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Turn to Jesus (Article)

“You Did Not Choose Me, but I Chose You….”
Fr. Thomas Brendan Montanaro

Fr.  Thomas Brendan Montanaro
Fr. Thomas Brendan Montanaro

Eleven years ago, I was a senior in college, and I had the world in my hands. I was loving life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I was dating an wonderful girl, had great friends, loved my classes, and had grand plans. Our Regnum Christi section was quickly growing, we were founding Theology on Tap at a famous Jazz club in Pittsburgh, and it seemed nothing could be better. I attended daily Mass, made frequent confessions, attended many holy hours, weekly Eucharistic adoration, had spiritual direction, and took thee classes that semester on Christian marriage. Everything was preparing me to be the saintly father and husband I had dreamed to be. Like my dad and grandfather, I was determined to be a great father.

“Future Priest of America…”

Sure, the thought of the priesthood had crossed my mind, but it was hard to avoid it with so much contact with priests in our family. I think our Lord quietly began to call me to him when I used to ask to accompany my mother to Eucharistic Adoration at 2 A.M., when I was about 5 years old. Attending other prayer groups with her led me to frequent activities with the Legion of Mary some years later. Little did I know, Mary always leads to her Son, and soon I would be in another Legion. Of course there was constant contact with our parish priests, Fr Barry Meehan and Msgr Ronald Simeone, who dropped hints when I was a ten-year-old altar server that I would make a good priest. I easily shrugged it off knowing it would be a while before I had to make a decision, but through the years I never forgot the idea. Even through the friendship with Fr Barry and Msgr Simeone—with whom I went skiing and biking from time to time, and who helped me to see that each priest besides being a man of God is also a “normal” fun guy—and with a 5th grade class nick-name of “future priest of America,” I was still set on getting married. I guess the good Catholic girls that surrounded me kept me pretty interested in starting a family.

Soon enough I became a member of ECYD, the Legionaries’ outreach to youth. I was invited by my aunt, Susan Norton, who knew how to attract my cousin Hugh and me with national sports competitions and ski weekends. I was impressed by the Legionaries I met—among others, Br Juan Pablo Ledesma who liked to sign his Christmas cards “the king of soccer.” (Later on, he would be one of my theology professors.) They were talented, personal, kind, and funny, and they always ended up bringing us to Christ. I enjoyed our weekend retreats at the Legion’s seminary in Cheshire, and when I was 15, I became a member of the Regnum Christi Movement—for me, a natural step after being involved in ECYD—which shares the same spirituality and way a life with increased commitment in prayer and apostolate.

“I’ll Give You Two Years Until You Get Married.”

High school came and went, and after so many healthy friendships and sports that saved me from so much trouble—hiking, mountain biking, skiing, tennis, and volleyball—I was set on heading to the Air Force Academy. To prepare myself for the service of others and stay in shape I decided to become a volunteer firefighter in our town and a first responder. I passed through the selection process for the Academy, receiving the nomination from my state senator, and was awaiting the appointment. In the meantime the summer was coming to an end, and I decided I could not miss a year in case the appointment did not come. After visiting Franciscan University of Steubenville, where many high school friends were, I enrolled as a freshman in 1996, together with my older brother Matt. On the drive down Matt told me, “I’ll give you two years until you get married.” Despite the fact that I met so many beautiful and holy girls there, God had other plans, and his prediction did not come true. With such an outstanding experience at FUS, I had to stay.

During my first semester we began a Regnum Christi team on campus, with about 5 guys. College life was great! There were incredible Catholics from all over, and they were all on fire for their faith, while still being fun, balanced young people. Jason Evert—now a chastity speaker and full-time member of the team at Catholic Answers—was my “freshman guide;” Dr. Scott Hahn was my professor, and many others—less known, but not less influential—helped in my own vocation. In fact, it was a great tug at my heart and a trampoline for my own response to God’s call to see so many friends
Fr.  Thomas Brendan Montanaro
Fr. Thomas during a eucharistic celebration with Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, LC at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mentorella in Italy.
who had everything leave it all to follow God’s call to the priesthood. Each year we would joke around to see who “fell into the net” to become a fisher of men. Little did I know, I was on deck. Our commitments as members of Regnum Christi—spiritual, social and apostolic—were an essential part of living life to the full. We had so much fun and helped one another to make sure it was fun that never contradicted our friendship with God.

What Did God Make Me For?

