Idaho Catholic men challenged to respond to their vocation amidst an increasingly confused and even hostile culture
The following story appeared in the February 11 Idaho Catholic Register.
With the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus at attention, altar servers lead a recessional from the Mass at the opening of the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Nampa. (Courtesy photo/Dr. Victor Sanchez of Bridgetower Photography)
By Gene Fadness
Men at the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference heard the kinds of stories men love to hear: a Navy SEAL and his wife enduring brutal interrogations from foreign captors, a young man running drugs and money to casinos for the Japanese mafia; and an Irish footballer and his family enduring the brutal murder of his sister and the ensuing trial that attracted international media attention.
While the stories contained daring peril that rarely happens to most men, all had a theme that should be common to the life of a believer: all are chosen to faithfulness to a vocation, whether that vocation is to marriage and family; to marriage to Christ and the family of His Church in priesthood; or to faithfulness in the single life. And to be chosen for a vocation such as this, especially during these times and in this culture, can take some daring.
The speakers, both professional and lay testimonials, did not share notes beforehand, but in all the talks there was an underlying thread – and warning – of a growing loss of a sense of vocation – of mission and purpose – in the culture today.
“We are living in a time of crisis when it comes to anthropology: what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman,” said Father Donald Calloway of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. “We are living in a time of crisis of what it means to be a marriage partner,” he said.
The visionaries who received the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 were told by Mary that the final battle over good and evil would be a battle over marriage and family. “Why? Because the family is the building block of civilization,” Father Calloway said.
Tim O’Neill, a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise, shared with the approximate 900 men who attended the conference at St. Paul’s in Nampa and at watch parties throughout the state, that it was the “vocational nature” of marriage and the culture’s “outright omission” of that vocation that drew him back to his faith, especially after meeting Roisin, the woman who would eventually become his wife.
Bishop Peter Christensen elevates the host during the opening Mass of the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference. From left are Father Caleb Vogel, Deacon Adam Curtis, Bishop Peter, Father Na-than Dail, and Father Donald Calloway, MIC (Courtesy photo/Dr. Victor Sanchez, Bridgetower Photography)
Navigating stormy waters
The day-long conference, presented by Salt & Light Catholic Radio, began with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Christensen and concelebrated by Father Donald Calloway, MIC, Father Caleb Vogel, Father Justin Brady and Father Nathan Dail.
Bishop Peter’s homily centered on the Gospel reading of the day from Mark 4, Jesus’ calming the storm at sea. The Bishop, himself a sailor, noted that he once received a fortune cookie with the message, “A calm sea does not make for a skilled sailor.” He found the words so fitting, he had them placed on the deck of his boat.
The Bishop recounted the tumultuous times Jesus and the disciples endured as told in the early chapters of Mark and the “lessons of the power of Jesus that would make more and more sense as time went on; lessons that calm seas could never have taught them nor prepared them for what was yet to come in their lives.”
He compared the experience on the sea to Jesus’ death and resurrection and his post-resurrection appearance to the disciples in the Upper Room. Jesus’ deep sleep on the boat could be compared to his three days in the tomb. “He awakens and changes that which the disciples feared would be their own demise into a new reality, into something totally different, never witnessed before, a foretaste of the resurrection,” the Bishop said. “When Jesus said, ‘Peace, be still,’ the threat was transformed into a great calm,” just as when He appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room. Jesus promises that those on the ship and those disciples in the Upper Room all would be delivered safely to the opposite shore, the Bishop said.
The Bishop encouraged the men to remember that, like the first disciples, all are chosen, all are strengthened in faith by the trials they face, and that, ultimately, all who trust in Him will be with Him forever on the new shore of a heavenly home.
During trying times it is not unusual to question our faith, the Bishop said. “Ask yourself this question: Do you ever say to yourself or others: ‘I don’t know what I would do without my faith?’ If so, you have faith. You have experienced the Lord working in your life. Otherwise, such a statement would make no sense.”
