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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Give God the First Chance
Father Kristian Jaloway, LC (Anchorage, Alaska)

P. Kristian Ryan Jaloway , L.C.
Fr. Kristian Ryan Jaloway , LC

Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, gives a boy lots of possibilities to put his life at risk. That’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it? My parents definitely thought it was a bit too interesting at times, but I was just trying to have some honest fun, not give them any gray hairs.

My family was the traveling kind. Dad was in ROTC and then joined the army. Mom met him at college and they got married before she could finish. The first baby, Gwendolyn, came along when he was still in training; the second girl, Shandra, was born when they were in Germany; and I was born November 28th, 1975, when he had finished his service and was working in Dallas, Texas. My little brother, Brandon, was also born there, but at home, and my youngest sister, Amber, was a home birth too, but in Corpus Christi, Texas.

When a job offer came along from an oil company in Alaska, my dad did what many young couples do. He decided to go make some good money and live for a couple of years an exotic place he had always dreamed of visiting. My mom knew that marriage was a sacrament that doesn’t permit second thoughts, and so she started packing up the house. What an adventure! For a seven-year-old, moving to Alaska sounded like a great idea. My older sisters were on Mom’s side, as usual, but the boys won out and we were Yukon ho!

We got off the plane, picked up the bags, and headed out to the rental car. It was only early October but a couple feet of snow already covered the landscape. I took a head-long dive into the first snow bank and more or less continued the same way for the next ten years of my life. The Catholic school was full already so I went to the O’Malley Elementary School for first grade. In second grade I was able to join my sisters at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s, where I studied up to seventh grade, achieving excellent results. It was easy for me to associate with the other children, and I was friends with everybody.

Growing Pains

In fact, the only discipline problems I ever had were at home. And they were daily. In fact, it got to a point that my mother decided I needed some counseling. There I was, sitting down in front of the counselor, with my arms crossed, tapping my fingers on my elbow as if to say, “Can we hurry up and get over with this?” Maybe the counseling helped, maybe it didn’t, but the truth is that I was the last one in the family that appeared to have a priestly vocation. When I wasn’t picking on my older sister Shandra, I was fighting with my little brother. I was often warned that children like me ended up in McLaughlin, the local juvenile jail. Due to my mother’s reading on how to educate unruly boys, my punishments gradually became more
P. Kristian Ryan Jaloway , L.C.
"God hit me right between the eyes when it came to the moment of the cleansing of the vessels after Holy Communion".
psychological: writing sentences, and later writing essays on why I should respect my sister, not hit my brother and so on.

In seventh grade I changed schools to Hanshew Junior High, the local public school. I already knew a lot of kids who had transferred from St. Elizabeth’s, and thanks to some of these friends I was elected as vice-president of the National Junior Honor Society my second year there. I tended to be quiet, but people listened when I had something to say.

Sports and Work

Skiing had been a big part of my life ever since the first winter in Anchorage. Dad had bought all of us cross-country skis within a month of our arrival, and I learned how to downhill ski when I was in 6th grade. So as soon as the snow started falling, I signed up for the cross-country team and won the gold medal for the city in 7th grade. In 8th grade I took the silver. My free time was mostly dedicated to sports: skiing in the winter and mountain-biking all year around. In the summer months, hiking and camping, mostly with my Dad and younger brother, were the norm. During our first backpacking trip when I was in 4th grade, we almost got lost in an early fall blizzard. Later we did longer trips, up to five days on the Resurrection Pass trail. One fall, I signed up for soccer and the following year for baseball.

Somehow I still had enough energy left over to fight with my siblings, so my Mother asked my grandfather for advice and he suggested that she send me to work. Besides helping around the house with my dad’s endless projects, my first real job was washing dishes at Holy Spirit Retreat House, just 15 minutes away by bike, my principal means of transportation. I started when I was 13, but the pay was pretty good, and even though I had to save some for college, I always had spending money in my pocket. Later I added on another part-time job at Bell’s Nursery, where my older sister Shandra already worked. That was mostly seasonal, but the owner, Mike, asked me to continue at all the major periods of the year, spring and summer and of course Christmas. Mowing grass, babysitting for the neighbors, and other odd jobs helped to up my income.

And God?

