By Valerie Schmalz
Oakland Athletics minor league baseball prospect Grant Desme was hitting .288 in single A ball and was voted Most Valuable Player for the Arizona Fall League’s 2009 season. Many expected the talented outfielder to be invited to spring training and probably be called up to play in the majors next September.
The puns have been flying fast and furious in the press because, of course, Desme was called up — he is entering the seminary of the Norbertines in Silverado, Calif., a rigorous order of priests founded in the Middle Ages that established St. Michael’s Abbey in 1958.
As one Major League Baseball website writer put it: “When impressive Oakland prospect Grant Desme reached the crossroads of baseball and faith, he found himself at an intersection many others have contemplated. But the 24-year-old chose the path few have taken, embarking on another long road leading to priesthood. Desme retired from baseball and will enter a seminary in August — about the time another solid minor league season could have earned him a September promotion to the big leagues.”
Desme said his decision to enter the priesthood was not something he anticipated. Even before he began playing T-ball as a 4-year-old in Bakersfield, Calif., Desme recalls aiming for the major leagues. But after being drafted in the second round in 2007 by the Oakland Athletics, Desme was sidelined for most of 2008 by injuries to his hamstring, wrist and shoulder. He came back in a firestorm in 2009. Reporting on Desme’s decision to become a priest, MLB.com wrote: “The A’s prized prospect exited the season with a head-turning presence, accompanied by a bat that produced 31 home runs and a speedy 6-foot-2 frame that stole 40 bases in Class A ball — making him the only player in minor league baseball to enjoy a 30-30 campaign.”
Desme said he has been overwhelmed by the positive response of almost everyone in baseball. When he called A’s general manager Billy Beane Jan. 21, Beane’s response was “great.” Beane had chosen Desme as the club’s second-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. A’s scouting director Eric Kubota admitted to being in “disbelief” upon hearing the news, but told MLB.com: “I think people, in general, were just happy for Grant because he had an injury-free year for the first time. It really looked like, baseballwise, he was on the fast track and going in the right direction.”
As Desme was rehabilitating in Orange County, Calif., from his injuries, he got to know the Norbertines through some friends who went to the abbey for Mass.
“I was injured for about a year and a half, and that really shook me up and my life in general because baseball really ran my life, so when it was taken away from me for an extended amount of time it really made me do some soul searching,” Desme told OSV, resulting in “really getting serious about my faith. I’m really thankful about my injuries.”
Desme enters the seminary for the 10-year process of becoming a priest in August, spending the interim at home in Bakersfield with his family. Desme said he grew up going to Mass on Sunday with his parents and brother and sister, praying a decade of the Rosary at night. He attended San Diego State for a year, then Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he left after two years, majoring in business but actually focusing on baseball, he said. He will take classes in public speaking and music as he prepares to join the Norbertines, Desme said.
Why did he pick the Norbertines, an order of priests who teach and preach but also spend a minimum of three hours a day in choir, more on solemnities and feast days? The Norbertines rise at 5:45 a.m. to sing Lauds, and celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day, with Benediction ending their day at 9:15 p.m. St. Michael’s Abbey runs a high school preparatory school, and the 68 priests and deacons also help out in some 30 churches around the Diocese of Orange.
“I chose the Norbertines because I was really attracted to the way they celebrate Mass, the reverence and everything. But after visiting, I really felt like, how can I put it into words — the spirituality and everything they did was what I needed in order to be a saint, to get to heaven. I felt like that was where God was calling me,” Desme said.
Buffeted by the chaos of the 1960s, the founding fathers of the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey decided to take a public stand of loyalty to the Holy See and the Church’s tradition on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel in 1968.
Today, the Norbertines say Mass in English three days a week and in Latin four days a week at the abbey, where all services are open to the public, said vocations and novice director Norbertine Father Ambrose Criste. Gregorian chant is sung at most Masses and holy Communion is received kneeling and on the tongue, Father Criste said. Additionally, the Norbertine priests also celebrate the extraordinary form of the Latin Mass throughout the diocese, he told OSV.
Desme will enter as a postulant with about four to eight others, and take temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to become a novice by Christmas, said Father Criste.
Coming off a season in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .442 with 11 home runs in the six-week season, Desme is not sure there are that many similarities between a life as a baseball player and as a priest — but he says the importance of working hard is one.
“I don’t know what it all takes to be a priest, but I want to find out. I think there are aspects of baseball that will be able to help me,” said Desme, noting players have to work hard even while results sometimes remain elusive. The priesthood can be the same.
“As far as everyone’s told me, it is a life of service. You die to yourself, so there are hard times, and it is a hard life, but it is very rewarding,” Desme said.
He added that he is beginning the process of discernment, so he may not become a priest, but even if he does not, Desme said he will not regret his decision to leave baseball and join the Norbertines.
“There is no certainty that I will become a priest, although I desire it. A lot of things have to happen,” Desme said. “But the good thing about it is I know I am going to get great formation and grow in knowledge and love. It is going to help me either way to be a better man.”
Valerie Schmalz writes from California.
Here are some steps recommended by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations for men discerning a priestly vocation:
Daily Mass: One who is discerning is encouraged to participate in the daily celebration of Mass.
Confession: The celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is the way in which a man attempts to live a holy life.
Adoration: This is a powerful way to grow in love with the Eucharistic Lord and to grow in the spiritual life.
Daily prayer: This is time set aside for God alone, usually in a quite place at a specific time each day.
Spiritual direction: Speaking with a priest or qualified individual trained in direction about one’s prayer life and seeking advice from this person on a regular basis is very helpful as one discerns a vocation to the priesthood.
Discernment programs: Attending a weekend retreat at a seminary, vocation evenings or joining a discussion group of other young men discerning a vocation is invaluable in helping one to come to greater clarity about God’s call.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother: Praying the Rosary daily and seeking the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother is especially recommended in the discernment process.
Service to others: Teaching religious education, taking holy Communion to the sick, working with the young of a parish, etc., are ways to give one a taste of “ministry” and may also increase one’s desire for ministry and service.
Vocations director: Talk to one in order to obtain further information about seminary and priestly life.