Under the Mantle: Marian Thoughts from a 21st Century Priest

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A Marians' Marian

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By Melanie Williams

"You want a call? Here's your call: Be a priest." That unexpected comment from his roommate is what spurred Fr. John Larson, MIC, to seek a vocation to the sacred priesthood.

On this tenth anniversary year of Fr. John's ordination to the priesthood, I had the opportunity to meet with him to discuss a bit of his life story.

Before entering religious life, Fr. John was a computer programmer in Tallahassee Florida, for the Florida Department of Transportation. "While working, I would get together with people my age from church, and they tended to be in college at the time," he said. At Florida State University's Catholic Student Union, he would help give talks at retreats, and once he gave a talk on St. Faustina. He began to spread the message of Divine Mercy at the time by giving out copies of St. Faustina's Diary to people he met. "I am still friends with some of them," he said.

Also during that time, Fr. John became a member of his parish's Legion of Mary.

"I met Catholics, both older and my age, who had a great devotion to Mary," he said. "One lady showed me the movie 'Song of Bernadette,' and it had a profound impact on me. It was also the early 1990s, when there was a lot of 'apparition mania,' including alleged apparitions in the U.S."

This fostered a love for Our Lady in Fr. John's heart and set off the spark that ignited his call to join a Marian-oriented religious order.

In 1992, his parents sent him a video recording of the annual Divine Mercy Sunday Mass celebrated at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. On the recording, the vocations director of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception made a "vocations pitch" to any young men who felt a possible call to the priesthood. This is when Fr. John first considered the possibility of becoming a Marian Father. (You couldn't get any more "Marian" than that.)

In 1993, inspired by "Song of Bernadette," he went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, where this priestly continued to grow. He suspected God was up to something because, without their prompting, people began to ask him if he was going to be a priest.

By the end of that year he contacted the Marian Fathers, and in 1994 he applied to enter and was accepted in 1995. On July 31, 1995, Fr. John entered the community. After 10 years of formation, Fr. John was ordained on Feb. 11, 2006, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

When joining religious life, Fr. John never imagined he would return to Steubenville and Franciscan University. Turns out he was sent to Steubenville to help open the Marian House of Studies. He's been there most of his priesthood. He now serves as house superior. On campus he helps out with Mass and Confessions and has office hours in the dormitories for talking with students.

On his tenth anniversary of ordination — Feb. 11 — he chose to spend the day gathering a few students together to give a lesson in Mariology, a class that he will begin to teach at the John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, California, this April through June. Though he had heard of the John Paul the Great University, he never thought he would be connected to it because of the great distance between Steubenville and San Diego. But the Lord knew the thoughts of his heart, and within months he was out in San Diego giving a talk to a group of students. He also met with the president of the university, who mentioned that they wanted the presence of a religious community on their campus. Fr. John proposed to their Theology department the possibility of teaching Mariology and he was invited to come for three months to teach.

With the approval of his Marian superior, Fr. John accepted, and he is now eagerly looking forward to this opportunity to teach about Mary. He said, "It has been one of my dreams to teach Mariology."

He said, "I've taken 12 courses at the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio. Although I don't have a special degree in Mariology, I have been immersed in the study of Mary for years now. My interest is not a 'side hobby,' but a central theme. I want to be able to guide others to love of Mary, study of what has been said about her and what the Church has proclaimed, and perhaps even to inspire others to become Mariologists."

While reflecting over the past 10 years as a priest, Fr. John remembers fondly his time in Plano, Illinois, where the Marians administer a parish. He spent his time as a deacon there and stayed there for his first few months following his ordination. In fact, two children from a family he knew while at the parish are now students at John Paul the Great University. He is looking forward to reuniting with them, as one of them will be auditing his class this spring.

Other highlights? He has enjoyed learning the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and having the opportunity to celebrate it on campus.

"Once Pope Benedict had the motu proprio concerning that, I thought it would be good to learn. It also helps with my Latin," he said.

He has also edited a book on the writings and sermons of one of his favorite saints: Lawrence of Brindisi — a Mariologist and Scripture scholar as well as a gifted preacher. It so happens, preaching is Fr. John's favorite part of being a priest, so he uses quotes of St. Lawrence in his own sermons quite often.

What was the most memorable moment of his priesthood? When he celebrated Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Calvary, in the old city of Jerusalem. To top it off, it was on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He considers it a great blessing to have visited the Holy Land a total of three times since his ordination.

What does he like to do in his free time? Collect and listen to vinyl records of the 20th century. His records range from radio dramas to classical music and religious music. The oldest record he has in his collection is from 1906. But that's his pastime. The future has much in store for Fr. John as he begins this new journey of teaching in California.

As we celebrate his 10 years of priesthood, we lift him up in prayer for many more years of service to Christ and His Church.

Melanie Williams is a senior in her last semester at Franciscan University of Steubenville studying theology.

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jS - Aug 2, 2016

Please, pray for us all that we may see the Way that our Lord has chosen for us, and have the courage to follow it.

Ringo - Jul 6, 2016

Dear Marian Fathers in Christ,
Please pray for me so that I am touch by Lord Jesus to apply and become a Marian brotherhood one day. Please send me a catalog so that my family and I will get to know more about the Congregation of Marian Fathers and they support me to become a Marian brotherhood. Thank you very much for your support. God bless you always.
Contact me: Ringo Lim
House Address: Lot 94, Piasau Garden, 98000 Miri, Sarawak Malaysia.

Gregory - Mar 23, 2016

may God bless you father

Elizabeth - Mar 18, 2016

Congratulations, Father John, on your 10th anniversary as a Marian Priest. May Our Lord and Our lady continue to guide you.