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Turn to Jesus (Article)

The Real Adventure is Just Beginning
Vocational testimony of Fr. Donald Kaufman LC

Vocational testimony of the Fr. Donald Kaufman LC
Fr. Donald Kaufman LC
I grew up in a family with German-Polish immigrant roots (one grandfather was born near Krakow). We valued hard work and strong family relationships, and lived our Catholic faith in a typically Midwestern-suburban American way. I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that was able to maintain its Catholic faith amidst the various challenges and upheavals of the 1970s and 80s. During my junior high and high school years, we lived in the country, half an hour from our parish. In spite of the distance, we attended Mass every Sunday and although I attended public schools my whole life, my parents sacrificed to make sure my sisters and I attended catechism classes every week.

This sort of commitment was not a given. Very few of my classmates, even in the rather protected Midwest, escaped from the clutches of the strong secularizing influences of that swept across my generation. I am convinced that this simple but constant spiritual life which my parents maintained made all the difference in keeping the seed of my vocation alive.

Small Moments of Grace
My own experience has taught me that in any vocation, you often don’t see the “signs” you so ardently crave when you are trying to make a decision—not until some years after the fact. God reveals the real “meaning” behind events and circumstance in your life only later. For example, I remember when spending a rather uneventful summer cleaning our basement when I was twelve years old. One day, being rather board, I sat down and began reading one of the myriad of old books I was asked to organize. It was a dusty, 1960s copy of the story of the Blessed Virgin’s apparition at Fatima. The story fascinated me and I found myself passing the whole day
Vocational testimony of the Fr. Donald Kaufman LC
engrossed in the lives of the three small shepherds, being moved to tears at the holiness of their lives, the simplicity of their love for God and their relationship with Jesus. It was a first taste of that “holiness” that attracts the heart, like what so many youth discovered in John Paul II. I can see now how the Blessed Virgin’s hands were already at work in my life even though I did not know it. These experiences and moments when God was directing my footsteps were not infrequent as I faced critical junctures in my life.

God Intervenes Again
Certainly, one of the most critical moments where God’s grace intervened in my life was when I entered the University of Michigan. I had originally thought of entering the Naval Academy and had gone though the rigorous process of obtaining a congressional appointment only to be told weeks before the entrance date that I had not qualified for one of the waivers necessary for non 20/20 eyesight. Very disappointed after a year’s worth of work, I had to fall back on my second choice, the University of Michigan. “My plans are not your plans says the Lord,” and it is obvious now how God’s hands were at work gently guiding my footsteps.

Since I was entering U of M at the last minute I ended up “rooming blind,” which meant having the university match me with a roommate in one of the dorms. It turned out that I was paired with a 3rd year student who happened to be an enthusiastic Catholic and a member of a campus organization called University Christian Outreach (UCO), and it was not long before he introduced me to the group. It was a life changing event, the beginning of a real conversion from being a “cradle Catholic” to being a “convinced Catholic.” It was through UCO, its staff and the incredibly solid group of Christian men and women I had the fortune to live with during those four years that I first encountered what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ and a living and active faith. I discovered the joys and challenges of sharing my faith with others in the secular/pagan campus milieu. And I learned what it meant to live authentic charity day-in and day-out.

“If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there your hand will be guiding me” (Ps 139:9-10)
Upon graduating from the University of Michigan and beginning my commission as a US naval officer, I left behind the familiar and comfortable life God had prepared for me within the confines of UCO and my parish at Christ the King. Being thrust out into the world had its challenges, but this was all part of the Lord’s “training.”

To a young 22 year-old, the navy slogan was true: “It’s not a job; it’s an adventure.” Everything about navy life – the deployments, seeing the world, being on the technological cutting edge, defending the free world, the uniform, traditions, and discipline of the Navy’s “silent service”— was thrilling, even though there were the daily battles to live my faith and values coherently and authentically. Sure, there was a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but I was one of their elite and proud of it.

However, while I enjoyed the navy life and the missions that took me to interesting locations, I began to experience a longing for the way of life within a strong Christian community and the daily fellowship with like-minded men and women that had made such a strong impression on me at college. I felt God was calling me back to Ann Arbor, but to what?

A “Perfect” Life
A restlessness filled the end of my tour with the US Navy. It was more then a desire for the joyful and enthusiastic life in my parish and the local community of the Sword of the Spirit, a lay ecclesial movement to which I belonged. I sensed that the Lord was calling me to consecrate my life fully to him. The natural choice was to join a group of consecrated lay men, The Servants of the Word, who were based in Ann Arbor and had played such a formative role in my life as the staff workers for UCO. Living with these men who joyously and enthusiastically loved and served the Lord was an incredible blessing and another pivotal point in the path the Lord was leading me along. I deepened my love for prayer and scripture, living mutual charity and sacrifice and grew in a zeal for souls and extending God’s kingdom.

“What? God wants me to leave all this?”
In one sense I had everything that a good Catholic could want: I was part of a great parish, a member of a movement of families and individuals who loved God and lived their faith authentically, I had a close set of wonderful friendships, I was seriously trying to give my whole life to God, and I was enjoying it. Yet somewhere in the depths of my heart there was uneasiness. As good as it all was, and it was very good, I felt God calling me to something deeper. I started serving more at my parish – usher, sacristan, liturgical director, CCD and youth work. But the more I deepened my connection with my Catholic faith, the more I wanted.

