By Father Ross Epping
For The Catholic Messenger
I sat down in the old, withered armchair next to the desk of my advisor in the philosophy department. His was a small, cramped office. “I’m always happy to see another student join our philosophy program,” he said. “But honestly, there isn’t much a philosophy major can do out in today’s world. My advice? Keep the philosophy major, but add something else. Make yourself more marketable.”
It was the beginning of my second year at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. I was a full-fledged philosophy major, and felt a great deal of peace with my decision. “Get myself another degree?” I thought. “What now?”
My answer came quickly. The first class that second year was an Intro to Theology class and my interest was immediately piqued. After having only three weeks of class, I had found my second major.
Looking back, it seems absolutely reckless how quickly I chose the areas I wanted to spend the rest of my life pursuing. I chose based on instinct; if the choice brought me peace at the moment of my decision, I kept it.
“I picked up a second major! It’s theology,” I told my philosophy advisor during our January meeting. He laughed. “You went off and picked the only other major we offer that’s as worthless as philosophy,” he told me.
So there I was, graduating in three years with degrees in theology and philosophy, completely unmarketable. Completely unmarketable, unless God knew exactly what God was doing.
My vocation to the priesthood was not something I discovered all on my own. I was 9 years old when it entered my mind for the first time, all because of my childhood priest, a man of great love and service. At St. Ambrose, it was Father Chuck Adam and Sister Rita Cameron who, by simply living out their own vocations, propelled me deeper into asking God what I was meant to be and do.
I remember telling Sister Rita, our music minister on campus, that I thought God might be calling me to the priesthood. “I already knew,” she told me. “We already knew. We just wanted to give you the space to figure it out, too.”
Every decision, every choice I have made throughout my life, has led me here. Now. A priest of Jesus Christ. A pastor. The Director of Vocations.
But those choices and those decisions, I never could have made them on my own. God placed them in front of me. His messengers helped me to decide what to choose.
We are, each one of us, messengers of God, who has gifted us the faith and the mission to build his kingdom. His kingdom needs men and women who will allow their hearts to be broken open. His kingdom needs priests, needs religious brothers, needs religious sisters.
Can you be someone’s Sister Rita? Can you be someone’s Father Chuck? Can I be someone’s committed, loving childhood pastor who plants seeds that will bear fruit for a boy’s entire life?
(Father Ross Epping is director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport and pastor of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell.)