“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” -St. Therese of Lisieux
After all, the desire for the priesthood was something that had been on my heart for quite a while. As a young kid, I remeber acting out a “pretend Mass” with my parents as the congregation and my little brother as the altar server! I even asked for a podium one Christmas to be able to give speeches/homilies from! Yet after a difficult middle school experience of bullying and exlusion, I fell away from my childlike faith in and love for God.
In high school, I tried so hard to seek acceptance and validation through all the wrong medications and masks. I tried dressing, talking, and acting like in a conceited, deraogary, impure and selfish way (since that’s what website and magazines told me “alpha males” were like), giving into lustful and impure desires, and amassing as many social media “likes” as possible…\all of which just lead to more sin and emptiness.
Then one night in my Junior year, upon experiencing tears of joy and gratitude for all the incredible and true freinds made, who loved me for me, despite being so undeserving, I remembered God (yes, the God of the whole universe!) and felt the warmth of His Loving Hand, literally holding me. I also experienced His Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, where, through the priest’s words of absoluation, Jesus forgave me of my whole lifetime of sins and made my soul “good as new”…though it was going to be a long journey of falling, failing, and and going back to Confession to keep myself in a state of grace, purity, and holiness…
It wasn’t until my college life at Notre Dame that I began to “fall in love” with Christ in the Eucharist, by adopting a much more consistent prayer life of spending “Tabernacle Time” with the Lord in my dorm’s chapel, recieving Holy Communion nearly every day in the Masses on campus, and praying the daily rosary. At this point, the “call” inside me began to feel more and more apparent, and even urgent, and I began discerning with different religious communities, including the Franciscans, the Benedictines, and the Marian Fathers of the Imaculate Conception (the official Divine Mercy promoters!).
Though I had heard briefly about the Salesian order before, I first become aware of Don Bosco’s presence and intercession in my life through a fellow missionary with NET ministries. He had a powerful spiritual gift of being able to tell if a certain saint was praying on someone’s behalf and informed me that St. John Bosco was praying for me! Various signs began to confirm this, such as seeing an image of the saint (who I think kinda looks like Robin Williams!) as I was exiting a room that was “randomly” chosen to be my room for facilitating a small group faith sharing session with young men on a certain retreat. (Apparently, he’s been known to “wink” at those who the Lord is calling to become a Salesian!)
Eventually, I ended up reaching out to the vocations office via email and that was how I was put in contact with the vocation director of the Western Province of Salesians, Fr. John Roche. We had a good and friendly conversation and then a few months later, seemingly out of nowhere, he called me again to see if we could meet in person for a night since it had just so happened that he was visiting my area in Clearwater, FL for a funeral mass of one of his priest friends. I gladly agreed and we ended up going out to dinner (for Greek food at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks!), and afterward he even came over to have a mass said for me and my parents at my house (having Jesus sacramentally present in your living room is SO COOL!). Father John was such a kind and encouraing presence for me, and my parents still recall some of his final words before parting ways with us: “I’ll see Greg again when he becomes a Salesian…”
After being invited on a “Come and See” weekend retreat with the Salesians in one of their Parishes in Laredo, TX and greatly enjoying the company of the beautiful Hispanic poeple there, I decided to apply. In March of this year, just before the coronavirus started shutting everything down, I was able to spend a week in Los Angeles, CA, for a series of interviews with various Salesians preists. Then, on Friday, May 15th, on the first day of the novena to Mary, Help of Christians, I found out that I had been accepted into the order as a first year Candidate!