So, you might be asking, where did the vocation come in? The truth is that I never thought of the possibility of being a priest until I was almost 17. Before that, we had found an excellent priest in Father Alfred Giebel, originally from New York, and had transferred to his parish. He invited me and my brother to be altar servers, came over to the house for dinner occasionally, helped teach me how to drive standard, employed us at the parish thrift store when we had free weekends and so on. What a priest! Father Giebel was a great example for us all. He was a ham radio operator, flew small planes, rode a motorcycle, had two dogs and a monkey, and was faithful to the Pope. The idea of being a priest didn’t seem so strange any more.

My parents are both excellent Catholics and Sunday Mass wasn’t an obligation but a privilege, even on camping trips – another good reason to be a priest, since the priest doesn’t have to look for a Mass! Holy Week was lived at the parish. Monthly confession helped enormously. As children, we prayed the Rosary in family. One summer when I was 9 or 10, I rode my bike to the retreat house for daily Mass almost every day. Perhaps the cookies and Nesquik the old ladies always handed out afterwards were part of the motivation, but looking back, I’m sure that God was preparing my soul for a special mission in life. My mother inculcated in us the idea that God created each one for a vocation: married, single, or a priest or nun. She dressed my sisters modestly, let us see only clean movies, and burned all the immodest catalogs that arrived in the mail. Priests, brothers, and nuns were regular company at the dinner table. But I still didn’t think of the priesthood as a real possibility for me.


It was during these years that homeschooling started to become popular in my family. Brandon was the first to begin. My little sister started when she was old enough to begin school, and, surprisingly, my older sister Shandra finished her last two years of high school at home too. My two best friends at Hanshew were twins, Russ and Randy Lanahan. They lived just down the street and partway through eighth grade, their parents came to school, pulled them out, and started home schooling them. So at the end of that year they convinced me that if I homeschooled too, then we could get together more often, do our homework together, and so on. It seemed easier to me than getting up early and walking to the bus stop every morning, no matter what the temperature, so I went and asked Mom if I could start too.

The answer was a very definite no! The reason was clear: I was already home too much as it was, always fighting with my siblings and getting into trouble. Eventually I prevailed, but only after promising to start behaving myself. I did all four years using the Seton Home Study program, and the academic results were very positive, judging from my SAT results. The spiritual results were also positive, since we all went to Mass with Mom at least 3 or 4 times a week, participated more in youth group activities, and so on.

Then, in 1991, unbeknownst to me, John Paul II ordained 60 Legionaries in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One of these was Father Kermit Syren, whose family is from Anchorage. Our mothers were very good friends from daily Mass, his sisters babysat us when we were little, and we got invited to his first Mass. The solemnity and reverence surprised me, but God hit me right between the eyes when it came to the moment of the cleansing of the vessels after Holy Communion. Father Kermit demonstrated such delicacy that I realized immediately that he really believed in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not that other priests didn’t believe, but somehow it was special to see this newly ordained priest. I greeted him after Mass and didn’t think twice about giving him my name and address.

At this point in my life the priesthood was a possibility for me, but only in theory. I wanted to marry a good Catholic girl and enjoy my life. Finding girls wasn’t difficult. The only problem was this annoying rule that my parents established for all of us: no dating until you’re 16. That day I got my driver’s license and was then able to officially “date”, although the truth is that there were already “friends” beforehand.

More Changes

Then something happened that I had never expected. When I was 17 my parents started talking about leaving Alaska. What? We had grown up there, all our friends were there, I had several jobs that brought in good money, and we had a great parish and pastor. Things seemed to be going great. Why move? The reasons were varied. They had never intended to live there forever, the oil business is always changing, and Dad’s company was offering a very good severance package, so he took it. We ended up back in Texas, but in Austin this time. Shortly after arriving, we attended a Human Life International conference in Houston. My Mom met two Legionaries of Christ and I met several good looking Catholic girls that I thought Mom and Dad would approve of.

Mom moved first, and within a week the Legionaries were over for dinner. After dinner they put on a video about the Legion and then we had a little chat in private. I must have seemed pretty open to the priesthood, because afterwards Father asked me if I had ever thought about it. I said bluntly, “It’s the last of the three options”. He seemed surprised and asked what that meant. Then it was my turn to be surprised. I thought that all priests knew that there were three vocations in life but I explained what it meant and that my prayer was to find a beautiful Catholic girl to marry, with the adjectives in that order. I was even more surprised by his next line, because then he invited me to come visit the seminary. Oh well, I guess he didn’t get it.

