In Hindsight, God's Call Was There All Along
An ordinary parish priest never knows when God might call on him to be Christ to someone in an extraordinary way. And even when that does happen, it's not always easy to see the fullness of God's handiwork in the situation — at least, not until it's reflected upon some time later.
Just ask Franciscan Father Nick Mormando. One day, a woman phoned the rectory as the Capuchin friars of 100-year-old Immaculate Conception Church in Bronx, N.Y., were washing dishes. Frantic, she told Father Mormando she was pregnant and would have no place to live by 5 that afternoon — the time by which her live-in boyfriend had given her to move out.
A quick prayer and a few phone calls later, Father Mormando found her a place to stay with the Sisters of Life in the Bronx.
“I never saw her face to face,” he recalls. “Eight months later, a woman shows up at the door and asks, ‘Do you remember me?’” It all became crystal-clear when she reminded him about their phone conversation months earlier — and showed off her beautiful baby boy.
“That was one of those exceptional moments where the Lord allowed me to see the fruit of the work,” Father Mormando says. “You have to be content with sowing the seeds and knowing that's what you're supposed to be doing. But the times he does let us see the fruits are a blessing.”
The friar began finding such contentment long before he was assigned to this large, culturally diverse congregation. In fact, he was even “sowing the seeds” years before he was ordained in 2001, at age 40, by Archbishop Sean O'Malley, then bishop of Palm Beach, Fla.
A New York City native, he entered the Capuchins in 1981 as a 21-year-old eager to study for the priesthood. But, unsure about God's specific call after his first vows in 1983, he left his priestly studies while remaining a Capuchin brother. In this capacity he worked in parish ministry from upstate New York to Florida. God used this time to show him how he works through the simple sacrifices of a willing soul.
“I remember one woman who was a little saint,” Father Mormando says. “I brought Communion to her every Friday, and I was impressed when she received — she had such a look on her face.”
Similar moments of grace accrued through the years. Eventually, taken together with what God was saying to Brother Nicholas through prayer and reception of the sacraments, they added up to an unmistakable call to the priesthood.
The Hidden Good
Since he accepted that call, the theme of seeing God in others — the paradox of ministering to people only to be inspired by them — has remained a constant in Father Mormando's life.
“I meet so many prayerful, holy people,” he says. “As a priest I get to see them on a regular basis. For example, bringing Communion to the sick — I call them the ‘hidden good’ that no one sees.
They must be really pleasing to Jesus.”
And then there are the lay ministries that reach out to priests. Father Mormando has a special place in his heart, for example, for a song written by Catholic singer-song-writer Annie Karto. He was given a CD of her recording You Are a Priest Forever as an ordination gift.
“It touched me,” he says. “I kept playing it over and over. It seemed to focus on what the essence of the priesthood is — bringing the Eucharist, interceding for people.”
As it happened, Father Mormando had the chance to meet Karto and her husband, David, in Tampa. Karto remembers the moment well.
“He's captured that humility of St. Francis so authentically. It really struck me,” she recalls. “The warmth of his greeting, the sincerity; you just knew this man was anointed with the Holy Spirit.” (Karto's music, by the way, is available through the Catholic Music Network at catholicmusicnetwork.com.)
Karto's not the only one upon whom Father Mormando has made a memorable impression. Sister Leticia Aviles of the Oblates of the Blessed Trinity, principal of Immaculate Conception School, remembers telling the priest about the ill, 90-year-old mother of the school secretary, Grace. What stands out in Sister Leticia's memory is how quickly he went to anoint her, give her Communion and pray over her. That evening, Grace called to say her mother was “feeling much better” and “a completely different person,” Sister Leticia reports.
“He is a very spiritual person, someone who reaches out to all people,” Sister Leticia adds. “If someone needs him, he goes right then, anytime of the day, whether he's busy or not. He is a person sent by God.”
Nor is he wanting for initiative. Along with four men of the parish, Father Mormando recently co-founded the Servants of Christ, a new group of married and single men who, in his words, are interested in “building their spiritual life and having an opportunity to express their love for Jesus and his Church through service.”
“There's a need among men today to discuss relevant, day-to-day topics in a way that will strengthen them in their faith,” he adds.
Also a priority for Father Mormando: encouraging vocations. “There's nothing wrong with asking someone if they've ever considered being a priest, a sister or a brother,” he says.
Father Mormando's commitment to Christ hasn't gone unnoticed by his superior, Capuchin Friar Father Vincent Fortunato, the minister provincial of the Province of the Stigmata.
“I've encouraged him to be a spiritual director,” Father Fortunato says. “He has a sense of openness to a person's life. He has the gifts to help them discern God's will working in their life.”
For his part, Father Mormando seems to feel that he owes the success of his ministries not to his own devices but to the prayers and inter-cessions of a special, behind-the-scenes helper.
“Our Lady has played a big role in my life,” he explains. “The fact that I was even able to say Yes to the priesthood, I owe to her.”
Evidently, that's one thing he didn't have to wait for hindsight in order to see.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.