Photo: Robin Parow
On the day of his talk at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, previews the Marians' new e-book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, which chronicles his amazing conversion story.
Hit with 'the Divine 2x4'
By Dan Valenti (May 29, 2012)
Since Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, became a priest on May 31, 2003, he has recounted his breathless (and breathtaking) conversion story countless times in talks delivered all over the world. The telling never gets old, this message of hope and mercy.
To hear Fr. Donald today telling his transformation story from juvenile delinquent, druggie, and criminal youth to devotee priest of Jesus and Mary, one still feels the energy, the enthusiasm, and the heartfelt emotion. The fervor results from an attitude of gratefulness, never forgetting what God in His mercy did to transform a heart of darkness into a vessel of light and joy.
'It's Not About Me. I'm a Nobody."
On Saturday, May 26, 2012, Fr. Donald told his story to a sun-splashed crowd of 120 people at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. The sequence of events remains the same. The chronicle's effects, however, are always different — that is, unique and personal, as one could judge by the rapt expressions of the listeners. Each received the story, plugging it into his or her unique spiritual state.
Fittingly, Fr. Donald began his talk with a prayer, "so that everything I say is pleasing to Jesus and Mary and maybe beneficial to you."
Father Donald began his conversion story with a pleasing contradiction: "It's about me, but it's really not about me. I'm a nobody. I'm a sinner. Man, am I a sinner!" His point: He's not anything or anyone special, and yet, he's so special that if he were the only other person in the world, Jesus would still have endured a sacrificial death for his salvation. In that same way, so, too, are we all the adopted sons and daughters of God, and that same conversion experience awaits us all.
Therein lies the essence and power of this story: If God can so radically transform a dissolute incorrigible like Donald Calloway, He can do it with anyone. And so, Fr. Donald puts it directly: "I'm going to tell you what the Lord has done to me. If God can transform a wicked sinner like me, there's hope [for you]."
Three Dads, Three Last Names, All Before the Age of Nine
Father Donald was born in 1972 to non-religious parents, a family "that didn't believe in God, that didn't pray." After his parents divorced, his mother remarried, divorced again, and remarried again. "I had three fathers [and three last names] before I was 9-years old," he says, "and none of them was St. Joseph."
His stepfather's Navy job brought the family to various ports of call in the United States, including Virginia Beach, Va., and San Diego, Calif. "Dad #3" adopted young Donald, gave him his last name, and exposed the boy to the seeds of Christianity. His stepfather, "a nominal Christian," had Donald baptized an Episcopalian. Nonetheless, Fr. Donald says, "Jesus was as real to me as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. Jesus was a myth. Nothing more."
Donald Calloway, with little guidance and a rebellious and restless spirit that refused to be tied down or checked by authority, grew into his teens with one philosophy: "If it feels good, do it. Do whatever you want to do." He became a self-described "hedonist," drinking to excess, smoking marijuana, viewing pornography, and "soaking up" just about every distraction and indulgence that came his way.
His mindset prior to his conversion experience: "I want to have as much fun as I can as quickly as I can."
West Meets East, and All Hell Breaks Loose
A change in assignment saw the Calloway family move to Japan. At Atsugi Air Naval Station, Donald not only continued but escalated his roustabout ways. In Japan, he says, "I totally freaked out." With his friend Tommy, also the son of a Navy man, he "got wasted on Shochu, Japanese Vodka. The two 15-year olds, "sick of school, sick of parents, of authority, of getting yelled at, hating their parents," decided to run away.
Their escape plan was a formula for disaster. They told no one where they were going, not even their parents. They took no provisions and no money, just the clothes on their back. An inevitable crash landing was in the making.
"At 15, I got involved with a Japanese criminal organization," Fr. Donald says. "I worked as a drug mule."The work, though risky and dangerous, brought with it lots of money, life-threatening danger, and the kind of official attention that would not show well for either Donald's parents, the U.S. Navy, or the host government of Japan. Not that he cared at the time, but Donald had burned all his bridges (or so he thought): "I was dead to my parents, who were in [marital] crisis."
