Just Let Him Live His Life on the Rock

David Lawrence Stone always had the gift of passion — that inner drive that equips select people with natural intensity and motivation.

He had it when he was an all-state athlete in Livonia, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. And he has it today as a 43-year-old priest, Father Francis Mary, a Franciscan Missionary of the Eternal Word and the host of “Life on the Rock,” the weekly TV program for teen-agers and young adults that airs Thursday nights on EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network founded by Mother Angelica.

At 6 foot 5, David Stone was a standout on his high-school basketball team.

An accurate shooter and tenacious rebounder, he was as respected by opponents as he was appreciated by teammates. He might have gone on to be a dominant force for a small-college team but instead chose to enroll at Michigan

State University — during the Irving “Magic” Johnson NCAA championship era, no less. So it was that he did not play college basketball but graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting.

Next he headed west, earning a master's degree in business administration at California State University, training for grueling triathlons, working as a bartender, enjoying the party scene and nearly marrying a California girl who worked as a lifeguard.

“I didn't go to Mass and I had given up my faith,” recalls Father Francis Mary. “I was totally into the cult of the body — working out all the time, running the beaches, competing. I hadn't yet learned that Christ calls us to be stewards of our bodies.”

He remembers the moment he found the grace to reach beyond himself and upward for God. “I drove a VW Bug,” he says. “It was a convertible, but it didn't have a roof. I tooled all over the place in that car. One day, when my fiancée was with me, we came to a stop sign and I just blurted out, ‘Why don't we postpone this wedding?’”

With that, a major change in Stone's life's direction began. He decided to return to his roots in Detroit but took a winding route home, first stopping in Texas to visit his married sister, Diane, the oldest of the family's eight children. At the time, she had been going through changes of her own. She'd suffered two miscarriages — and found comfort and strength in her Catholic faith. Touched by his sister's witness, Stone began praying the rosary and studying the writings of St. Louis de Montfort, especially his classic treatise True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Looking back,” he says, “Mary had been watching out for me. Our Lady had been caring for me all along.” Stone returned home, newly devoted to the Catholic faith, and went to work as a business consultant. All went well for two years, but still his heart remained restless. He knew he would never be content unless he made a “total, no-stringsattached” commitment to the Lord.

It was during this time of his life that he watched EWTN, well, religiously. So it was that he began sensing that God might be calling him to become a priest in the religious order founded by Mother Angelica.

Undaunted by Doubts

In November 1990, the passionate and intense ex-jock — the young man who once trained to do a mile-long swim, bicycle 125 miles and run a 26-mile marathon all in the same day — got into his Honda sedan and drove straight from Detroit to Birmingham, Ala. But what happened next was not exactly a slam-dunk.

“I got to EWTN and saw the nuns in their habits walking in the courtyard behind the gates,” he recalls. “I froze; I chickened out. I couldn't go in. Instead, I went out and got a hotel room for the night.”

In his hotel room that night, he says, he wrestled ferociously with the lies of the devil, who taunted him over his “unworthiness” to be among the truly holy people he'd seen earlier that day. The experience was very disconcerting, yet, the next day, trusting Our Lady to lead him, he put one foot in front of the other and went back to the community. For good, as it turned out.

After studying for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, he was ordained a priest, a Franciscan Missionary of the Eternal Word, on May 30, 1998.

It was a good move for him — and for the many people to whom he has ministered since. Margaret Ann Berry of Birmingham credits Father Francis Mary with being a particular channel of God's grace in her life. As a child, she was sexually abused. It was a dark secret she had kept hidden from everyone in her life. “God used Father Francis as an instrument in my life,” she says. “One of his homilies gave me the courage to talk about my past, to get it out so the Lord could heal me. I don't even remember the words of the homily. All I know is that God spoke to me through his words.”

Father Frederick Miller specializes in spiritual direction at the North American College and he also teaches at the Angelicum, the Dominican seminary in Rome. He has known Father Francis Mary for many years and has been his spiritual director, and he speaks with obvious joy about the caliber of men like Father Francis Mary who are answering the call to priesthood today.

“The priest's role is to teach, sanctify and lead the people so that the laity will be able to transform the culture and society at large,” says Father Miller. “As a priest, Father Francis Mary understands that; he is very clear about it in his own life as a priest.”

In his role as host of “Life on the Rock,” Father Francis Mary is present in a rugged yet gentle and open manner to his guests. His Christlike way, they say, puts them at ease, helping them joyfully witness what Christ has done in their lives — on air, live, before a potential audience of millions.

As for personal goals, the former basketball hotshot and physical-fitness fanatic now simply wants to be faithful, as a priest, in living and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ without compromise.

“I will be successful as a priest,” says Father Francis Mary, “if I faithfully pass on the fullness of the Church's deposit of faith. If I am faithful in doing that, the Lord will do the rest.”

Wally Carew, author of Men of Spirit, Men of Sports, writes from Medford, Massachusetts.