|P. John Ko, L.C.|
When my mother was a teenager, she attended a
high school run by the Sisters of St. Paul of
Chartres, the first community of women religious in Korea.
She became very fond of the life of the
religious sisters and fostered in her heart a desire to
consecrate her life to God. However, God had other
plans for her. She developed an acute asthma, which
became so severe that she could not enter religious
life. This illness was the cross she was to bear
her whole life, but also the means God used
to show her his plans. Due to this experience, my
mother prayed to God that there be a priest
in the family; if possible, a religious priest.
My mother and father were a happy couple.
They got along excellently and had no difficulties that
they could not overcome together. However, when I was three
years old, my father passed away. He had suffered
a heart attack at home, while my mother and
I were out shopping. I do not recall much, except
seeing him prostrate and unconscious on the floor as
we entered our home. I grew up knowing that my
father was in heaven with God.
Regarding my own calling to become a priest, I
do not recall anything in particular during my childhood.
I always wanted to be a priest, as well as
a taxi driver and a scientist, and many other
things. I had always received good impressions from my
parish priests and knew well a priest that was a
longtime friend of the family. My mother wished that
God would call me to be a priest, but she
was open to other paths that I could have
After my father’s
passing away, our family moved to Taejon, since my mother
wanted me to grow up in the simple atmosphere
of the countryside, and because of her own health.
When I was in fifth grade, we received an invitation
to immigrate from my maternal grandmother in the United
States. Given my mother’s rather poor health, we decided
to move to the States in search of a possible
We arrived to California in August,
1989, as I was halfway through sixth grade. Not
much later, my mother met the aunt of a Legionary
seminarian at a retreat. This led me to pay
a visit to the Legionaries’ high-school seminary in New
Hampshire (a six-hour flight), shortly after Christmas of 1990.
Like little Samuel, who received God’s calling as
a youth in the temple, I received a special
grace there. One evening during my visit, I ventured into
the chapel. Everything was dark; there was no one;
only the red sanctuary lamp spoke of Jesus’ presence.
There were no visions or audible words, only a
feeling of great interior peace. It is too hard to
express it in words, but I knew then that
it was a special grace. The following summer, I entered
the high-school seminary and felt very much at home.
I did not know there was a difference between
religious priests and diocesan priests, but God pointed the
way through my mother.
Those years in
the high-school seminary went by quickly, and I entered
the Legionary novitiate in 1995. There I was able
to spend many hours in front of the Blessed
Sacrament, praying and reading the Gospels. I made my first
profession in 1997. My mother flew all the way
from Los Angeles and we spent memorable moments together,
thanking God for this special grace. However, one month after
the first profession, God had another plan for my
family. My mother suffered a severe asthma attack while
away from home and entered into an irreversible coma.
I flew out to California and accompanied my unconscious mother
in her last moments.
occasion, I called an elderly nun in Korea, who
was my mother’s spiritual mother, to let her know
of my mother’s passing away.
surprise, she told me, “John, do you know that
your mother called me when she got back from
your profession? She was so happy and grateful to God.
She told me that she wouldn’t mind now even
if God took away her life. It seems that God
took her seriously.” Those words were a consolation to
me, as if to say that my mother had
completed the task God had entrusted her and now was
resting in God. Her prayers, sacrifices, and example had
always been a part of my vocational journey, and
now she had done her part. Here
I am, Lord
during the rehearsal for the diaconate ordination, we were kneeling
to lie down on the marble floor of the
sanctuary. A stunning awareness of what I was doing
suddenly dawned on me. I was laying down my whole
life before God so that he could do with
me what he pleases, as he pleases, and when he
pleases. In the 13 years that passed after my
mother’s passing away, I had studied philosophy and theology
in Rome, learning new languages and customs. I had returned
to the United States for four years of internship,
as a member of the seminary formation team. Now
I was on the threshold of the priesthood. God did
not have to go out of his way to
do marvels or signs: he just had to be there
when I needed him, so that I could find
and embrace him in the common trials of life,
which perhaps for me came earlier. God spoke and continues
to speak through the ordinary things of every day,
very gently and humbly, yet very lovingly.
Not all moments have been easy, but all moments
have done their share to prepare me for this
immeasurable gift of priesthood. God used my mother and her
illness to show me his plans for my life.
As I look back on my life of 32 years,
I realize what a great mother and father God
gave me, even if for a very short time. I
can never thank enough Our Lord for this double
gift. Although my mother and father could not be
present for my ordination, because God had other plans for
them and for me, I am sure they smiled
down from heaven and joined me in my prayer of
thanksgiving to God, who does wonders with our poor
FR JOHN SEUNGBUM KO was born in Seoul, South Korea,
on February 9, 1978. He entered the Legionaries’ high-school
seminary in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, in 1991, where
he finished his high school. After his novitiate and training
in liberal arts in Cheshire, Connecticut, he completed his
studies in philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Regina
Apostolorum College in Rome. For the last seven years,
he has been a member of the formation team of
the Legionary seminaries in Cheshire and Rome.
The vocation stories of the
Legionaries of Christ who were ordained in 2010 have been
published in the book "From the Heart of Christ."