Editor’s note: This is one in a series of personal vocation stories from seminarians, religious women, deacons and priests in the Diocese of Salt Lake City.
I was born in the land of Saint John Paul II. It is not only that I was born in the same country, but when I was growing up, my whole surroundings were filled with his talks, his articles, and his thoughts. I didn’t even know I was absorbing all of this from an early age. I always wanted to do something radical in my life. The most ambitious and heroic thing that came to my mind was to become a fighter pilot. Deep in my heart however, there was something else: something that felt like an invitation or a force that was pushing me into giving myself completely to God. I didn’t tell anyone about this. Even as a child, I felt that the fewer external expectations pressuring my decision, the more honest this decision would be to God.
One day, I read an article in my literature class about the Spanish Civil War. In the article, in the scene of a field hospital, appeared the person of a tall Dominican friar comforting the wounded. I don’t know why, but that image stuck with me. It seemed more radical than anything I had ever seen. I started reading more books about Dominicans, I joined a Dominican ministry, and I went on a Dominican retreat. I still didn’t say a word about it to my parents or to any of my friends. When I joined the Dominican order, it was a shock to many people around me, but I felt like I had entered paradise.
Religious formation is always a very difficult time. The candidate must face his own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others. At the same time, the candidate is growing into the amazing idea of the Order of Preachers. St. Dominic sent his brothers on the roads of 13th-century Europe to support the ministry of bishops and to help people confused by the cultural turmoil of their time. As then, so now, the Dominican formation is aimed to help a young man to become a preacher of grace. I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
After 30 years of the great adventure on the way of the preacher and 30 years of confronting other people’s sins and, worst of all, my own, I am still grateful to John Paul II for the advice he unknowingly gave me. A month after my ordination to the priesthood, my professor of Catholic Social Teaching introduced me to the great pope. I gave Saint John Paul my ordination card with gratitude. He didn’t know why – or maybe he did.
Dominican Fr. Jacek Buda, a member of the Polish Dominican Province, is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center.