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Turn to Jesus (Article)

“Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You”
Fr. Lawrence Carles McClure

Fr.  Lawrence Carles McClure
Fr. Lawrence Carles McClure

An Olympic swimmer or an engineer… or a priest? Whoa! Where did that come from?” At least that’s what I thought to myself the first time the priesthood entered my mind as a junior in high school. There certainly was no tradition of following a religious vocation in my family. In fact, three of my four grandparents were born Protestant. When my grandfather was a member of the U.S. Navy, he met a very fervent Catholic priest, and after coming back home, the whole family entered the Church. When my parents got married, however, living their faith was not their first priority, and so the faith did not have a very notable influence during my childhood.

When I was eleven years old, my mother became very close friends with a group of people involved in the Charismatic movement, and through those encounters she came back to her faith. We began to go to Mass every Sunday and to pray together on a regular basis. She started to give me books about the lives of saints. It is very providential that I was old enough to appreciate this new found faith and still young enough not to rebel.

Growing up we moved around a lot because of my father’s job in the oil business. I was born in New Orleans, and then we moved to California at the beginning of second grade. (What I remember most about that year was making the rounds of Disney Land, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Magic Mountain.) At the beginning of third grade we moved back to Louisiana to a small town called Labadieville and a year later we moved to Thibodaux, the big town next door. Next we moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, then to Houston, Texas, and finally to Houma, Louisiana. In short, we covered seven cities in eighteen years. I think this was God’s way of preparing me for the missionary lifestyle of the Legion of Christ.

My Plans

In elementary school I started to get involved with basketball, soccer, and baseball. I really enjoyed playing sports. In high school I joined the swim team and tennis team. I never considered myself a great tennis player, but I guess I must have been decent, because both years that I played for St Thomas More in Lafayette, Louisiana, we won the state competition. What I really enjoyed, however, was swimming. When I was around nine years old I had been on a swim team for one summer, but since then I had never swum competitively. I cannot remember exactly why I decided to join, but I remember the first day in the pool the coach asked all of the new guys to jump in and see if we could make it to the other end of the pool and back. After the first length I stopped a while to catch my breath and after a lot of huffing, and puffing I eventually made it back. That was just the beginning. Later, in the state swim meet, I was chosen to swim the third leg for our relay team. In the lane next to me was a kid against whom I had swum in our first meet of the season, who had beat me by quite a lot. This time, when I dove in, he had about a two or three second head start. I gave it my all and ended up passing him, giving our last member a two or three-second advantage. In that moment I was “hooked.” I began swimming in the summer as well, and eventually, during my junior year of high school. I began swimming year round, which is exactly what it sounds like: January 1 through December 31.

I was getting better and better at swimming. However in my junior year I also began to look at colleges. I was a good student, maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average throughout high school, with math and science as my strong points. I was very interested in pursuing some sort of engineering degree. At one point I dreamed of going to MIT, but for some reason I never applied. Instead, I applied to a handful of other colleges and was accepted by all. In the end, I had decided to accept the partial scholarship that GMI (General Motors Institute) offered me. Besides the scholarship, the overall program attracted me because it was a 100% co-op school. You went to classes for three
Fr.  Lawrence Carles McClure
Fr. Lawrence greets Benedict XVI after the Vigil Easter Mass in 2008
months, worked for three months, had classes for three months, worked for three months, and so on. It takes five years to finish your degree, but all the while you are getting paid by the company you are working for, and upon graduation, a very high percentage of the students end up with at least one job offer from the different companies have worked for.

My Plans vs. God’s Plans

However, while I was making my plans for life, God was making his plans for my life. As I already mentioned, I first thought about the priesthood when I was a junior in high school. Sometime during that year I told my parents. My mom was very excited. She encouraged me to pray about it and ask me if I wanted any help figuring things out, but very wisely, she never pressured me. She knew that I liked Fr Duane Stenzel, O.F.M., director of the local Lumen Christi retreat center. One day as we were leaving daily Mass, she knew it was the right moment to act. As we approached Fr Duane to say good bye she asked me in a voice just low enough to be a whisper but just loud enough for Fr Duane to hear if I would like to ask him for spiritual direction. At that moment, standing right in front of father, I could have very easily said no, but instead I asked him, “Could we talk sometime, Father?”

During the first or second time that I went to speak with him, I told him that I was thinking about the priesthood and asked him for some advice. I do not remember very well what he told me, but I do remember that he photocopied a magazine article about the Legionaries of Christ and suggested that I look them up. Looking back on it, I have always asked myself why that was the only information he gave me: nothing about the diocese, nothing about any other order. He was a very holy man, and I guess he must have had a hunch that the Legionaries were a good fit for me. I received the brochure probably around late October or early November, but although the article really impressed me, I did not write a letter asking for more information until December 31.