From Japanese Mafia to Mary
Father Calloway returned to the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference for a second time to share his riveting story of conversion to the Catholic faith from a life that quite literally was consumed with “drugs, sex and rock and roll,” and a healthy dose of Japanese Mafia.
He grew up in southern California in a secular household. “My mom had three husbands before I was 10. I didn’t have any friends who were Chris-tian, none.”
“As a teen, my heart and my mind became sick, thinking only of my desires,” Father Calloway said. “I got stuck in patterns of sin. I couldn’t stop.” The family moved to Japan because his stepfather, his mom’s third husband, was a military officer. Calloway left home, running drugs and money to Japanese casinos for the Japanese mafia. Jailed in Japan, he caused an international scene between the U.S. and Japanese governments and was eventually deported.
During this time, Calloway’s mom was going to therapy and was taking medications for depression. She went to a priest on the U.S. military installation in Japan. “That Catholic priest changed my mom’s life. He told my mom about Jesus Christ and the true medicine that heals your soul: confession and the Eucharist,” Father Calloway said. “He told her about the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.” His mom wanted to become Catholic.
Because Calloway had left home, he did not realize his mom went back to the United States. His stepdad stayed in Japan to look for him. Calloway ended up handcuffed in a cargo plane with two military police officers who took him to Los Angeles and released him to the custody of his stepdad who then took him to Pennsylvania where his mom lived. At 17 and too young for prison, he was put in a rehabilitation center for three months. “The success rate at rehabs is like 7 percent because it’s a Band-Aid to a spiritual problem,” Father Calloway said.
He relapsed the night he got out. He returned to doing drugs and following Grateful Dead concerts in whatever cities they performed.
He ended up in another rehabilitation facility in Philadelphia, but this one was a psychiatric institution, which meant he was forcibly held for three months. “I got out and relapsed the next day.”
He had nowhere to go but home, even though he hated going home, especially when his mom told him that she and his stepdad had become Catholic. “All religion to me was stupid, but especially the Catholic Church.” His notion of Christianity was television preachers asking for money and getting caught in sexual scandal. “I couldn’t stand to be in their house,” so he went to Louisiana where we was briefly jailed and then to West Virginia where his biological father lived.
After he “hit rock bottom – again” he returned to his parents in Pennsylvania who, by this time, were going to church every day.
At the point of taking his own life “like a lot of my friends did,” Calloway had what he calls a “divine 2 x 4 experience.” In his parents’ home, he said he was in a state of almost panic over a “silence so loud” caused by the absence of music, TV or video games.
“I go into the living room looking for the National Geographic or something and pick up this book, The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje.”
The booklet about the Blessed Virgin Mary’s purported appearances in the Bosnian village was an eye-opener to Calloway. “I thought the Blessed Virgin Mary was a drink, but this said she was the mother of Jesus. Fictional characters don’t have a mom.”
The message he got from the booklet, he said, is, “You’re not happy, and the reason you’re not happy is you’re sinning. I wasn’t told this in the rehab because they would lose their jobs.” He read the book in one night. “I didn’t go to sleep all night, I knew that this was true, that this was real.”
He told his mom the next morning that he needed to talk to a Catholic priest. He went to the chapel on the military base, appropriately named “Our Lady of Victory.” Not wanting to go into the church, he went into the hallway of the chaplain’s office with his shoulder-length-hair and screamed as loudly as he could, “Catholic priest!” When a startled staff member directed him to the priest, he asked the priest to “Get it out of me,” and began a thorough confession until the priest, realizing he wasn’t Catholic, encouraged him to wait and attend Mass later that same morning, and they would talk more after Mass.
He sat in the back of the church and listened to five Filipino women rapidly pray the Rosary.