After a weekend spiritual exercises retreat during my first year of college, I heard the clear call to be more generous with Christ and give back what I had received. I decided that after graduating I would give a year of my life to the Church. I visited Rome and had a chance to see Blessed Pope John Paul II in the spring of 1998; it was an experience that only years later I would realize was another piece in the puzzle of God’s call to follow him. In the meantime, spending a semester studying abroad in Austria left me astounded with the beauty of Europe and God’s greatness, not to mention the great slopes of the Alps, Italian wine, French cheese, German beer, and the Scottish highlands. There in Austria, through the invitation of our choir director, I consecrated myself to Mary, another key to safeguarding my vocation.

Finally we take up where this story began. One snowy night, I was out having a cappuccino with the girl I was dating, also a member of Regnum Christi, and we decided that before taking another step in our relationship, each one of us had to discern what God had made us for. That generosity I heard God calling me to during my freshman year was confirmed: I would offer a year to God and see what he wanted. After graduating from Steubenville with a degree in humanities and Catholic culture, I felt that I was leaving everything behind: so many friends, our now three mature Regnum Christi young men’s teams, professional possibilities, and after making a road trip around the states with my little brother Paul. I began a year of volunteer service with Compass, a national network of Catholic university students set on re-evangelizing college life.

A Compass and Around the World to Find My Way Home

Volunteering with Compass was an experience I will never forget. Besides living in a Legionary community and learning from other exemplary priests as Fr John Bartunek and Fr José Antonio Alonso, I was asked to be the Compass northeast regional manager and was able to travel around the states to universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Fordham, and the Naval Academy, among others, forming and guiding the students to live their faith to the full, to evangelize, to organize summits and conferences: above all, to be apostles. Later I was appointed director of the Prince of Liechtenstein Catholic Leaders’ Fellowship, a month long course in France, Switzerland, and Rome for university students.

As the year went in, I sensed that one year was not enough: God was asking more, but what? At the same time, I continued to make my plans, and I landed a job in Lake Tahoe, California, a perfect place to begin my professional career and get back into a passion of mine: skiing. The seed that God planted was still there, however, and at the end of a novena to St. Therese of Lisieux to ask if God was calling me to be a priest, I got my answer in her characteristic way: some roses in full bloom. I still remember putting my head in my hands as I knelt there in front of the statue of Mary in that little house-chapel in New Orleans, those red roses in front of her, thinking to myself, “This can’t be the last day of the novena,” and then, “Oh no!” Running away from God was over, and I began to embrace his plan for my life.

One More Hurdle

This was the internal hurdle, but another still remained: paying off my college debt. I measured my options, and it seemed I could not become a Legionary immediately. After consulting with my spiritual director, I was convinced to give it a try, knowing that if I gave my best and if God wanted it, he would show me the way both to pay off my debts and to enter the novitiate that fall. It seemed impossible to me.

I entered the summer candidacy on the Fourth of July (now self-dubbed “Dependence Day”) and placed my debt in Mary’s hands. The summer went by very quickly, and I felt Christ calling me further. Still, even after talking ample time during the candidacy to make calls, write letters, and visit benefactors, I still fell short of covering my debt. With one day left before the beginning of our spiritual exercises, after dinner, I got a call and a pledge of $10,000, enough to cover the remainder of the debt, together with the monthly pledges of my parents, grandparents and many friends. God spoke and stretched forth his arms: I was to enter the novitiate that fall and become a Legionary.

I Have Just Become the Father I Had Always Dreamed of Being

Christ continues to tell me, “You did not chose me, but I chose you…” (Jn 15:16). Each day now, my eyes are opened wider, and I see even more clearly the beauty of this mysterious call of God to my heart to be a Legionary priest. I thought my plans were scratched, but now I see that God really knows best. I have just become the father I had always dreamed of being: now it will be a spiritual paternity. My bride is the Church, my family the whole world. I am called to love the Church with true love, giving my body and life, as Christ gave his life. Thank you for supporting me and so many of my brothers, who with God’s grace will be His instruments to bring many souls to heaven. We could not have answered this call and persevered in it without your prayers and generosity. Keep praying, and do not hesitate to give God everything!


FR THOMAS BRENDAN MONTANARO was born on October 3, 1978, in Syracuse, New York. He entered the novitiate in 2001 in Cheshire, Connecticut, after obtaining his Bachelors of Arts in Humanities and Catholic Culture from Franciscan University of Steubenville and serving a volunteer with Compass for a year. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College, studying in Rome and Thornwood, New York. He was a member of the formation team at the Legionary seminaries in New York and Monterrey, Mexico. He obtained bachelor’s degree in theology in 2011 while working in the General Directorate.

Los testimonios vocacionales de los legionarios de Cristo que recibieron la ordenación sacerdotal en el año 2011 han sido publicados en el libro "Dios lo da todo".



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