With June and the his celebration of 70 years as a priest fast approaching, Father John Ostdiek, OFM, remembers a life-changing event that happened to him 80 years ago, when he was just 16 years old.
I suspect that like me, many of you can also pinpoint some event/occasion/person in your life which brought about a significant change in direction in your life. Here’s mine.
After graduation from elementary school in 1936, I entered St. Joseph Seminary, in Westmont, an institution for candidates who hoped to become Franciscan priests. Enrollment there — a “minor” seminary — meant four years of high school and two years of college education studying the classics. Entry to the pre-Vatican II priesthood in those years started that way for most students who aimed to become diocesan or religious order priests.
At the conclusion of my third year of high school at the seminary, I packed my bags and headed for home in Nebraska — a long bus ride from Chicago in that early June of 1939. I had decided to discontinue studies for the priesthood but was unclear what to do next.
It just so happened that my seatmate on this trip was a young scientist from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He intended to spend some summertime studying the extinct large elephant-like animal remains housed in the museum at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. That struck my fancy! We talked a lot.
Sometime during that discussion, religion became the subject. He doubted that God existed. “Strange, very strange!” I thought. Why was he so unsure? I don’t remember if we argued the issue or not. But we did talk about it. Then later in the evening, as we traveled through western Iowa approaching Omaha, with a sky all gloriously lighted by the setting sun, he remarked, “When you see a sunset like this, you think that only God could do so.”
That did it! Clearly my future! To be a spokesperson to those undecided — especially scientists — about God’s presence in our life and world. No way then, of course, could I even imagine how this would gradually become real over the years! But I stayed in the seminary, became a priest, a scientist, a professor, and a writer.
Now 80 years later, I can only say that God “called” me through a “Doubting Thomas” scientist. Thanks, God, for doing so!
And now, what is your “call”?