The conversion experience that began the night before continued through the Mass. When the priest elevated the host and said, “Take this all of you and eat it, This is my body,” Father Calloway said it was the first time in his life he heard an audible voice that said, “Worship.” “I was injected with knowledge. I knew what this man had in his hand was God.”
“Do you know how many chalices of the world I drank from and how many little circles I placed on my tongue, taking so much acid? I knew, at the moment, my whole life was a lie. There was something more, and here it was.”
After the Mass, he visited more with the priest who gave him the crucifix from his wall, a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and photo “of his grandpa” (St. John Paul II). Calloway went home, hung the cross and two pictures up in his room “and threw everything else away.”
Looking at the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Calloway started to cry tears of conversion, what he calls “divine detox.”
“I got on my knees and acknowledged my broken-ness and need for a Savior. I was bathed in mercy.”
Then, he said, he “felt the presence of a creature” which he believes to have been Satan. “I didn’t even believe in the devil,” he said. “I screamed out from my soul, ‘Mary!’ because that woman brought me to Jesus Christ. The most amazing peace came over me.” Then, he heard an inner voice, “the most pure pristine voice you could ever imagine” saying, ‘Donny, I’m so happy.’ Nobody called me Donny but my mom, but this woman called me Donny.”
Those experiences, over the course of just convinced Calloway he wanted to become Catholic. He was disappointed when the priest told him he had to wait and take classes.
He cut his hair. “I was a chic magnet who became a dork. I got a job and started dressing like a human. All my friends left, and that really hurt.”
He “went into hermit mode” fasting two days a week “battling with myself and my thoughts.” He said he prayed the rosary every day. “I went to Calvary every day, I went to Bethlehem every day.”
He also went to Mass every day, even though he couldn’t take the Eucharist. The faithful Filipino la-dies who attended daily Mass taught him the Rosary and encouraged the non-Catholic to consider the priesthood.
He was ordained 19 years ago, and has spent his lifetime preaching, writing 12 books, especially on devotion to Mary, the rosary, and, most recently to St. Joseph.
“I’m Exhibit A of divine mercy. No matter how messed up you are, God loves you,” he said.
Consecration to St. Joseph
Father Calloway spoke later in the day about his most recent study on the life of St. Joseph, noting the inspiration behind the Church’s recently concluded Year of St. Joseph to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. The renewed focus on the fatherhood of Joseph is timely given the culture’s confusion over the role of men, of fathers, of marriage and of families.
Father Calloway, who has written, “Consecration to St. Joseph,” said the name Joseph means “increase.”
“Our Lady is the magnifier, while St. Joseph is the increaser. That’s what a good dad does. After three days in the temple, Jesus went home and increased with God and man.”
A faithful father will lead his children to increase in faith and devotion, he said.
“Today, if a father does not lead his family in the practice of the faith, only 30 percent of kids will continue on in the faith,” Father Calloway said. “But if dad leads the prayers and takes family to church, its goes up 75 percent.”
“We have a crisis of manhood and fatherhood … we have a crisis of patricide, an elimination of the father,” he said. “Men are called to be pillars of the family,” Father Calloway said, noting that in the Litany to St. Joseph, he is the “pillar of families.”
“We’ve got to get back to holy families,” he said, calling attention to the high rate of divorce and the lack of marriage. “There was no competition in the Holy Family, there is only complementarity,” he told the men. “A woman will make you better. Behind every great man is usually a greater woman,” he said. “Your wife and your daughters need you right now, they are being so threatened to think crazy things.”
The Filipino ladies who taught Father Calloway to pray the Rosary also told him to pray to St. Joseph daily, but he didn’t have an understanding of who St. Joseph really was, he said. He certainly was not an old man, as some legends claim, nor was he a widower with children from a previous marriage. “St. Jerome slammed this as a heresy.”
St. Joseph, like the Blessed Virgin, was a virgin. “Popes have prayers to St. Joseph the Virginal Father of Jesus,” Father Calloway said. “He’s the most Marian saint of all.”
