Peace in the Lord Jesus! My name is Vincent. I am 23 years old, from the greater Philadelphia region in Pennsylvania, and a postulant with the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
I was born into a strong, Catholic family where I have been blessed with the biggest grace of life, the Catholic Faith. From an early age, my relationship with Christ surrounded the Mass and the frequenting of the sacraments. It was here that the Lord placed a deep and joyful desire on my heart to serve Him at the altar and among the Communion of Saints, the Church. But it wasn’t until I went through several – and ongoing! – conversion experiences in my life that I began to muster up the fortitude to cooperate with His grace to say “Yes!” to the only Person Who really matters, Our Lord Jesus Himself.
I began to foster devotions to the saints: to become better friends, with Jesus, Mary, my guardian angel, St. John Vianney, St. Therese of Lisieux among others. However, an experience with illness left me questioning mortality, “why am I truly here?” I needed to re-commit to the Lord God, and Our Father in heaven. After traversing through the downright frightening, existential experiences of college, I learned something about the virtue of perseverance. But, there was yet incompletion inside.
A friend told me about the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes. He urged me – and it was Christ in him – to “Come and see.” Thus I met the Friars of the Blessed Mother of Ransom, and from Day 1, the Lord prepared my heart to receive the resonant joy of accepting that He wanted me to discern my vocation, with others of the same mind and heart, here. Finally, the Lord broke through: “Vincent, why do you stand here idle all day? – Do something!”
Dear Jesus, we give you our hearts and pray to do what you ask of us. Then, whatever happens, is Your Holy Will, for we trust in You!
About 2 weeks ago,the Mercedarians welcomed 3 new postulants to the formation progarm. The following is the vocation story of one of the postulants, Tu Pham:
I was born in a small town South Vietnam. My family was devoutly Catholic during my childhood, and my grandfather made a point of developing good habits of Mass attendance at a young age. I moved to the United States when I was 21 years old.
At the time that I moved to the United States, there was new legislation regarding immigration for person over the age of 21. This meant that I had to go through an immigration interview—an idea that filled me with great fear. Thankfully, my grandfather sent me a letter of encouragement that instructed me to pray to Mary for her assistance. I took his advice and prayed slowly with my heart. After doing this for two months, my interview came. By this time, I was able to face the interview without fear or worry, confident in my hope. I was allowed to stay in the country.
After this, I began my real journey to God through Mary. We all have different paths, but a similar way to God through doing ordinary things with a great depth of love. I began to attend Mass regularly. Soon, I also felt the beginnings of a deep desire to become a religious brother. I talked to my parish priest and was given a few different opinions and ideas about communities to visit. One priest, knowing my great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, told me that I should visit the Mercedarians in Philadelphia because of their similar devotion.
In the end, I chose to become a Mercedarian because I saw in the Order a place for my great Marian devotion. In addition to this, the common respect and love amongst the brothers is a wonderful and attractive aspect of the Mercedarian life.
As a postulant, Michael Bowes composed his vocation story. He is now a novice in LeRoy, NY. Here is the second installment of his journey to the Mercedarians:
During my discernment with the Mercedarians I found a holy spiritual director who helped guide me on my journey. Father Jack Fullen. He passed away shortly before I made my second visit with the Mercedarians.
In the weeks leading up to my first visit I asked Father Jack how I could see God working in my life and what kind of signs He would give me if this was the right place.
Father Jack explained to me the slight difference between the natural and the supernatural worlds and how they work together. He told me that sometimes God lifts the veil between these two dimensions and we are given a quick glimpse of God putting the puzzle pieces together to lead us to Him. I didn’t really understand Father Jack at the time, but I would soon experience a first-hand glimpse of God’s hand in my life.
I made my first visit to the Mercedarians in March 2010 and had a wonderful time.
On my last day I spent an hour in the chapel praying and asking God for direction. I felt He was inviting me to apply and I decided to ask for an application.
