considering a vocation to the priesthood, "What I found is a pearl of great price. When I discovered this intimacy with the Lord, it was so much more important than anything I left behind."

When in Rome

Rev. Mr. Donald Anstoetter, 26, has been attending the seminary far from the St. Louis Archdiocese where he will serve. He attended one year at Cardinal Glennon College here, then went to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. "It was a great honor to be chosen" to go to Rome by then-Archbishop Burke, he said.

"I think one of the greatest gifts of studying in Rome is to get a picture of the universal Church, a sense of the Church outside of the United States, to broaden my view and deepen my love for the Holy Father. And being in Rome during Holy Week is just incredible," Rev. Mr. Anstoetter said. He will return to Rome after ordination to complete a licentiate in sacramental theology from the Pontifical University Sant Anselmo.

Rev. Mr. Anstoetter grew up like many Catholic youngsters in the St. Louis area. He went to his parish grade school, St. Joseph in Manchester, and the nearby archdiocesan high school, John F. Kennedy Catholic High, where he played football for two years and took part in other school activities. He joked, "I distinctly remember in high school, those first two weeks of football practice, praying, 'Lord, if you get me through this, I'll do anything you want.'"

He said he discerned his vocation as a senior in high school, and "a number of my friends were surprised, but others not so much." Answering God's call "is worth the risk," he said, "because the payoff is so much greater than any possible negative reaction from your peers. The peace that comes from knowing you're doing God's will can't be matched."

He credits his family with fostering his vocation.

"I was so blessed because I was exposed early on to eucharistic adoration. ... My grandmother signed up for a weekly slot (at adoration) and took me with her. In hindsight that was a pretty amazing gift. At that time, I thought it was neat that I got to spend an evening with my grandma and my great-aunt. I didn't quite understand what it was all about, but I was ready to go, with a bag packed with every prayer book and rosary I could get my hands ... I think it just became second nature to me to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament."

He called his family extremely supportive. "My family would support me in whatever I decided to do, " he said. "I was never verbally encouraged to become a priest, but it was just the environment. My family went to Mass together, prayed the rosary together. These experiences just sunk in deep, I guess. They had a profound impact on me — just growing up in a devout Catholic family."

'Joyful hope'

The prospect of becoming a priest has filled Rev. Mr. Brian Fallon with "joyful hope" to be able to "bring His love and mercy to the world."

Rev. Mr. Fallon, 26, said he has learned a lot from his transitional diaconate service at St. Clement of Rome Parish in Des Peres. "I've been making mental notes on things that go on around here," Rev. Mr. Fallon said, and asking a lot of questions "on things not necessarily covered in the classroom."

Msgr. James Pieper, St. Clement pastor, received the first "Fishers of Men" award for nurturing vocations from the archdiocesan Office of Vocations earlier this year. The pastor called it the parish's success and attributed it to the culture created there "and always the families. No question, the families foster vocations."

Rev. Mr. Fallon called St. Clement "fertile ground for vocations," and pointed to the parish's LifeTeen program, its supportive families and clergy and the adoration chapel, which often has students praying before the Blessed Sacrament. The ACTS retreat is also a large part of parish life. Being at St. Clement, Rev. Mr. Fallon said, has given him "a great appreciation of the laity."

He grew up in Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin, which he called also "good at fostering vocations." Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York hails from Holy Infant and will return to be the homilist at Rev. Mr. Fallon's first Mass on May 27.

"There are a lot of good efforts in the archdiocese (to foster vocations)," he said, especially the presence of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. "A lot of my discernment was through Kenrick-Glennon Days (a short summer camp for boys in sixth through 12th grades) and the Come and See weekends (that invite young men in high school to get a taste of seminary life). This helped me to be able to visualize going to the seminary."

Rev. Mr. Fallon went on to be a junior counselor and a staffer at the summer camps, still discerning his vocation. "God really spoke to me at those camps." Even in the seminary discernment continues, he said. "It's like a relationship. You don't decide on the first date. The seminary is a house of discernment."

He said there were "no real lightening bolts for my vocation, just a whole series of affirmations that this was what I was supposed to do. There were a lot of players in God's revelation for me." Citing his supportive family, friends and the great support for vocations at St. Louis University High School, he said, "I was a regular high school kid with a discernment to the priesthood always at the back of my mind, discernment in the midst of the everyday life of a regular suburban St. Louis high school student."

