8 Bishops Reveal How God Called Them to Be His Priests

‘May he be a shepherd to your holy flock, and a high priest blameless in your sight, ministering to you night and day...’

TOP (L to R): Bishop Rhoades, Bishop Burbidge, Bishop Morlino, Archbishop Miller. BOTTOM: Bishop Doerfler, Bishop Paprocki, Bishop Conley, Archbishop Carlson.
TOP (L to R): Bishop Rhoades, Bishop Burbidge, Bishop Morlino, Archbishop Miller. BOTTOM: Bishop Doerfler, Bishop Paprocki, Bishop Conley, Archbishop Carlson. (photo: Register Files)

I asked eight diocesan bishops, seven American and one Canadian, to share with me about their Catholic background growing up and how they decided to enter the seminary.  Here is what they shared.


Michael Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington, Virginia

As a boy, I attended Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in southwest Philadelphia, which had 3,000 children in the grade school.  A lot of the Catholic population has moved out since to the suburbs.

We were a close-knit community, living in row houses and freely going in and out of one another’s homes.  We were a connected parish with a real sense of community. 

Although I had a small family—I had one older brother who was four years older—we had extended family nearby.  There wasn’t a weekend when we weren’t together. 

My parents provided me with a great example, and were very supportive of my vocation.  We prayed before meals, had night prayers and said the rosary.


Robert Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri

I would say [my desire to become a priest was] the effect of the parish priest on my family.  In the seventh grade, I was called home when one of my sisters died.  I remember seeing my mother crying, and our pastor sitting on the couch consoling her.  It had a major impact on me.  I had planned to be a doctor, but I wound up going to the seminary instead.


James Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska

When I graduated from college, I had a degree in English literature.  But I was not certain what I wanted to do.  I traveled to Europe, and ended up at a Benedictine monastery in France, Our Lady of Fontgombault.  It is a cloistered monastery, and it drew many Americans in the 1970s.  Some entered and became monks.

Some of these monks came to the United States to found Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma, which celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  It began with 13 monks in 1999, and today has nearly 50.


John Doerfler, Bishop of Marquette, Michigan

I had outstanding parents growing up.  My mother and father were strong people of faith.  One of my earliest memories was of my dad taking me to church.  He had a devotion to St. Anthony, and they had a side chapel there where he’d go to pray.

My mother was a faith-filled woman who was a novice in a Carmelite monastery.  She had a rich prayer life.  I also had two uncles who were Capuchin priests.  There was no time when I did not know and love God.  I thank my parents for passing on the Faith to me.

When I was in high school, I was involved in youth ministry.  I wanted my friends to know Jesus.  It was during that time, in my junior or senior year, that the thought of priesthood flowed through my mind.  I entered seminary after graduating high school.


Michael Miller, Archbishop of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I was born in Ottawa.  My father was Catholic and my mother was not, so I was the child of a mixed marriage.  I attended Catholic schools when I was growing up, including a high school run by the Basilian Fathers.

The Basilan Fathers are teachers.  I wanted to teach, so I thought it would be a good fit and a good way to serve the Lord.  I know a lot of guys today have dramatic stories about how they decided to enter the seminary; [laughing] I guess we were less romantic in those days.  It was the early 1960s, and it was commonplace.  Lots of guys entered the seminary.  I was one of them.

The Basilian Fathers had a lot of vocations in those days, and had schools in many cities.


Robert Morlino, Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin

The town in which I was born was about 99 percent Catholic.  All of us boys thought about becoming priests.  When we were little, most of us “played Mass.”

In those days, we also had the example of wonderful priests and sisters.  The priesthood was very appealing.  From a young age, I thought it would be a real possibility for me. 

When many boys got to high school they backed away from that desire when they discovered girls.  You begin to think about the possibility of marriage.  But I never stopped thinking about being a priest.  And, I had the great blessing to go to a tremendous Jesuit high school in Scranton.  There I was able to solidify the idea that the Lord was calling me. 

When I finished high school, I entered the Jesuits for the Maryland province.  Once I entered, I never thought seriously about leaving.  My family was very supportive of my vocation.  When I was ordained a priest, my mother and grandmother were there.  It was the day in their lives.


Thomas Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield, Illinois

I’ve wanted to be a priest for as long as I can remember.  I had many good role models.  My parents were devout Catholics … Both were strong role models.

I knew many good priests growing up in St. Casimir’s parish on the South Side of Chicago.  I attended a high school seminary while living at home and was ordained a priest in 1978.

After my ordination, however, I did something different.  I went to DePaul’s law school and earned a law degree.  I thought it would be a useful tool for my ministry.

I had planned to be a parish priest for the rest of my priesthood, and help the poor with legal services on the side.  But, I was called to help in the chancery office, which led me to being named a bishop.  There’s the old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him what your plans are.”

I’ve kept an interest in Chicago Legal Clinic, and still serve on the board of directors.  I also started Catholic Charities Legal Services in the Springfield diocese.


Kevin Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana

I had always had a positive view of the priesthood from the priests I’d known growing up.  When I went to college, like most young adults, I had a lot of questions.  But, I had an intellectual conversion as I delved into the writings of such men as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.  I started going to daily Mass, and, as there was a seminary where I was going to school, I knew and was impressed by the seminarians I met.

One day, I was praying at a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.  I asked for guidance about the priesthood versus getting married.  When I thought about becoming a priest, I was flooded by a sense of peace and joy.  I had my answer.

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