As I was getting up to leave, I felt rather bold and asked God for three signs that this was indeed the place He wanted me enter.
I know we shouldn’t ask for signs, but after so many disappointments with previous communities and vocational discernments I wanted to be sure this was the place.
One of the signs I asked for was that I would receive confirmation from an outside source not associated with the community. What little faith I had! And what a surprise God had in store for me.
All three signs were mere days from being answered.
When I arrived home, I told my Mom over dinner about the monastery and how excited I was with everything I saw and experienced.
Mom asked me where the novitiate was and I told her Le Roy, N.Y. Mom inquired further if the Mercedarians there were called “the Fathers of Our Lady of Mercy.”
I told her no, that she must be mistaken and confusing the name with another religious order.
Mom insisted that there was a group in Le Roy called “the Fathers of Our Lady of Mercy.” I was sure she was confused.
To settle our argument she told me to hang on for a few moments while she went upstairs to get something. She returned carrying a card and handed it to me. I flipped over the card to discover the signature of the Mercedarian Vicar Provincial, Father Richard Rasch.
I turned over the card and looked at it: It was a mass card. I slowly turned and looked at Mom and asked her where she got the card from.
“I have been having Masses said for you through this group since you were born,” she told me.
My knees wobbled and I felt like my legs had just turned to jelly. Here was my big sign!
For 29 years, Mom had been having Masses said for me through the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy and neither of us had realized this was the same order I was now in application with.
A few months later, as I waited for the council to vote on my application, I had another confirmation from God regarding this order.
I was helping my Mom move books she had brought home from my late grandmother’s house. One of the piles I was attempting to move toppled over and the books cascaded across the floor.
One book spun out of the middle and slid into my mom’s foot. It was faded tan and ragged with age.
Mom bent down and picked up the book. Her eyes lit up and she let out a slight gasp. She opened the first page and then asked me to come over and look at what she found. The name of the book was “The Magnificat” and it was published by the Mercedarians.
This book was more than 30 years old. Inside, we found notes written in pencil with dates. One of the notes was written on Dec. 25, 1980 – when I was just 3 months in the womb. Mom had said this novena to St. Raymond Nonnatus, who is the patron saint of the unborn and is one of our great Mercedarian saints. She dedicated me to him before I was born.
Apparently this book ended up on my grandmother’s shelf, where it sat untouched for 29 years until that perfect moment that God chose to reveal it to us. has everything planned out for us and He reveals these things in His own time.
On June 2, 2010, I was accepted into the Mercedarians and on Aug. 20, 2010, I entered the postulancy.
In the months leading up to my entrance I was tormented with second thoughts and questions if this was really what I was supposed to do.
You would think with all the confirmations I had, there would be little doubt in my heart.
It was not so.
I did doubt and I wondered if I was going to be missing out on a family by entering religious life. My fears and doubts were quickly quelled as I felt God tell me about the family that I was going to be a part of. I was soon going to have more brothers, sisters, and fathers than I could ever have imagined. This message was a welcome sign. It helped me surmount a persistent stumbling block.
I find that God gives me sufficient grace to live a holy and celibate life for him. I unite myself with Jesus and I ask the Blessed Mother to keep me pure in mind, heart, and body. In doing so, I do not find the struggle with the celibate life to be difficult.
On September 15, 1987, Blessed John Paul II reflected on his call to the Sacred Priesthood here’s what he had to say:
I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest. May be some of you would like to ask the same question. Let me try briefly to reply.
I must begin by saying that it is impossible to explain entirely, for it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me, “Come follow me!” There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest.
And you can probably tell, I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God’s people in the Church. That has been true ever since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed it, not even becoming pope.