“Was God calling me to the priesthood?” I asked myself. “No way,” I responded. I had a number of friends who were studying to be diocesan priests, including my former spiritual director from my university days. But the diocesan priesthood did not appeal to my heart. “What else was there… religious life?” I began to panic since I knew that this would mean severing my ties with everything that up to this point had formed my life. It would mean leaving Ann Arbor and everyone I knew; it meant starting over. It meant leaving all these good, blessed things that God had given me. “No, God would never ask me to leave all these means he had used to bring me into a relationship with him,” I said.

But the uneasiness did not go away. Finally, I had to make a decision. I wanted to remain within this close knit circle of friends that had become almost a family for me, but God kept prodding. During Lent of 1994 I was able to participate in a variation of St Ignatius’ spiritual exercises to help me discern what God was really asking. As the days passed it became ever clearer... and I did not like the picture that was developing. He clearly said I should leave, but he had neglected to tell me where I should go!

“What Now, God?”
I remember informing my friends at Easter that God had made it clear he was calling me elsewhere. The constant refrain was, “What are you going to do?” I had no answer and felt rather foolish. Everyone makes plans. I was no different. I also was not trying to run away from God. “God, can’t you just let me in on the secret a little? Can I have just a hint?” What I realized later was that God was asking for unconditional surrender. Was I willing to leave everything without knowing the answer that God would provide? Was I willing like Abraham to leave “my country” for a “land” that God would show me? “Yes, Lord, I love you; yes, Lord, I trust you…” How many times had I said these trite phrases?

I discovered that every vocation in its nucleus has elements of the Blessed Virgin’s call and response. Her “fiat” was unconditional – was mine? The angel did not reveal all that lay in store as a consequence of that “yes.” That was what our Lord was asking of me. First I had to be willing to leave it all to the uncertainty of trusting where he would lead me. It is as if God wanted to see if I really trusted him and believed that his paths were best. I made my own the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman: “Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom. Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home. Lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene – one step enough for me.”

Finding the Legion
In this state of bewilderment, learning how to trust in God’s plans in a concrete, lived-out reality and not just fluffy, pious sounding words, I stumbled along for a few months until God had purified me sufficiently from my own designs to begin lifting the impenetrable fog that lay ahead of me.

My introduction to the Legion actually came from a rather unintended source – fundraising! One of my friends from the University of Michigan, a Legionary priest namd Fr Matthew Kaderabeck, had discovered his own vocation three years before me and was eagerly pursuing all his friends, now twenty-something professionals, for assistance in keeping the Legionaries in his novitiate fed and clothed (a perennial and ever growing need!). Our former circle of friends were not all that sure what he was up to; we had only heard that Matthew had joined some radical group called the Legionaries of Christ and that he was studying for the priesthood.

What Fr Matthew did not know was that I was thinking of a vocation myself. He sent a few brochures explaining the Legion’s mission, seeking financial help. They were just the medicine I was looking for and I pored over them. Here was a group that was dynamic, disciplined, balanced, authentic, convinced. They were serious about preaching and extending Christ’s Kingdom, about transforming minds and souls, about bringing Christ to reign in men’s hearts. I called immediately, knowing I could not continue trying to figure out what I should do sitting in my room. I had to visit the Legion’s seminary and really meet them. With a great deal of anticipation and not a little trepidation, I made the 14 hour drive to Cheshire for a Test Your Call retreat.

From the normal, friendly brothers who met me when I arrived, to the powerful talks given by the Legionary priests, to the explanations of the Legion’s spirituality and mission within the Church, everything spoke to my heart that “I was home.” I knew that this was what God had created me for. It was only natural that I would give the Legion’s summer candidacy a go. And in this relaxed and unpressured environment, the Lord confirmed my initial experience and I saw that he wanted me to enter the novitiate.

The time since I entered has flown by because life in the Legion is an adventure – to be a priest today is an adventure. There is a dynamism and excitement in our life because the mission is so great, and you always want to prepare yourself more to be able to serve better. Every authentic adventure requires hard work, struggle, sacrifice, heroism, and the daily decision to be faithful, but the adventure of living in the Legion, of collaborating with Christ in building his Kingdom is also filled with joy, peace, deep brotherly friendships, and immense spiritual satisfaction.

As I prepare for ordination, my heart is filled, above all, with gratitude. Why have I been so fortunate? Not due to my own merits – but his eternal love. Christ crossed my path; he called me, faithfully leading me along the twisted paths of life. It has only been by his grace that I found the courage to drop everything and the strength follow him.

The real adventure is just beginning…

Fr Donald Kaufman, LC was born in Mt Clemens, Michigan, the oldest of three children, and grew up in the town of Northville and later, Jackson, Michigan, where his family still resides. After graduating from Jackson’s Northwest High School, Fr Donald entered the University of Michigan with a scholarship from the US Navy. He received a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Engineering and was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy, serving onboard three different nuclear submarines in the North Atlantic and the Pacific during his tour of duty. Father Donald resigned his commission in order to return to civilian life and worked as a consulting engineer for two years while living in Ann Arbor, Michigan as a member of Christ the King Parish and the Sword of the Spirit ecclesial movement. He entered the Legion of Christ in 1995, spending his two year novitiate in Cheshire, Connecticut. Fr Donald received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Legion’s center for higher studies in Thornwood, NY and after apostolic internship assignments working with youth in Detroit, Mexico City, and Atlanta, he received a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Legion’s Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, where he is currently studying for his master’s degree in Theology.

This testimony is part of the book “Ven y sígueme” (Come and Follow me). In January 2008 you can buy it at It contains 48 testimonies in Spanish, 11 in English and 1 in German.


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