A winding road

It took Rev. Mr. Daniel Shaughnessy a bit longer to discern his vocation. He's 41 and a former architect who earned bachelor and master's degrees at Washington University. The road to his vocation also included several health crises for his family and himself. Despite all that, "I've always know I was called to be a priest," he said.

"The seeds of my vocation began with carpool," Rev. Mr. Shaughnessy said. The sixth of seven children, he rode along while his mother dropped off his siblings at their schools. "Mom and I would always make a visit to the Carmelite Monastery on Clayton Road. ... I'd say my vocation began there even though I didn't know it at the time."

As a high school freshman, he learned that his older brother Jim had leukemia. "The news was devastating," but the family "rallied around Jim ... Naturally, prayer was our most powerful weapon." Jim Shaughnessy recovered after receiving a bone-marrow transplant from their brother Paul.

A few years later, Rev. Mr. Shaughnessy's mother suffered a heart attack, with numerous complications. She too survived "and is thriving." He mentioned these experiences because, "while most young people were living carefree lives in high school and college, my family was dealing with some pretty heavy 'cross' moments ..... (that) kept me focused and grounded in my Catholic faith."

Eventually he became an architect, working in that field for 10 years. But his family helped him listen to the voice calling him to the priesthood. His brother Jim started asking him, "What are you doing with your life?" Rev. Mr. Shaughnessy at first dismissed the questions.

In 2004, he accompanied his parents to Rome when then-Archbishop Burke received his pallium from Pope John Paul II as archbishop of St. Louis and Cardinal Justin Rigali, former St. Louis archbishop, received his pallium as head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "My mom was insistent that I go. ... I think she saw the same thing my brother saw. I went to Assisi by myself and retraced the steps of St. Francis." At the pallium Mass, "they wheeled out the Holy Father (in his wheelchair), it was eight or nine months before he died, and he looked at me. And at that moment, that was that."

Over the next nine months, as "the pope showed us how to die," Rev. Mr. Shaughnessy grew in his vocation. When the pope died on the weekend of the Divine Mercy, "everything made sense and I knew what I had to do." He didn't regret the part of his life spent on architecture, which he called "one of my God-given talents. God formed me the way He wants me to be." Being part of the "built environment," he said, "gave me a greater sensitivity to what man has built and what God has created."

In May 2006, he entered the seminary. "Just when things started to feel right and my anxiety diminished, the cross became very present in my life again." In November he suffered a massive stroke. ""It left me paralyzed on my right side, blind for a day, etc. You name a stroke side effect, I had it."

The next August, after months of physical therapy and "incredible and unconditional love" from his biological family and his seminary family, he was able to restart his classes. "Having a stroke in my first days as a seminarian has been one of the most counter-intuitive graces of my life. ... I guess I had to come close to losing my life to realize that everything is the result of God's grace — every breath, every heart beat, everything."

Ordination Mass

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will ordain five men to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of St. Louis at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 26, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue in the Central West End.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders will be conferred after the reading of the Gospel of the Mass.

The men to be ordained are currently transitional deacons, which carries the title "Rev. Mr." They are Rev. Mr. Donald Anstoetter, Rev. Mr. Fadi Auro, Rev. Mr. William Dotson, Rev. Mr. Brian Fallon and Rev. Mr. Daniel Shaughnessy.

Four of the men have attended Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, the seminary of the St. Louis Archdiocese. The fifth, Rev. Mr. Anstoetter, has attended Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Another 11 Kenrick-Glennon seminarians are being ordained priests for other dioceses in coming weeks.

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary has more than 85 seminarians in Kenrick School of Theology and Cardinal Glennon College, and enrollment continues at high levels. The seminary in Shrewsbury is undergoing construction and renovation, funded through the very successful Faith for the Future campaign, with completion expected in November. After the project is completed, seminary capacity will be 130 seminarians. Until then the seminary is using off-site locations for classrooms and residences.

The clergy assignments of the new priests will appear in an upcoming issue of the St. Louis Review.

WATCH LIVE: Can't make it down to the Cathedral Basilica? The Archdiocese of St. Louis will be broadcasting the Ordination Mass on its website. Visit beginning at10 am.

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