Pope John Paul II, Los Angeles, September 15, 1987
Br. James Chia, O. de M. came to America searching for the American Dream, but he found that he had a vocation to one of the most ancient Orders in the Church. Here is his story:
Praise to Jesus Christ – now & forever! I come from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, MALAYSIA, & from a family of 17 children. My father & mother had a total of 11 children – eight boys & three girls. My father had 6 children – three boys & three girls from his first marriage. Growing up as a young boy, God has been gracious to my family. I grew up in a family that has its ups & downs – like any other family. However, we always look out for the others – always putting others ahead of our own individual needs. My late aunt (†1996) who was my mother’s younger sister was Sr. Mary Catherine in the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) in Kota Kinabalu. Another of my aunt who is my mother’s oldest sister is Sr. Mary Therese of the Child Jesus in the Discalced Carmelite Order in Kota Kinabalu. Praised be to Jesus, this May also marks my aunt’s Diamond Jubilee as a Discalced Carmelite Nun! Then, there is one of my older brothers who is a Brother of Mercy of Mary Help of Christians (FMMA) in Singapore. Being the youngest is not easy since nothing you can do that the brothers & sisters do not know! They have been there & done that, so to speak! In addition to providing me with many holy Religious as role models, God has provided me with many holy Priests while in Kota Kinabalu especially the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) that left their home for an unknown place called Sabah where they heard of rumors that people in this place lived on trees & that there were headhunters everywhere! Yet, these MHMs said “Yes Lord, send me!” Then, there is my former Pastor, Fr. Peter Ma, at Stella Maris Parish in Kota Kinabalu who was a patient & caring Priest. Fr. Peter Ma is now retired staying at St. Mary’s Church in New York City. He was the former Pastor of Transfiguration Church located at Mott Street in New York Chinatown. So, Religious & Priestly Life is not new to me when I heard God calling me to serve Him as a Religious & Priest. St. Bernard of Clairvaux once said: “I heard God calling me & I am here to check it out!” I continue to hear God calling me & God continues to call me.
In December 1989, I came to Philadelphia to further my study in Electrical Engineering Technology at Temple University. My family chose Philadelphia because I have two elder sisters in Philadelphia & they did not want me to be too far from the watchful eyes. When I finished my studies in 1994 I returned to Kota Kinabalu & worked there until 2001. In 2000, my application for US Immigrant Visa was approved & I “immigrated” to US in 2001 in search of my American Dream! All I wanted was to marry a beautiful girl & have many children since I come from a large family. I stayed with my elder sister & her family in Yardley, PA, as I did while studying at Temple University. I got involved with my “new” Parish named St. Ignatius of Antioch & was quite active. God surrounded me with a group of good Catholic friends – men & women. They encouraged me to look into vocation together with my Spiritual Director, Fr. Louis Kolenkiewicz. Fr. Kolenkiewicz asked me once: “James, if God is to call you, what will you say & do?” I replied that I would say “Yes” & check it out (i.e., make the first step forward). I looked into the Congregation of Mission (i.e., the Vincentians) & the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (i.e., The Mercedarians). Some time later, I still hear God calling me & I am here to check it out! At this point, I can truly say that I am discovering the American Dream that God has in store for me! May the Most Holy Trinity be served with greater fidelity & be praised always in His Church!
Here Br. Scott Brentwood, O. de M. tells his vocation story which leads him from a small Virginia town to becoming a friar in an Ancient Order.
I spent my early years in the mountains of Virginia in a little corner of the world that still maintains a unique atmosphere of tranquility and lack of modernization all along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had everything from trees to open fields – as rustic as one can get – but a community that was very aware of its codependence on one another. Everyone knew everyone, and the stereotype of “small town life” very much applied. The best comparison I can make is Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show…which is actually a 20 min. drive from where I lived.
Being in the “Bible-Belt,” faith was a very strong and present reality of every day life. Everything started and ended with a prayer, and even when prayer in school was no longer permitted, the students still said them without the prompting of the Administration. The Catholic presence, however, was VERY small and almost non existent. In my house, religion was important, but not too important. We were not as religious as other families, but I would not say it was lacking. We said our prayers before and after meals as well as before we went to bed, but it was not a major part of my growing up.