“When you see Jesus, you see Joseph, whom Jesus imitated. He talks like St. Joseph, has his accent, has his mannerisms and treats women like St. Joseph treated women,” Father Calloway said. “Though Jesus is God, he learned manhood from Joseph. He watched it every day. God Almighty wants to be like and imitate St. Joseph.”
Father Calloway noted that St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal has the second most reported and verified miracles in the world after Lourdes, France.
Panama abduction stresses marriage
Originally from Baltimore, Deacon Adam Curtis grew up in a non-religious family, but started going to a Protestant youth group as a teen-ager. He gave his life to Jesus while on a retreat, “and that’s where I was for the next 20 years.”
He was accepted into the Naval Academy, where he eventually became a Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land Team).
He met his wife, Bonnie, while with his first SEAL team in San Diego. “She was Catholic, but I thought I could covert her.” After they married, his first assignment was to Panama during the late 1980s when tensions were at an all-time high between the United States and the regime of Manuel Noriega. Bonnie was permitted to come for a visit during Christmas. While returning to base after a dinner date in Panama City, they got lost, inadvertently driving right by the headquarters of the Panama Defense Forces. Their car was stopped and they were questioned by PDF soldiers. At the same time, another car driven by Americans gunned through the roadblock. PDF soldiers shot at the car, killing a young Army officer. Curtis and his wife were quickly taken to a local police station and questioned for hours. When an authority figure arrived, Curtis hoped this might be their time for release. Instead, the man began slugging and kicking Curtis, holding a gun to his face. Twenty minutes later, another man, who Curtis said was one of Noriega’s henchmen, pulled a gun on him, dragged him outside, blindfolded him with medical tape and threw him into the back of a wagon and drove him from the police station to PDF headquarters for more interrogation. They thought Curtis was a CIA spy.
The worst part of the experience, Curtis said, was wondering what was happening to his wife who was in another room.
“I felt this tangible darkness about what they might be doing to my wife,” he said. They continued to beat him while questioning him, even marching him out into a courtyard to do a mock execution.
Eventually, they moved him into another room and took his handcuffs off and put his arms up on wall. He felt his 22-year-old wife next to him. “It was the most memorable moment of my life because I knew she was alive. I was flooded with joy.”
Bonnie, likewise, was bombarded with questions. While not physically beaten, she was told that they had killed her husband.
As the situation de-escalated, the soldiers walked the Curtises outside, put them in a car and took them into the city. They went back to the base, which they were surprised to find had been in lockdown. Navy intelligence began debriefing them into the next morning. By the next day, Curtis got a call at work. He was to come to work on Sunday, because the December 1989 invasion of Panama would begin that night. It was the first Navy SEAL operation of his 26-year career.
While the experience for Bonnie Curtis was over in a matter of hours, the trauma from it and the impact on their marriage was long-lasting, a trauma for Bonne that Adam was slow to recognize. Bonnie asked to go home. He moved his family to the Washington D.C. area so they could restart their lives, and “I could give her a few weeks to get over this.”
He started pressuring her about going back to work. “For her, it was an effort just to get out of the house. If we took a wrong turn, I could see the terror in her face,” he said. It led to the first friction in their young marriage. “I missed the spunky gal I married,” he said, thinking that he could “fix” her.
Then, during a particularly rough moment, he reviewed the vows they had written each other when they married. “I had vowed to love her as Christ loved the Church, unconditionally and with great mercy,” he said. At that point, “I realized with great clarity – I know God was communicating with me – that I was applying conditions to my wife to get my mercy.” Curtis said he “begged Bonnie for her forgiveness and backed off. I realized my job was to love her as she is.”
“Love is a funny thing. When you choose to love, the love is replenished,” he said. “Loving my bride was an easy thing to do. She started to recover that very day. All she needed was her impatient jerk of a husband to back off,” he said. “My job is to love my wife, not change her.”