God Calls (Literally)

A few weeks later, as we got in the car to head back home after visiting some friends, out of the blue my mom asked me if I had decided yet what I was going to do in the fall. I said “No,” and so, since we had a couple of hours on the road ahead of us, she proposed that that we pray the Rosary to ask God to give us some signs and shed some light on the matter. As we arrived home, the first thing we did was pull straight up to the mail box, and being in the passenger seat I was able to get the mail without even getting out of the car. I started flipping through the mail, and one of the first pieces was a card asking for $19 milk money for the Legionaries of Christ seminarians in Cheshire, Connecticut. About half-way through the pile I found another card asking for $19 milk money, and then another milk money request at the end of the pile. I began to think that the Legionaries in Cheshire not only ate a lot of cereal, but also ate a lot of cookies with milk!

The three letters, however, were not enough to convince me. About a week later I received a response to my inquiry letter with information about the Legion and a brochure with dates for discernment retreats in the seminary. I was very interested and thought that a retreat would be a good idea, but I did not think that there was any way my mother would let me go. When my mom got home a little later, she read my mail, and much to my surprise asked me if I wanted to go. So we decided that I would go to visit at Easter time, even though I still was not sure what God wanted me to do. So at the beginning of our family Rosary that night, my little sisters, Erin and Lindsey, gave their normal five minute litany of intentions for grandma, for the dog, the world, and everything in between. My only intention that night was: “Lord, please hit me on the head with a brick so that I’ll know what you want me to do.” Sometime after the first decade of the Rosary, the phone rang. Usually we did not answer the phone during the Rosary, but that night I did for some reason. The voice on the other side said, “Hello, is Lawrence there?” I said, “This is he.” Response: “Hi, this is Br. Jason calling from the Legionaries of Christ.” (It was Br. Jason Mitchell, who is being ordained with me this year).

I have to say that I did not expect God to act that fast or that clearly. Later that night I received another phone call from another congregation I had written to. The other one was not bad, but I felt much more drawn to the Legion of Christ and was pretty convinced that God was calling me to it—although I certainly wanted to visit first before signing up. So on Holy Wednesday my family dropped me off at the airport, and I headed off to the seminary, I arrived after everyone had finished his night prayers, so most were heading off to bed with a few of the brothers preparing breakfast for the next day. I asked one of them if they could help me call home as my mom wanted to make sure that I had arrived safe and sound. He brought me to the phone booth, got everything all set up for me, and I called home. As I finished, I was looking for the switch to turn off the lights, but I only saw a funny little button which looked nothing like a light switch. However, I figured that had to be the light switch, because it was the only thing there. As I pressed, it instead of the light turning off, I rang that bell the sounds throughout the entire house. I probably woke everyone up! I enjoyed the retreat very much and was fairly convinced that this was what God wanted me to do, but I was having a hard time accepting that I would have to show up in early June for the summer discernment program, or candidacy. I had been looking forward to spending my last summer at home, although I had no specific plans. One of the priests led us in a meditation about Jesus washing the apostle’s feet during the Last Supper. As I was reading the passage again on my own, my eye fixed on the Lord’s encounter with Peter. Peter asks, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” and Jesus responds, “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.” It was as if Jesus was speaking to me, telling me that I did not have to understand fully why I needed to show up in June, but if I just gave it a shot, then in due time all would be clear.

New Family

I think the official arrival date was around June 4. Despite my insight there in Cheshire, my family decided that we would take a few days of vacation. We celebrated my mom’s birthday on June 11, and then on June 12, 1997, I arrived to begin the candidacy in Cheshire. I basically came with the attitude that this was where God was calling me to be, so that unless they had kicked me out, I was there to stay. Since I was not struggling that summer with the whole “should I, shouldn’t I” dilemma (I had already done that in the previous two years, and most especially since January of that year), I had a blast that summer. I enjoyed playing sports twice a day, going to a local park for the whole day twice a week, and having a lot of time to get to know the other guys that were discerning their path. I also enjoyed our daily Mass, morning meditation, adoration, Rosary, and all of the spiritual graces that God was giving us during that special time. Those weeks flew by, and after a few days visiting home at the end of August, I came back all ready to begin our eight day silent retreat before beginning the novitiate. I am following God´s call with joy, but ordination is not the end, It is just the beginning of the adventure!


FR LAWRENCE CARLES MCCLURE was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 20, 1979. After graduating from high school he entered the Legionaries of Christ Novitiate in Cheshire, Connecticut, on September 15, 1997. He has obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology, as well as a licentiate in philosophy at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. During his formation he served four years in the Ohio valley in youth ministry, and he currently serves in Monterrey, Mexico, doing youth min



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