Enter, the Women
That's when the women got involved.
What women? There were four: St. Monica, a Filipino woman, his mother, and The Blessed Mother.
Saint Monica is the mother of one of the greatest saints in the history of the Catholic Church, St. Augustine. As a young man, Augustine led the life of a dissolute libertine. Sound familiar? His mother, Monica, never stopped praying that God would intervene in the life of her son, and as we know, there's nothing stronger than a mother's prayers for her children.
The Filipino woman had befriended Donald's mother and wondered how a woman of Italian ancestry was not Catholic? The friend shared her faith with Donald's mother and introduced her to a Catholic priest, who began counseling her.
In a real way, Fr. Donald's vocation as a priest hinged on this Filipino woman bringing his mother into the Church. The friend would not give up: She persisted and badgered his mother to seek comfort in the Church, leading Fr. Donald to observe, much to the delight of the audience, that "Filipino women are the Green Berets of the Catholic Church."
The priest brought Fr. Donald's mother to "hard core, in your face, real life Catholicism." It changed her life. She had "found the truth." Father Donald's mother embraced her faith, and she began to implore Jesus and Mary to intercede on behalf of her son. The power of God began working through husband and wife: "Soon after my dad began going to Mass with my mom, he realized they were meant to convert. And as he read more and more about Jesus and Mary, he, too, began to fall in love with Catholicism."
Jesus and Mary Go to Work on Donald
Donald by that time had lost touch with his now-Catholic family, and he was unaware of his mother's conversion or her prayers. They were, though, at work in him. Through a series of "God-incidences," including an international incident involving the wayward teen, the U.S. Navy, Japanese organized criminals, and the Japanese government, Donald was "pulled out of the sewer, returned to his parents, and sent into rehabilitation" in Pennsylvania.
In rehab, he met a lot of other messed up kids. A series of misadventures later, including a period of heavy drug use and following the band the Grateful Dead (Fr. Donald still has a tattoo of the Dead logo on his arm), Donald received "the Divine
2x4." One day March 1992, bored out of his mind, he started riffling through his parents' bookshelf looking for a book, "nothing heavy or deep, one with lots of pictures so I wouldn't have to do a lot of thinking."
He saw a book with a yellow spine. Thinking it might be National Geographic, he took the book, only to find he had chosen The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje. "I had no idea what this meant."
Crack! Jesus and Mary delivered what Fr. Donald calls "the divine 2x4" to the back of his head.
Donald, then 20, "crept back into my room, not wanting my mother seeing me reading a religious book." He devoured the book in one night. The message that there is "light and darkness, truth and lies, right and wrong, heaven and hell" began to make "total sense" to the young man.
"I had always felt there was a yes and no to one's existence ... You were either authentic or you were not. There was no middle ground."
Jesus and Mary: 'The Way Out'
Donald began to realize the book was offering "a way out" of what had become a nightmarish life. The prayers of his family, and his mother in particular, were coming to fruition. Armed with nothing more that the tiny opening created by the Medjugorje book, Jesus and Mary went to work, transforming the life and soul of Donald Calloway.
The rest of the story is familiar but always fresh. From that modest beginning, Fr. Donald got interested in Catholicism. Jesus and Mary did the rest, calling him to a life as a Catholic priest, as a member of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
We are all sinners, but that is not the point. The point illustrated so well by Fr. Donald's dramatic conversion, is that we are called by God to receive His love and mercy, to change our lives, and devote ourselves to the good of others.
It's an old story, recreated every day, anew, in the hearts of all who will listen.
On June 1, Marian Press releases its first e-book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, which chronicles the amazing conversion story of Fr. Donald. This e-book will be available exclusively through our Marian catalog for iPad, Nook, Android, and e-pub friendly e-readers. (Release dates have yet to be announced by Apple, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.) All purchases from our catalog support the work of the Marian Fathers.