|Fr. Dominic Farrell LC|
I became a Legionary of Christ by accident. A Legionary
priest gave a talk about vocations in my school. As
a practical joke, my friends filled in a card with
my name on it, requesting further information. Now I know,
however, that God was really behind their prank. Indeed, he
had been at work from very early on.
wet winter afternoon when I was five years old and
living in Glasgow, my mum saw an elderly priest knocking
on our neighbours’ door. Mum knew that our Italian neighbours
were not in and so brought the priest into our
house, out of the rain and in for a cup
of tea. His name was Fr. Alessandro and he was
a Xaverian missionary. He was a childhood friend of the
Italian grandmother who lived next door, and sometimes came to
I was introduced to this kind, lovable priest.
He began to visit us regularly and would always bring
me Italian chocolate. That made me like him even more.
At the time, however, I didn’t know that during his
first visit Fr Alessandro told my mum that he was
going to pray every day that I become a priest.
He didn’t normally do this, but he was determined to
do so in my case. I only learned about this
when I was already a novice, years after he had
When I was nine I became an altar boy
in Drumbo Parish, Carryduff, where we had an exemplary parish
priest, Fr Joseph Campbell. As an altar boy I had
fun, responsibilities and also grew in friendship with Jesus. We
prepared the church for Masses, funerals and weddings. We rang
the bell and helped the priest out in everything. In
such an atmosphere I was in constant contact with God
and. It was only natural that you thought of becoming
In particular, I remember entering the Church to serve
at the 8.30 Mass one September morning and seeing Fr
Campbell, all alone in the Church, dressed in his cassock
and praying the breviary. With my child’s mind I grasped
that being a priest – a holy priest - was
the most noble thing a man could do for God.
I, too, began to want to be a priest.
was another important influence. He was a farmer, had a
strong character, but was also very kind and pious. His
deep faith impressed me. When he died, I got the
brown paper envelope in which he kept his prayer sheets
and devotions. He must have spent at least an hour
praying them every day. Most of them were prayers to
During my adolescence, however, I began to stray
from the faith. Partly, the normal interests of adolescence absorbed
my attention. The prospect of becoming a priest vanished from
the radar screen, and girls triggered intgerest instead. Moreover, being
a “holy Joe” was a recipe for a “slagging.” But
I also had serious doubts about the faith. I knew
there were other religions. They couldn’t all be true. Maybe
religion was something we cooked up to explain away the
harder truths of life, an attempt to give life meaning.
I knew that scientists offered their own explanations for the
origin of the universe. And so, I began to wonder
whether Christianity and other religions were just myths that primitive,
pre-scientific civilizations had concocted.
I wanted to believe, but I
had ever deeper doubts. Deep down, however, I treasured the
examples of Fr Campbell and my grandfather, along with my
experiences as an altar boy. The Catholic faith had to
My vocation began to re-sprout one night in a
disco. Virtually everyone from my school class was there. As
I watched my friends and classmates I felt revulsion and
emptiness. We were all good kids, but like any normal
16 or 17 year olds most were laying into the
drink. Some were dabbling with drugs. Others were throwing modesty
and hormonal control out the window.
I looked on and
felt there had to more to life than this. I
walked home by myself, savouring the silence of the empty
streets, a radiant full-moon and the cold drizzle. In my
heart I sensed that only God could make me happy.
But I didn’t believe. If only I could recover my
I began to read Scripture, and even dug into
philosophical works, looking for answers to the question, “Does God
In the autumn of 1991, I found myself in
the church of St Edmund Campion in Oxford. There I
prayed for help.
“God, I don’t know if you exist
or not. I only know that without you my life
is meaningless. But if you really do exist, then grant
me the gift of faith. I am willing to give
you my life in return.”
I continued to reflect, and on
the night of 2 January 1992, I finally reached the
conviction that God had to exist. Since God had answered
my prayers I now had to fulfil my part of
the deal. I began to think about becoming a priest.
A few months earlier, however, God had played his practical
joke with the aid of my friends, and I began
to receive vocations literature from the Legionaries of Christ.
booklet caught my attention and I arranged to visit the
Dublin novitiate for a weekend. The night before, however, I
was reflecting on what I had been reading in the
Gospels and St Paul. I believed in God, but God
was really just an idea for me. Being a Christian
was about believing in Jesus. Who was Jesus for me?
What were the Gospels all about? Why did Jesus have
to die on the cross? As I pondered these questions
grace assaulted me. All of a sudden I experienced Christ’s
presence. I experienced how he was God and had suffered
on the cross to redeem me from my sins. It
was only a momentary interior motion. Nevertheless, from that moment
on I knew for sure Jesus was truly God and,
after experiencing his infinite love for me, all I could
do was return that love in some measure by staking
my whole life on following him. God was no longer
an idea. He was Jesus, and even though I had
always known this, now I had met him. I was
more certain of Christ’s divinity than I was of my
With this experience fresh in my heart I visited
the Legionary novitiate. The first night I beheld the striking
spectacle of the novices filing out of the chapel in
silence and recollection after night prayers. Over the weekend I
learned about the Legion and its apostolate. I believed the
Legion offered me the most efficacious way of making others
know and love Christ. Above all, I was impressed by
the charity and family spirit that reigned among the novices.
Automatically and inexplicably, I felt that this was my family
That weekend my head was reeling. I knew that this
was where I belonged, and I was overjoyed at having
discovered how I could follow Christ. At the same time,
however, I was in shock at seeing the cherished prospects
of career, marriage and children suddenly go up in a
puff of smoke. From one moment to the next they
were no longer options for me, even though I wanted
them to be. But then again, I was following Christ,
and so this shock was mixed with peace and happiness.
That weekend I decided to join the Legion. However, I
thought I could take my university degree first. On Monday
morning, as I left the novitiate, the novice on receptionist
duty asked when I was going to enter.
thinking of going to university first!”
“Ah yeah!” he answered, “But
just remember what the Lord said in the Gospel: ‘He
who puts his hand to the plough and looks back
is not worthy of the Kingdom of God.’”
I said goodbye
with a smile, but on the inside I was dumbstruck.
There was no answer to an argument like that. And
so, on the train back, I determined to enter that
summer. That was probably the best decision I have ever
During the intervening months I prayed the rosary a couple
times each week. Mary’s presence and closeness was palpable. Indeed
I was surprised at how easy it was for me
to enter the novitiate. It was all plain sailing. No
doubts or difficulties whatsoever. Our Lady’s help is the only
All this, however, was only the beginning of my spiritual
journey: the journey of being a Legionary of Christ.