Rev. Fr. Chris Lemieux,
Director of Vocations
Archdiocese of Toronto since July 2014.
As I make my way from place to place as Vocation Director, I am asked to share my vocation story. At times when I am called to share, I think to myself “what’s so special about my life, I ought to share this?” At other times of introspection, I feel profoundly loved by God that in the midst of my unremarkable but unique life, He would call me to the Holy Priesthood. Here is my story (Part II):
On April 19, 2003 I became a Catholic Christian. I received Holy Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist on that evening but the second part of my story begins a week before that night when we “Elect” who were nearing the end of our preparation had a mini-retreat at the parish which included confession. Because I wasn’t baptized (and Holy Baptism wipes away Original Sin and all our sins at once) I did not need to go to confession. My pastor, Fr. Vid Vlasic had a conversation with me on that day. Instead of simply wishing me well, he firmly planted a seed that would forever change my life.
Fr. Vid offered me a suggestion: “maybe you should think about becoming a priest”. Although I have no vivid recollection of what I said in response to that, there were many things which I remember thinking about all of this. Others had suggested it, and I thought it outlandish at first.
- They couldn’t possibly have known I was a notorious sinner
- I can’t do what they do (celebrate Mass in front of crowds and preach)
- They’re very educated – I’m not
- I’ve never wanted to be a priest
- It’s just because I’m a single guy
- What about the wife and family I want to have
- I don’t want to be a part of the priesthood (the sex abuse scandal broke in Boston just before I entered RCIA – it certainly made priesthood unattractive)
If I needed more, I could have found more. It meant a lot that Fr. Vid was encouraging me but I had a lot of doubts. I was new to trusting God and though I had an ever-growing and strengthening faith I was not spiritually mature enough at first to seriously consider priesthood. I did however believe that God had put various people in my life to draw me to Him. I had sense enough to listen to Him through these people and Fr. Vid gently but consistently encouraged me to keep thinking about it. I went to weekend retreats where I met “normal” people who were thinking of priesthood and religious life. I continued to pray and every once and a while think about priesthood. I grew to not be opposed or closed off to the possibility.
A major consideration was my job; a career really. I had worked for a number of years as a bus driver at Mississauga Transit and could have retired at 52. Job security, stability and greater and greater seniority allowed me a comfortable life. I had very good friends whom I was close to, family whom I was growing closer to and to add to it; it hadn’t gone unnoticed by me the beautiful Catholic ladies whom I had every intention of dating!
About a year after becoming Catholic I met a Franciscan priest who would become one of my best friends, a mentor to me and would help me to see my way into deeper and deeper discernment. Again, yet another person in my life I know God graced me with to find my way.
Fr. Paschal Breau was a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement and had been over sixty years religious when we met. He had been Vocation Director for his community and so he was full of wisdom and knowledge. He was a retired priest when we met on a retreat and we became instantly good friends. Fr. Paschal had never imagined he would be a priest and had spent nearly 30 years a brother in the community before studying for the priesthood. He was admittedly not a gifted academic (I could relate), he had been terribly shy when he started out as a very young man (I could relate). His life as he revealed it to me, helped me to see that I presumed a lot of gifts that priests may or may not have. Fr. Paschal had a deep love of God and people and a desire to serve them. This was the greatest witness he gave to me as a priest, and so much more as a friend.
In September 2005, almost two and a half years after becoming Catholic, I entered Serra House in Toronto. At that time, it was a House of Discernment; a place men lived as they tried to get a sense of whether God might be calling them to enter seminary. I loved my time there; it was joyful but also challenging. I did my best but struggled with philosophy at 35, back in the classroom. It was the one of the greatest challenges for me learning how to trust God; having to tell myself over and over “if God wants you to be a priest, He will help you here!”. He did. I struggled my way through philosophy but finished in 2007. In 2006 I entered the seminary. I had Fr. Paschal with me to the very end and at my graduation when I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy.
Early on, I remember speaking to Fr. Paschal about his being an important part of ordination, a conversation that might have been too early. He told me that he knew the Lord had something special planned, but that he believed he would be with me at my ordination in a “special place”. Fr. Paschal passed away when I was preparing to enter Second Theology, a loss I felt but bittersweet as it was mingled with blessing. I was with him at the end, and I was strengthened in my faith by the witness of his. I felt strong in my faith through the next years of formation and I know that Fr. Paschal and others prayed for me to receive great grace along the way.
I was ordained a transitional deacon at St. Gertrude’s in Oshawa on October 15, 2011 and a priest on May 12, 2012 at St. Michael’s Cathedral. In addition to the Communion of Saints who prayed for me (as they do for us) I know my dear mother who passed away in August 2004 and my dear friend Fr. Paschal were with me that day in spirit and memory. I had the great honour and grace to offer Holy Mass as I celebrated my first Mass of Thanksgiving for my mother at St. Paul’s Basilica the next morning; Mother’s Day 2012.
I had my doubts and fears, which I allowed the Lord to free me of through the years of discernment. I feel blessed and love being a priest. The Lord certainly has lived up to His end of the bargain; gifting the one (me) He has chosen. I spend every day trying to be a better man – and trying to live up to my end of the bargain.