Contemplating the Ultimate Calling

Alexander Landowski ‘19

As a young child, I always dreamed of being a Major League baseball player one day.  By the time junior high school rolled around, I realized that was but a dream, and I turned my wishes to one day being a sports writer and commentator — a goal that I still have today.  Having the opportunity to meet and interview two gentlemen who hear the calling of the Lord and have chosen to pursue this as a vocation has been a revealing experience for me.  The two subjects, although both having a Strake Jesuit experience and influence, are at different points in their calling.  Father Richard Hinkley graduated from Strake Jesuit in 2002 and is currently a parish priest at St. Helen Catholic Church in Pearland. George Lawrence is a current senior at Strake Jesuit who is seriously considering answering the call.  I can only imagine the contemplative process involved in giving over my life to God.  These two impressive gentlemen are living it.

I was interested in learning what their childhoods were like and at what point in their lives did they have the strong feelings that were guiding their paths. For both men, it was during their life here at Strake Jesuit that they heard the call. George at one time in his life had a fleeting moment in which he thought that he wanted to become a police officer. He never really contemplated what it would be like to be a priest while he sat in the church pews as a child, even though being raised as a strong Catholic certainly helped to lay a fundamental foundation for him.  He did tell me, “When I went through First Communion, the priest asked how many kids want to be a priest, and I was the only one to raise my hand,” even though he admits that he didn’t really know if he did want that for himself at that time.  With a family full of engineers, many of whom are very successful, though admittedly not really loving their work, the expectation was that George would follow suit and likewise become an engineer.  “I was different from everyone in my family,” George said, implying that engineering isn’t likely in his future.  Although his parents don’t really wish for him to do any specific job one day, “they don’t really like the idea of the priesthood” for him, George revealed to me.

As a child, Father Hinkley was captivated by the thought of being a doctor, which he mainly attributed to being the idea of his grandmother with whom he spent most days after school.  He still hears her say, “Ricky, you’re going to be a doctor one day and you’re going to be able to take care of my illnesses.”  The thoughts of a spiritual life were deep-rooted for him.  His mother’s side of the family, which came from Cuba, instilled a strong Catholic faith in him.  He began altar serving in the fourth grade after First Communion, which at first seemed like a function suitable for passing time during Mass.  “When I was a young altar server, I was just focused on not making a mistake,” Father Hinkley told me.  While in junior high school, his pastor at the time, Monsignor Bill Pickard, would call his house to seek his availability to serve for a funeral or a wedding, which led to his server responsibilities becoming more involved.  “Once I got the responsibility of the incense, that was when the fun started.  I really started seeing myself as a priest while serving as I got closer to high school,” he mentioned, even before the realization of the calling had occurred.  Even though his parents never really expressed strong feelings about what they wanted for Richard to pursue as a vocation, they presumed that he would be a doctor, lawyer, architect or some other service professional.

The special experiences for these men at Strake Jesuit confirmed their belief and understanding of their calling to follow the path set forth for them by the Lord.  Father Hinkley believes that it happened with him between his Freshman and Sophomore years.  While continuing his altar serving with his responsibilities becoming more involved, “I begin to feel both this attraction of what a priest does at Mass ritually, and I also felt myself being captivated by the lives of the saints, the history of the church and Christian doctrine, with the first cycle of theology classes that I had at Strake,” he exclaimed.  “It was feeding me intellectually what I needed to hear for the response of my heart to the Lord’s prompting.”  It was a response to His question, “All right, Ricky — who are you going to live for?  Are you going to live for yourself?  Or, are you going to live for me?”  The divine nature of the message was apparent to him.  He knew that it was bigger than himself.  He also knew that he was only in high school and had to focus on his schooling and his college future.  “That generosity of following the Lord wholeheartedly was also bound up with this idea of how I was going to follow the Lord more wholeheartedly, not only as a student but beyond high school, beyond college.”  The idea of the priesthood during high school was further enhanced by Father Hinkley finding women and the thought of dating scary at that time, as he humorously mentioned.  Still, he found provident guidance during his time at Strake.  “I can’t imagine myself arriving at priesthood as I did without Strake Jesuit,” he proclaimed.  “I don’t think that I would have had the freedom to approach the question of vocation, without the basic foundational work that is happening at Strake.”

George began hearing the call in his Freshman year and began thinking about it while in Mr. Fahy’s theology class, which according to George “was the best theology class I’ve ever had here.  His class talked about all of the teachings and history of the Catholic Church, and we talked about vocations” and other relevant subjects.  “Mr. Fahy’s theology class is what made me really interested in religion.”  Once he began his school service project, it made him feel like he had some sort of a calling.  “The feelings started coming to me in my working with the homeless,” George told me.  At first, he suppressed those feelings and shut them out for awhile.  “I would go to church and pray about it and go to daily Mass.  I think I would be happy as one (a priest), but I need to discern about it first,” he explained.  He also made it very clear that he is planning to go to college right after high school.  “I don’t want to enter the seminary as an initiate and drop out.”

