Catholic priest in Austin turned to faith halfway through life
Twenty years ago, I thought I knew where I was going. I was happily living a year of “full circle” moments that seemed to confirm my life choices. I had started taking an interest in science in second year when Voyagers I and II visited the planet Saturn, and now, at age 27, I was building a telescope for the organization that ran the Voyager missions. I had recently returned to my hometown, making new friends and reconnecting with long-standing acquaintances. I had just paid off the last of my university loans.
And then, one Saturday morning in May 2001, I had a lightning revelation. God placed – what to call it? thought? the feeling? instinct ? – something in me to study the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.
At that point, I was shocked, excited, and scared. Was I crazy, or was it really a divine call that would change the direction of my life?
None of us discern our spiritual journeys on our own. As I shared the revelation with my family and friends over the next few days and weeks, they confirmed me while asking questions that clarified my calling. Over the months and years to come, I continued to discern with students and ministers of religious life.
It took 10 years, but I finally dedicated my life to a religious community of Catholic priests called the Paulist Fathers. We are the first order of priests founded in the United States. Our founder, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, was a young spiritual seeker who eventually joined the Catholic Church and himself became a priest in 1851.
Hecker, the uneducated, bespectacled mystic who lived in a transcendentalist commune in the early 1840s, has most profoundly influenced my understanding of how I am called to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We Paulists take pride in making the gospel relevant, which is why Bishop Gallagher asked us to serve the students of the University of Texas in 1908. We reach out to those who feel hurt and estranged. Church, which is part of the reason why St. Austin’s Catholic Parish is home to people of various ages, economic status, political leanings, ethnic / racial heritages, and postal codes.
We value ecumenism, which prompted St. Austin to partner with other West Campus Christian churches to care for our needy sisters and brothers. We engage in interfaith dialogue, leading to partnerships with the Hillel Center and the Nueces Mosque.
My spiritual journey continues to connect me with a growing group of people. I do not discern only with my family and friends, not just with Catholic professionals, not just with the parishioners of St. Austin, not just with the people of the neighborhood who belong to other religious traditions, not just with the Paulists. and the saints who ‘came before me. Now I discern with the unborn generations.
This month the community of St. Austin is ushering in an exciting new development on our property. We are partnering with a developer who will build apartments with affordable housing, and the rental payments will allow us to expand our ministry and school facilities. We leave unfinished ground for future generations to provide ministries that have not yet been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.
Some people may see the destination of their life as reaching a certain position, entering into a certain relationship, or living in a certain setting. I do not agree. Our destination is paradise. We cannot see past the first hill on the journey, so we must continually check our directions with the compass inside (the Holy Spirit) and with ALL people throughout our journey to determine where the road then leads.
Me? I try to relax and enjoy the ride!
Reverend Rich Andre is Associate Pastor of St. Austin Catholic Parish. His sermons can be found at bit.ly/RichThoughts. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.