From run-away teen to Marian priest, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, has inspired thousands to trust in our Lord's mercy. The following is part one of a two-part series excerpting from his new book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy (Marian Press).
I'm sure I startled a lot of people during my conversion period — especially all of my friends. Not surprisingly, my drug and drinking buddies didn't know what to make of the new me. Predictably, not to mention immediately, they began drifting away. One by one, they stopped calling. The reaction of these so-called friends was a real eye-opener. I came to the realization that if you took away the drugs and alcohol that brought us together, I had no relationship whatsoever with these people I called my friends.
But my former friends weren't the only ones who saw my behavior as radical. In the midst of my ongoing spiritual cleansing, I took virtually everything to the maximum. In those first days after my conversion, I spent each and every day in church praying all day long. I would go before the tabernacle and literally lie prostrate on the floor in front of Jesus. People would look down and assume that I had passed out, overcome by the intensity of my prayerful experience.
My radical ways even extended to my diet. I would fast or eat nothing but bread and water for three or four days at a time in an effort to go deeper. After I learned about the Stations of the Cross, I started praying them relentlessly — five or six times instead of just once. No one had told me you were only supposed to do it one time a day.
While some people believed I was going overboard, the Filipino ladies I had encountered on my very first visit to Our Lady of Victory appreciated my commitment and encouraged me. We soon became close friends. They would often remark, "It's so nice to see a young man who believes like you do." Throughout all of this, Fr. Callahan insisted on monitoring me for fear that I was a little too intense.
What my friends, Fr. Callahan, and these ladies didn't know was that I was spending a lot of time at Our Lady of Victory praying about how I could best serve God. I would kneel in church for hours asking what He expected from me. During this period, when I was attempting to discern God's calling for my life, one of these Filipino women approached me. She suggested that I pursue the priesthood. I was somewhat taken aback. I wasn't even Catholic yet, and this woman saw the priesthood in my future?
Shortly afterwards, she gave me several books. One was about the priesthood, while another contained postcards pre-addressed to a diverse array of religious communities. One could use the postcards to solicit information from the communities. I bought a roll of stamps and mailed in almost every postcard in the book. Sure enough, a handful wrote back to me.
In fact, the vocation director for one of these communities actually called me at home. It was a surreal conversation. I told him I was 20 years old and that I was very excited about the faith — that I loved Jesus and Mary and wanted to serve the Lord. Upon hearing this, he started to get very excited. I could almost hear him on the other end of the line thinking to himself, "Boy, this guy sounds like a really good candidate. He's the son of a military officer, a world traveler, and spends a lot of time in church."
"Tell me more," he urged. I went on to tell him how I had been homeless, in jail, in two rehab programs, and that I had done just about every illicit drug imaginable. And in the interest of full disclosure, I added, "Oh, and I'm not Catholic yet."
At that point, he cut me off and said, "I will pray for you, my son." Then he hung up on me. Was this payback for the time when I had hung up on a priest? I was extremely discouraged and confused by his reaction. On the one hand, my Filipino friends kept insisting I was destined to be a priest. Yet this vocation director's response suggested it might not be possible, not with a sordid past like mine.
So, after receiving many like responses, I got confused. I didn't know where to turn. My mother saw all the mail I was receiving and would periodically ask how things were going. But I sensed she was hesitant to add her input. Maybe she felt I was in God's hands now. Or maybe she was still in shock over the fact that I was interested in the priesthood and religious life. The idea that I was going to take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and live in a community must have been startling.
Meanwhile, I didn't have a lot of patience in regards to finding a direction. I was so zealous that I would have been happy going door-to-door with my backpack, crucifix, Bible, and rosary, telling people about Jesus and Mary.
Ultimately, I turned to Mary for guidance. I asked Our Lady, "Please guide me in this because I don't know what to do. I am so in love with you because you have shown me Jesus, but I can't serve Him without you. It has to be everything through you to sustain me and keep me on the right track. So I will reply to those communities that have your name in their title."
Naturally, there were quite a number of religious orders with Mary in their title. And after I responded to all of them, I received additional information from literally dozens of different communities.
I was still confused, so again I prayed to Our Lady, asking, "Guide me to the community you want me to visit and look into."
Trying to narrow down the possibilities, I told Mary I would proceed by only continuing correspondence with every community that used her name twice in its own name.
As I was culling my list, I came upon one community called the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. "Wow, this one referred to Mary three times," I thought. "This must be the one I am expected to focus on." Mary had not only answered my prayer, but she had, in effect, upped it one.
It wasn't long before I called the Marians and immediately had a good feeling about them. I spoke with the Vocation Director, Fr. Larry Dunn, MIC. Warm and friendly, he was open to visiting me at my parents' home in Norfolk, Virginia. Father Dunn had been in the Navy when he was younger and was excited that I lived on a naval base and that my father was a military officer.
When we discussed my recent conversion, his response was much more upbeat than the previous priests I had spoken with. "God is doing amazing things through Mary these days," he said. "Let's see what happens."
A few weeks later, Fr. Dunn spent the day visiting me and my family. My mom fixed a big Italian dinner, and everything she did and said made me look good. Beaming the entire time Fr. Dunn was in our presence, Mom was happy but also clearly relieved about the direction I was headed.
Afterwards, Fr. Dunn invited me to spend a weekend with the Marians in Washington, D.C. It would be the next step in the process of figuring out if we were a good fit for each other. When I boarded the Greyhound bus to Washington, D.C., I had no idea what to expect, but I was hopeful.
When I arrived at the Marian House, everything felt so right. It was peaceful and so filled with Mary's presence that I felt at home. The Marians are also the official promoters of the authentic Divine Mercy message and devotion. That, too, felt like a good fit for me. If anyone had experienced God's forgiveness, it was me. I had a front row seat. I considered myself a poster child for Divine Mercy.
To read part two of this series, click here.
For more information about Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, please visit his website, www.fathercalloway.com.