New Priorities

The seed was planted. The rest of that year this idea just wouldn’t go away. I realized that the important thing was to do what God wanted, not what I wanted. I wrote many letters to the Legionaries in Cheshire, called I don’t know how many times, and eventually stopped getting answers. I was too cheap to pay $300 for a plane ticket to try it out, but every time the Legionaries came through Austin we would get together for a Coke and a little spiritual conversation. They told me that if I didn’t hear what God was calling me to do that I had to listen more, which translates into prayer. Mom always did a holy hour once a week, so one day I told her that I wanted to tag along. She just about fainted but took me anyway. There, week after week, I asked God to tell me what his will was. I read all the back issues of the Legionaries newsletter piled up in the basement. I asked several priests their opinion. Several urged me to go to college first, but nobody had anything concrete against joining the Legion.

That year I worked at a dentist’s office and took some odd jobs painting and doing garden work for some people. I built a bridge in our backyard, went to World Youth Day in Denver with a diocesan group and loved it. Through the Legionaries, a lawyer from Monterrey, Mexico, who was getting his doctorate at the University of Texas got in touch with me. He and his wife were members of Regnum Christi and were looking for somebody to help them start a boys club. So I started making phone calls to my mom’s friends, rounded up all their sons, and started the club. We did some canoe trips, picnics, games, and at the end of the year went to a retreat in Buda, Texas with boys from all over the state. I loved the spirit of adventure, enthusiasm, prayer, and sacraments of the Legionaries.

The Ultimatum

The end of my senior year came closer and I realized that I had to make a decision: either go to college or go to the seminary. But God wasn’t speaking. So, in my youthful innocence, I decided to give God his last chance.

One day I was there in the Blessed Sacrament chapel with my Mom and, looking right at Jesus in the consecrated host, I asked him, “Do you want me to be a priest or not?” There were no fireworks nor loud speakers, but I was positive that he told me in that moment, “Yes”. I realized that I couldn’t say no to God, but all I would have to give up went through my mind: the mountain bike, my girlfriend, my family, and so on. God will help me, if he wants me for himself, I thought. Still, even after this clear answer, I wasn’t convinced the best time was that summer. At the same time, though, I had to give God the first chance now, and not the last. So I decided to try out the candidacy program and then go to college for a couple of years.

Or at least that is what I told everybody. In my heart, I was already convinced that God wanted me to stay.

God Wins

Still too cheap to pay for a plane ticket, or even for Amtrack, I took a Greyhound all the way to Connecticut. When the bus was pulling out of the station, I waved goodbye to my family and a tear rolled down my cheek, but then I looked towards the horizon and the future and said a little prayer. It was a 48-hour trip, and I arrived to the novitiate for the candidacy program on June 5th, 1994. After two weeks of prayer, hikes, sports, and camaraderie, I felt at home. These young people were good at everything. Of course there were new things to get used to, like taking a shower in the morning instead of the evening, but I figured a priest had to make some sacrifices in life. I loved every minute of it and became ever more convinced of the importance of the priesthood, the need to save souls, and my personal calling. My parents came to visit at the end of the summer and we went camping in Maine for four days, then they dropped me off at the novitiate. On the vigil of our Lady of Sorrows (September 15th), I received the black cassock of the Legionary uniform.

Fourteen years of formation and apostolate have convinced me that God calls and does not go back on his decisions. He is the true protagonist of every vocation, but he works in a million ways in the everyday situations of our lives. The important thing is to take advantage of the graces he sends us and give him the first chance in everything we do so as to become a little holier every day.

Father Kristian Jaloway was born in Richardon, Texas on November 28, 1975. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, where he studied at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Hanshew Junior High, and Seton Home Study School. He entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut in 1994 at the age of 19. After two years of novitiate and a year of humanities, he served as assistant to the instructor of novices in the same house for two years. From 1999 to 2001 he was prefect of the elementary school at a boys’ school in Caracas, Venezuela. He has a master’s degree in philosophy and a bachelor’s in theology from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. He is currently vice-rector at the Legionary novitiate and minor seminary in Novara, Italy.

This vocation story was originally published in the book "Vivir para Cristo"



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