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LAST CALL Twelve Men Who Dared Answer Paperback – July 3, 2012
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Last Call consists of the utterly frank and deeply moving stories of twelve men who were called to the priesthood at the eleventh hour. They each tell of a turning point in their lives when they heard the “last call.” Some were called from a great distance: Two were born in Latin America, one in Lebanon, one in Canada, and the rest in the U.S. Two remain anonymous. All are connected to Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, where Dr. Ronda Chervin, the book’s editor, teaches philosophy.
Luis Luna, one of the two South Americans, had told God in prayer to come for him if He wanted him. A priest arrived in Luis’s town on horseback, explained that the Holy Spirit had “pushed” him to come, and asked if he wanted to be a priest. Luis joined the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles and later taught at their seminary.
Youssef-Mariam Hanna, raised a Catholic in Lebanon, had an experience of pure joy walking on Florida’s Delray Beach — literally translated as “the beach of the king.” Thereafter he began to live a chaste life, pray the rosary, and attend daily Mass. He decided to write down all the graces God had given him to change his life when he heard the last call. In 2002 he entered the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, professed his final vows six years later, and began to study for the priesthood.
John Trambley, a television-program director in New Mexico, came to a turning point when he heard “a former Protestant minister preaching a mission” and realized that “the True Presence was real” and that “the prayers of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass made sense.” He filled out a form to attend an archdiocesan vocation-discernment weekend, but for the next three years did not mail it. Finally, his father told him to “stop talking about it” and do it. He was ordained in 2010 at age 44.
Another Southwesterner, Jeffrey Thomson, assessed his life options in writing from two perspectives: with God and without God. Soon after returning to God, he was driving along the coast, took a side road by impulse, and came upon the New Camaldoli Hermitage. Deeply impressed, he went back twice a year, began attending daily Mass, and was urged by fellow worshipers to consider the priesthood. Rejected by several seminaries (he was 54), he heard about Holy Apostles, sold everything, and undertook what he called “Operation: Pearl of Great Price.”
Detroit cradle-Catholic Bob Schikora was drawn to the priesthood as a child, but went in the opposite direction until he came to a crisis in his mid-50s. His turning point came at a March for Life in Washington, D.C., where he met the rector of Holy Apostles. Soon after, a late-vocation seminarian suggested that Bob become a priest and introduced him to a bishop who also encouraged him. Bob was ordained in 2011.
Lars Markham, raised a Catholic in New York City, enjoyed the high life until he asked himself why he “never felt settled” and felt like he was running in place without a “sense of purpose.” His parish priest urged him to explore Catholic life communities. He did, but chose Holy Apostles. After two years of formation in the permanent diaconate, he is now using his background in finance, capital procurement, and building to serve the Church.
Two former Baptists are included in Last Call. “My faith life began at a Baptist Sunday school,” says Bradley Pierce, but it lasted only four years. After a stint in the army, he ran nightclubs in New York City until 1974, the year he received the grace to know he was a sinner. “I immediately got on my knees and asked God to forgive me,” he writes. Bradley resolved to follow Jesus wherever He led him, took instruction at St. Patrick’s, and was baptized. The turning point came in a leprosarium in India, when a priest urged him to consider the priesthood. He decided to “just walk in the direction of the priesthood and put the burden on God either to open or close that door.” He was ordained in 1983.
The other former Baptist, Dan Bastarache, was born in New Brunswick and served in its coast guard. He went in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous for years, always stopping at the third step. His turning point came when he completed the fourth and fifth steps by writing 44 pages on the sins he had committed. He then declared he wanted to be a Catholic, was baptized in 1994, heard the call in 2004, and was ordained in 2011.
Guillermo Gabriel-Maisonet, raised a Methodist in Puerto Rico, grew enamored of the Anglican liturgy. His “great thirst for worship” and belief in the Real Presence led him to attend daily Mass, though he had no desire to become Catholic. After studying the General Catechism, he “ceased to be a Protestant,” but became a Catholic only after reading Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Guillermo’s spiritual director told him he had a call to the priesthood. He accepted an invitation to Tyler, Texas, where the bishop sponsored him to Holy Apostles.
Finally, “Brother Jon” recounts how he lived a “terrible life” until one day these words came to his mind: “When was the last time you were happy?” The answer came immediately: “When I loved God!” He returned to the Mass, rosary, and confession, and became involved in a lay apostolate, speaking at parishes and conferences. Upon receiving an annulment, he sought direction from a priest and was asked, “Why don’t you join us?” He was 59. Initially, his religious community’s vocations director accepted him only as “an aggregate to the community without formal vows.” But seven months later he was offered vows as a brother.
Chervin divides these brief memoirs with pen-and-ink drawings well worth pondering, with her own love songs about the priesthood, and some exquisite prayers written by saints on behalf of our priests. The combination can help spur an unsure vocation and inspire laymen to greater love for priests.
- Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Last Call is also an engaging and easy read for numerous audiences, including youth who misinterpret what they perceive to be hypocritical Church goers; to anyone along the way confused about inner conflicts regarding his or her relationship with God; to women who misunderstand the servile vocation within the priesthood; and to senior Catholics often frustrated, anxious, and even discouraged by the current events pummeling Christianity.
It was difficult to put down the book because the writers' candor presented masculinity at its humblest and sweetest, allowed the reader to empathize with others confounded by faith and uncertain about which way to proceed, and, maybe, most importantly, struck a rare and powerful chord of hope for lost souls everywhere in our families, neighborhoods, at work, and even churches.
Certainly these twelve priests who so openly disclose their fragility through publicly confessing their weakened sinful occasions before answering their late calling will continue to be tempted and challenged in their vocation. So, Last Call is interspersed with Ronda Chervin's beautifully and gracefully composed prayers for priests and numerous prayers for priests composed by Popes and saints. This volume should then also be an inspiration and a reminder for us to answer the clarion call of charity and pray for all our priests and for increased genuine vocations.