May 16, 2011

EMILY LAHR
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

A vocation to the priesthood is a life, not a career, said Father James Arwady.

“Once I got into seminary, God took over,” said the priest, who was ordained in 2010 and is associate pastor at St. Thomas a’ Becket Church in Canton, Mich.

Arwady was a successful engineer for the automobile industry before he felt called to the priesthood. He studied philosophy at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, for two years and six years of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He was ordained for the Detroit Archdiocese.

PRAY, PRAY, PRAY

He advised all men who are discerning a call to the priesthood to “pray, pray, pray,” to understand themselves and to hear their calling.

“Prayer is our lifeblood,” Arwady told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

The World Day of Prayer for Vocations will be observed May 15. The 2011 theme is Proposing Vocations in the Local Church.

Jerry Byrd, who is currently studying for the priesthood, never imagined he would become Catholic, let alone a future priest, but today can hardly wait to live out his vocation.

“It’s funny how God gets his way,” said Byrd, 30, a member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville, Ind., who is at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana.

He will soon be ordained as a transitional deacon, one of the final steps before priesthood.

Byrd talked to CNS about his spiritual journey. He grew up a Southern Baptist and was taught that Catholics were not Christian. He remembers going to Mass with a Catholic friend and sitting in the balcony of the church, hoping no one would notice he was not participating.

WORLD WAS ROCKED

To his surprise, “it rocked my world,” he recalled, particularly with regard to the elevation of the host.

At age 17, he enrolled in a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program to become a Catholic. Before he joined the Church, he heard a homily delivered by a priest one Sunday that sparked his interest in the priesthood.

“We need young men to be priests because we need the sacraments,” said the priest. “If you think you can do it, you probably can.”

He said even his mother, who at the time had no understanding of Catholicism or the priesthood, gave him a clay chalice after the Easter Vigil in 1998.

“I always thought that God had set you apart to be a minister,” his mother told him.

Byrd said his discernment process was not easy. He studied music in college where he wrestled with two vocations — marriage or the priesthood. He continued to date and work as a youth minister for three parishes. Finally, his girlfriend at the time encouraged him to enter the seminary.

HARD TO SURRENDER

Even in the seminary, he said, he would wake up some mornings and argue with himself over why he was there.

“It’s hard to really surrender,” he said, but noted it takes support from others during the discernment process. “Discernment is not about ‘me’ doing, it’s about ‘us’ doing,” added Byrd.

He also said he was encouraged about vocations, noting that when he entered St. Meinrad five years ago there were 90 seminarians, today there are 135, and 140 are enrolled for next fall.

Byrd says the vocation to the priesthood is a beautiful love story.

“It’s about falling in love, head over heels in love” with God, he said.