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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Ever Since I was Small God Drew Me to Him
Father Eamonn Shelly tells us, step by step, how he discovered his vocation to the priesthood in the Legion of Christ.

P. Eamonn Shelly
Father Eamonn Shelly, LC, with his family on the day of his ordination in Rome.
My name is Eamonn Shelly and I am from Ireland. I consider my life to be a true gift of God because my birth was one continuous complication and I almost didn´t make it. I was baptized in the hospital two days after I was born, thanks to the local chaplain who knew that my soul was in need.

My dad, "Paddy", was a milkman by trade, a noble and just person, a lover of prayer and family life. My mom was very faithful to her mission of homemaker and was completely dedicated to the education of her children. She is a magnificent woman. We are a family of six children, four boys and two girls. I am the fourth. I have wonderful memories of my childhood growing up in a very Catholic environment of rural Ireland.

The first time I thought of a vocation to the priesthood was when I was six years old. I was playing with a friend one day and we were chatting about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember telling him that I wanted to be a priest. Even though I was a little guy I perceived God´s calling.

The first person to have a considerable impact on my life was my first-grade teacher. She was a lovely lady who truly loved what she did and loved God and others with her whole heart. She was kind yet firm and just at the same time. One fond memory that I have of her was around the time when she retired. She gave me the ruler that was used to impose "discipline" from time to time in the classroom. It was made of wood and on one occasion she broke it over my hand after I misbehaved. We have come upon each other many times since then and it always helps me to remember those first beautiful years of school.

I must confess that as I got older I was no fan of school, so I asked my parents´ permission to leave school and begin working full-time. They said yes and shortly after I got a carpentry job near my house. There I learned what it was like to support myself. After two years in the working world I decided to go back to school to finish my studies. Thanks be to God, this time it went very well.

The person who helped me the most in my vocational discernment was Father Pat Fogarty, a diocesan priest who is currently working in the missions of Peru. He entered the seminary at a very young age. When he came back to our parish to celebrate his first Mass I was fifteen years old and I enthusiastically attended. The church was packed so I had to stand in the back. His homily really touched my heart and upon seeing just how happy he was giving his life to Christ, the desire to live something similar surged up within my heart.

I did not tell anyone about this vocational interest of mine yet many people perceived a possible calling for me anyway, especially my friends. One night I went to a restaurant with a few of my friends. I was wearing a black shirt and when one of my friends saw me he immediately said that I would make a great priest. I laughed as if not paying any attention to him but the call just kept getting more intense.

My mom was the first person to whom I opened up with regard to my vocational interest. I always trusted her 100% and I knew that she could help me to discern. I was finishing my last three months of high school. The guidance counselor at school would usually speak with each one of the students every now and again. He was a great man, very wise and loyal. In one of our conversations I told him that I was thinking of becoming a priest. He didn´t say many words but every one of them was important: "Pray often so that our Lord may enlighten you." A week later, on a Friday afternoon, I was at home and my Mom told me to pick up the phone because the guidance counselor was on the phone. I picked up and he told me: "Tomorrow there is a vocational get-together at the diocesan seminary, would you like to go?" I said, "Yes." I had a good time with the other fifteen young men there who were also thinking of the priesthood, but something inside me said that this just wasn´t what God had in store for me.

The school year went on. It was April of 1991 and final exams were right around the corner. One day, during religion class, the nun who was our teacher introduced a priest who had come to talk to us about the missions. His name was Father Hugh Ryan, LC. He showed us how fascinating the life of a priest could be and invited us to visit the Novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Dublin. I remember telling one of my friends, once Father Hugh had left, that that priest had something different about him.

Shortly thereafter Father Hugh sent me some literature on the Legionaries. I called him and he invited me to visit the Novitiate. By then it was July. I loved my visit and everything I saw, especially the enthusiasm and charity of the young seminarians. I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life. After a two-month candidacy program, a perfect time to think before God about the plans that he had created me for, I entered the Novitiate on September 15th.

Father Eamonn Shelly was born on April 28, 1971 in Roscrea, in Tipperary County (Ireland). He entered the Novitiate of the Legion of Christ on September 15, 1991 upon finishing high school. He studies one year of Classical Humanities in Salamanca and Philosophy and Theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. During his period of formation he dedicated two years to apostolic work in the Irish Institute of Mexico City and one year in France.

(May 5, 2003)


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