I began to consider a vocation to be a priest when I was fourteen. I was working at a government institution where the government distributes alms etc. to people who are poor. Before I worked there, I thought most people only abused the program. I thought they did not need the help but took it because it was available. When I worked there, I discovered that this was true. One time, however, I helped a family that really needed help, and afterward I tried to find a way to help others in more than just material ways. At the time I did not know about the religious life, and my only real understanding of priestly life was that of the Diocese. When I was seventeen, I decided I would pursue a priestly vocation. I talked with the Vocation Director for the Diocese in Virginia. He told me that the Diocese does not accept anyone until they have finished at a university. I went to Old Dominion University. It is a large university of 30,000 students. I made many friends, and some of these friends also wanted to pursue a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. When I learned about the religious life, I felt that this mode of life was what God wanted for me. I liked the idea of living together with others who wanted to work for the same cause. I looked into different religious congregations, but I did not find any that I wanted to join.
During the last year at my university, a friend of mine visited the Mercedarians. When he returned, he told me I should visit them. I said no. I did not want to spend more time looking at congregations because I had looked at them before and did not see any that I liked. That September, a hurricane came to Norfolk, the city of my university. Everyone was evacuated from the university. My family was eight hours away, so it was impossible for me to go home. I asked the same friend if I could stay with him in his apartment downtown. He said I could stay, but he was leaving to be with his family. I stayed in his apartment alone. The electricity died the first day, and the only activities I could do were study Biology, Pray, and look at the walls. I spent more time looking at the walls than I did studying or praying.
My friend visited many different communities. When he visited the communities, he always took cards of their saints etc. so he could remember to pray for the communities. He would put them in the edges of other pictures. When I was looking at these images, the images for the Mercedarians seemed different. I thought I would call them and ask some questions I had. I did not want to visit because the closest house was in Philadelphia, and Philadelphia was eight hours from my university by car. When I called, I asked many questions. I was happy with the answers. I visited the next November. I returned to Philadelphia the next January before returning to my university. For my break in the spring, I returned to Philadelphia to complete the testing necessary for the application. I graduated from my university in May, and entered the Mercedarians in August.
Fr Ken Breen, Mercedarian priest, spent 13 years as a missionary in India. Here is his story.
It all began in the fall of 1996. I attended our 3 week once in a lifetime permanent formation encounter taking place at our community in San Felice, Circeo, Italy and it was during this time, seeing photos of the children adopted by our parishoners in Italy and hearing our Provincial‘s concern: a longing for someone to go to help out at our emerging formation program. Strangely enough, we were joking about sending people to India and for some reason I just said, “okay, I’ll go!”
I don’t know really why I said it. And all I can recall at that very moment was the certain closeness of St. Teresa of Lisieux, the little flower giving me a certain comfort that this was the right thing to do. As I look back on it, it is no surprise that this has come about in my life since I heard my father’s mother was interested in India and my Mom has been part of a Little Flower mission circle all her life.
The biggest challenge was the visa. I never could get a residential visa without the risk of rejection so I had to go all those years as a tourist, consoled by the words of Jesus: “The birds of the air have nests and the foxes have lairs but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
So off I went and began a journey where I was so amazed at the depth of culture in this wonderful country, a culture of faith that allows us to cultivate more easily the fruit of vocations to our own Order, the Order of the BVM of Mercy and my principal work there throughout the years has always been the teaching in English medium (no need to learn the local languages). My classes were in either the subjects mainly about our Mercedarian Charism and Religious life as the Novice Master or assistant, and/or teaching phonics and insight into the dynamics of the English language. My hobby there was dealing with all the computer and audio visual needs, but all in all, it was a great adventure in the amazing ways of our wonderful Lord’s call to a new and more abundant life lived now in the joy of giving and loving (Bl. Mother Teresa) and following our Redeeming Savior, Jesus Christ.