Deacon Curtis and his wife have been married for 33 years. They have five adult children and four grandchildren. He was ordained to the diaconate in 2015 and serves at Ascension Catholic Church in San Diego.
Murder, Fatima lead to faith
Matthew Harte came to the United States in 2018 to study at Franciscan University of Steubenville and now teaches at Ave Maria University.
Growing up in rural Catholic Ireland, “Everyone I knew I was Catholic,” but “faith was caught rather than taught.” Harte didn’t know anyone who could answer his many questions about the Church. A bright student, his degree was in history and politics and “with no evidence of faith,” in their lives, his friends, he said “dropped off, becoming atheists and agnostics.” They began to push him and challenge him with their questions.
Religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants was not uncommon in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland where he grew up. “I had family and friends who were blown up in car bombs.” But the fight between Catholics and Protestants wasn’t doctrinal, but instead was political and cultural. It was not doctrinal because there was no catechesis. “We weren’t smart enough to know there wasn’t a God,” he said. “Our parents didn’t know (the faith) because they didn’t question the priest,” he said. “I remember being asked if I was to become a priest because I did believe in God and went to Mass, but I couldn’t give myself to something that was so behind the times and so full of scandals,” he said.
The youngest of four children, Harte’s father, Mickey, was known throughout all of Ireland as the longest serving coach of one of the country’s most famed Gaelic football teams. His celebrity status passed to his children, to Matt, who himself became a “foot-
baller” and to his daughter, Michaela, for completely different, and tragic reasons.
While on her honeymoon to the East Indian island of Mauritius, two men robbed
Michaela McAreavey, strangling her and leaving her in the bath of her hotel room where her husband of just days found a short while later.
Her murder became an international story, not only because of the crime’s brutality – it was the first murder of a tourist in Mauritius – but also because of the family’s popularity in Ireland. “My father led the family through in-credible grief because we were so close to Michaela.”
Michaela’s faith was not typical of faith in “Catholic” Ireland. “Her faith was so strong. She prayed the rosary every day and had unerring faith in God. We got that strength from her.” Her wake lasted for several days, with upward of 25,000 people coming to their home including the president of Ireland and leading Catholic and Protestant prelates.
The following year’s murder trial became the biggest court case in Irish history. “We had to leave home to get away from the media,” Harte said. Particularly heart-wrenching was when the men charged with her robbery and murder were released.
People throughout the country continued to send the family money, which they used to set up camps in honor of Michaela that emphasized faith, healthy living, Irish language and culture. One of the volunteers at the camp would become Harte’s wife.
Even though Michaela’s death helped the family draw on their faith, “Gaelic football was still my god,” Harte said, until he got injured and, in the process, met the “first Catholic priest who could answer my questions; the first person who could give a convincing and articulate argument for the truth,” Harte said. “My heart was bursting inside me, listening to this guy explain to me what we believe.” The priest invited Harte to a pilgrimage to Fatima.
Still struggling with belief, especially in prayer, the group went to Adoration. While the group was praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, “I knelt down and I was just transfixed,” Harte said. “I felt these waves and waves of power and love coming from the Monstrance,” he said.
The next day, he felt the urge to go to Confession. “I knew that if God was going to get real with me, I had to get real with God.” The priest helped him to see how “arrogant” he was by comparing himself to his friends, telling the priest he was “not as bad” as them. “Stop looking down and look up, you’re called to be a saint,” the priest told him.
“Two things happen when you encounter Jesus,” Harte told the men. “You either enthrone Him in your heart or you continue in your sin and crucify Him again.”
The priest also encouraged Harte to pursue his vocation to marriage, something he had been putting off even though he knew he loved the woman he was dating. “Why wait on getting married?” the priest asked him. “This is your vocation and your path to sanctity. Can you make it work? Everything else will take you away from sanctity.”
“People scour this earth looking for real meaning and peace, spending thousands of dollars on therapy. I will tell you where I found it: Confession and Adoration,” Harte said. “Therapy teaches you how to cope with those things; Jesus gets rid of them.”