For Father Hinkley, whose father was a non-practicing Methodist, seeing the example of the Jesuits was a true inspiration for him.  “Here was a group of men, dedicated to the Lord, who lived happy lives.  They were goofy at times.  Not strange, but certainly wise, healthy, balanced men,” he proclaimed, identifying the depth of these religious men.  “You can read about the priesthood.  You can think about it.  But, until you see guys actually doing it and living it and being happy and satisfied, that’s when it becomes a reality for me.”  The calling wasn’t an automatic response for Ricky Hinkley.  “It’s kind of weird,” he stated.  “At first, I felt almost embarrassed by it.  It seemed like I had this intense desire for it; but at the same time, I realized I was in high school and I had so many years ahead of me.”  To help him understand those intense feelings, he focused on the external measures of being a priest and visualized himself giving the blessing and saying Mass.  “As time went on, the role of the priest as an icon of Christ was enticing,” he explained to me.  The real attraction of the calling for Father Hinkley was the person of Jesus Christ.  “He is the High Priest,” he exclaimed.  “He is the model priest.  Even when all of the priests of the world, going back to the Apostles, are configured to Christ, he still takes us as we are, with all of our foibles and certainly our sinfulness, and He uses those faults and imperfections to give Himself glory and to reveal Himself to our fellow men.”

With the personal nature of the call, George has let very few people in on his decision process.  “I’m extremely quiet about it,” he said.  “I like mostly to do this through prayer.  I did tell a few people and they seem to make such a big deal about it, that I just feel that it’s better to be quiet about it.”  Father Hinkley found his friends to be really excited for him and mentioned that he couldn’t really think of anyone who had an adverse reaction to it.  He did tell me, however, that his parents were at first puzzled by his interest in his faith and how serious he became about it in high school.  “At first, I think, they were just worried about me,” he confided.  He thinks they may have pondered between themselves, saying jokingly, “Do you think he’s dying, or something?”  Once they really had a chance to consider it, they came to the conclusion that a person could do a whole lot worse with their lives than volunteering and praying.  Once in college, at the University of Notre Dame, where he majored in Theology and The Classics, he found a group of like-minded individuals who could relate to the path he was on and would call him out if he tried to put on some sort of persona to his friends.  By the end of college, with his feelings about the priesthood being his vocation of choice, his parents became supportive of his decision.  “No one was ever strong arming me away from the priesthood or into the priesthood, so I’m very grateful for that,” Father Hinkley proclaimed.

When asked what it is about being a priest that George finds most appealing, he quickly pointed out, “I would like helping guide people.”  He is intrigued with the concept of delivering “homilies that would make people leave Mass feeling good, but also knowing how to do better in their lives.”  He summed it up by saying, “the whole job is appealing.”  The answer given by Father Hinkley includes three components of being a priest which he finds compelling.  The first is the Sacramental aspect, focusing on the liturgy as the activity of God.  “His sanctification of us here on earth and encountering Christ through the Sacraments,” are a blessing and reward.  “Being there at the threshold certainly continues today to be one of the most nourishing and fulfilling aspects,” Father Hinkley said.  The second component is the teaching element and the ability of “sharing the beauty of the truth with others — both believer and nonbeliever.”  The third element is “being with people, loving them in their darkest moments and their most joyful ones.”

George has some concerns about not having any contact with anyone during the first two years that he enters the priesthood, which I think would be the case with most high school kids.  Father Hinkley’s concerns about being a priest more revolve around the concept of being a public person which can make you a target.  “As a public person you get judged by everybody,” he explained.  “The weight of people’s judgment can be really tough — especially since you can’t please everybody.”  He also notes that loneliness is an element of being a priest, but he also acknowledges that most everyone fights loneliness at one time or another.  A final issue that concerns him about being a priest is that your life can feel quite unstable.  “You don’t know necessarily what you are going to be doing a year from now or a decade from now,” he stated.  “It requires priests to trust in the Lord and His providence that whatever comes, the Lord is in control.  He’s drivin’ the bus.”

Whereas George doesn’t claim to have any outright fears about being a priest, Father Hinkley was terrified by the prospects of public speaking when he first seriously began considering God’s call.  In fact, he claims that he still doesn’t find it to be all that appealing today, but by carefully preparing for an interesting subject he finds that he can even get excited about preaching from the pulpit at this point in his life.  

Brandon Baine ‘16 was instrumental in helping George find his path and inspire him to stay on it.  He further mentions that currently, Mr. Polce has been discussing relevant issues with him which he finds extremely helpful.  Father Hinkley, when asked who inspired him, thoughtfully replied that most young priests today, including himself, point to St. John Paul II.  “Here’s a man who was one hundred percent a gentleman and one hundred percent a devoted priest of Jesus Christ,” he exclaimed.  “Given everything that he went through in his adolescence with the Nazis; with the Communists — persecution; clandestine studies.  He was just a model human being, let alone a model disciple.  He was certainly an inspiration for me and for many.”

To become a priest, or not to become a priest — that is the question for George Lawrence.  We can all pray that he chooses that path and makes the Strake nation proud, as Father Richard Hinkley has done.  George, who thinks the Church tends to be too liberal, would like to make his mark on Catholicism and move Catholics into more agreeing with the teachings of the Church.  “I feel like when priests give their homilies, they not only need to make the people feel good and leave happy; they need to teach them how to be a better person, a better Catholic and a better witness to God,” George said.  For those of us who could never imagine finding the inspiration that would lead us to contemplate joining the priesthood, Father Hinkley described his experience in a profound sense.  “It’s like falling in love.  It’s the idea that this notion of Christ’s calling to minister with Him, or allow Him to minister through you.  It captures your imagination.  You see yourself doing it.”  For those of us who will never experience that calling, we thank God for the two of you gentlemen!