Photo: Dan Valenti
by Br. Richard Mary Dolan, MIC
When I think about my vocation, Jeremiah 1:5 comes to mind: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." I talked a lot with my dad about my calling. Some of my questions were, "How do we hear God's call" and "Is it unusual to hear it earlier in life?" We live in a hard culture, one different from that experienced in the past. Today, we have more distractions that make it difficult to hear the voice of God. But God does call, and He did call me when I was a boy.
Because hindsight is 20/20, I can look back and see how my life was formed. My story is about Mary bringing me to Jesus. My mom and dad had a strong Catholic faith. My mom was a nurse and my dad was a farmer, but after her children were born, my mom stayed home to take care of us: three girls and two boys. When we were little, my parents consecrated all of us to the Blessed Mother.
My dad's father passed that tradition down to my dad. My grandfather got that from his father, and his father, and his father before that. So it went from generation to generation. Each child was dedicated to Mary. My grandparents only had sixth- and eighth-grade educations, but they passed down the value of the Rosary and the Mass. They were pillars for their family. They were married for 74 years and had 13 children. My dad is the youngest of the 13.
They were not formally educated, but they had deep faith. Mass was not an option. They knew Jesus was present in the Eucharist. Also, praying the Rosary as a family wasn't an option. They knew how important it was for family togetherness to keep Mary involved. They knew Mary had to be a part of family life. They knew that she would keep us together.
My mom is the oldest of 11 children, and she came from a similar background as my dad. She was from a farm family. She had a daily family Rosary. As a boy, I can remember kneeling in front of these Rosary slides and my dad would lead us in prayer on weekends using the slides as pictures of the mysteries. We usually said our daily Rosary during the week in the car, at home, or on family walks.
Mary brings people to Jesus, and that's what she did for me. I could see that Mary had a hand on me ever since I was a little kid. I experienced peace, too, every time I went to Mass, starting when I was around 5. I knew there was something going on up on the altar. I didn't know what, exactly, because I was so young. Things, though, were about to change.
My happy childhood did not last. At the age of eight, at the hands of bullies, I was suffocated almost to the point of death. Throughout the rest of my grade school into high school I suffered various types of physical and verbal abuse. That trauma eroded my sense of self-worth and confidence and was compounded by a learning disability. But I did excel as an athlete. Sports became the only area where I found a semblance of identity.
During my senior year of college at Winona State University, I was devastated when plans to play in professional baseball's Independent League fell through. I tried several lines of work but did not persevere. Soon I was out of money, credit cards were maxed out, and I could barely afford to eat. I was nearly financially bankrupt but already emotionally, physically, and spiritually bankrupt.
I found some consolation in memories of my faith-filled childhood, particularly praying the rosary with my family and going to Mass. Not long after, during Holy Week 2000, I reached a crisis point. I cried for an hour, begging God's help. It marked the first time I surrendered my gaping wound to the Lord, a wound created in my childhood and ripped apart by the sins of young adulthood.
For the next few years, with Mary's help, I grew in this newly recovered faith. Many graces came my way: a satisfying job as a personal fitness trainer, a great parish community, and a wonderful spiritual director. Further healing came during pilgrimage experiences, including the sight of Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Toronto and visits to Assisi, St. Michael's cave, and the shrine of St. Padre Pio.
Then something miraculous happened. A friend gave me a 33-day consecration to Mary by St. Louis Marie de Montfort, and a group of us did the consecration on Aug. 15, 2003 (the Assumption). I finally surrendered the last strand that clung to lustful sin, and the Lord healed me through the hands of Mary.
Now a new struggle began in my soul, as thoughts of the priesthood competed with thoughts of marriage. A beautiful gift came to me in a wonderful girlfriend. This newfound love progressed to the brink of proposal, but a tug by Mary indicated there was something more. Unable to resolve this conflict on my own, I entered pre-theology program at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, although with great pain at leaving family, friends, job, home, and most of all, my girlfriend.
I almost left during the first week, but with the help of my spiritual director and many others, I felt a tug by Our Lady to stay. Also at a retreat during the first semester, I surrendered my pain to Jesus and experienced a profound healing.
Later Mary sent me the spiritual director I needed: Fr. Mark Baron, MIC. My desire for the priesthood soon grew stronger. I also grew interested in the Marians of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They had a house in Steubenville. Their charisms of Divine Mercy and devotion to Our Lady attracted me. By God's grace I joined the Marians and was accepted. I took my first vows on Aug. 15, 2008.
I rejoice that despite a painful past, Christ worked through the hands of Mary and "made all things new" (Rev 21) in my life. All I want to do is bring people to Jesus through the hands of my Blessed Mother, Mary.