After the Fatima pilgrimage, Harte was “all in,” quitting football and getting engaged within two to three weeks. “And then I did something totally outrageous for an Irish Catholic, I opened the Bible.”
That led to removing another large obstacle on his path to holiness. Reading the Sermon on the Mount, he heard Jesus’ words about loving enemies and forgiving as Jesus forgives.
“I have to pray to forgive even those who murdered my sister. I have to hope that one day in heaven they will be seated beside me. What’s the alternative, wishing they were in hell? I pray for those men every day.”
A Cana conversion for Meridian’s Tim O’Neill
Tim O’Neill, married 18 years and the father of five, grew up in a family that was “marginally Catholic.” His mother converted from Judaism before he was born, but his father had a faith crisis and was not involved.
At Confirmation, O’Neill was told it was now his decision if he wanted to pursue his faith. His certificate signed by the Bishop, he said, was signal enough that was “done with all this church stuff.”
He enlisted in the Navy and did not attend Mass for several years. “I did what I wanted and I had no time for God,” he said. “My previous dealings with unchastity only became worse away from home,” he said. “My otherwise lofty attraction to marriage and family was being steered away by our culture’s poor depiction of marriage and an omission of its vocational nature.”
He met his wife, Roisin (a Gaelic name pronounced Row-sheen), on a blind date. “I was instantly made aware that this girl was different.” She was a committed Catholic.
“I made myself sound like I was the available-to-date version of the pope. Intrigued that I was Catholic, Roisin agreed to see me again.” On their second date, he confessed that he hadn’t been practicing for a few years. That date, which had been going well, “turned into a catechism class,” he said. She returned to his car with Jason Evert’s pamphlet, “Pure Love,” telling him that, as a practicing Catholic, the purpose of dating was to find a spouse.
“For the next hour we read each and every page. I clung on to every word as though I was learning a new language,” he said.
“I was so captivated by Roisin’s presentation that I was immensely drawn by her,” O’Neill said.
“I wasn’t sure what to make of Roisin’s challenge to return to my Catholic faith. It caused me to reflect on why I left my faith to begin with.” He attributes it partly to lackluster faith formation and not having a father to accompany him in his faith. But, ultimately, he said, it was his own hardness of heart to change his life-style.
That all changed with Roisin, “not with her body, but with her personhood,” he said.
“Having a chaste dating relationship with Roisin was, at times, a challenge, but there was no mistaking the richness that came from putting aside my selfish desires and discovering the transcendent dignity of Roisin’s personhood,” he said.
He quoted St. John Paul II’s writings about the nature of sacrificial love, where the spouse gives of himself or herself for the good of the other.
“Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the cross,” the Pope wrote.
“After nearly 19 years of marriage, Roisin and I sometimes struggle to love one another as Christ loves his Church, but by His grace, we are able to see in one another a glimpse of Christ’s sacrificial love. The Sacrament of Marriage allows Roisin and me to experience a foretaste of heaven -- the eternal wedding feast -- where the bride, the Church, will be eternally joined with Christ, the bridegroom.”
He pointed to Paragraph 1613 of the Catechism, which explains the significance of Jesus’ public ministry beginning at a wedding feast: “The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.”
“Not only did Roisin guide me to chastity, but she encouraged me to return to the call of my baptism – to be a son of God and a member of the Body of Christ. My return to the sacraments was, and still is, life changing. The Sacrament of Marriage has been a tremendous source of spiritual nourishment for me. Much like the Sacrament of Confirmation, marriage is not a one time event in which husband and wife graduate to a higher level of relationship, but is intended to be an ongoing sign of Christ’s love for his Church. In bringing me back to the Catholic faith, calling me to chaste love, and modeling for me the love of God, Roisin led me to what I call my conversion at Cana. For that I am eternally grateful.”
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