The world was offering them many opportunities, but these four men turned them all down to follow the call of Christ. Their stories are powerful testimonies to the deep spiritual fulfillment that comes from discerning the religious life.
Dominican Brother Augustine DeArmond
Dominican Brother Augustine DeArmond was a layman working on a retreat with a Dominican friar when the friar casually said, “You know, religious life isn’t too bad.”
“Oh? Do tell,” Brother DeArmond responded.
After that conversation, he knew that he wanted to explore religious life more deeply.
Brother DeArmond, 32, grew up in Springfield, La. He is solemnly professed with the Order of Preachers, the Dominican Friars, Province of St. Martin de Porres in Metairie, La. He will be ordained to the priesthood on June 22.
|Brother Augustine DeArmond
“I have been fascinated with the priestly life since I was old enough to remember,” he said. “Even as a child, I felt close to my pastor as a spiritual father and was moved by his homilies. In addition to the influence of many good priests, both my grandfathers were positive influences. I also credit my family as a whole with support in prayer and encouragement. When I was in high school, I first considered that I might be called to the priestly life.”
But he didn’t pursue it. Instead, he received a master’s in English from Southwestern Louisiana University, where he worked for the Office of Career Services as a technology liaison, a graduate assistant and a professional staff member. He also taught Catholic studies at a Catholic high school.
Meanwhile, he attended daily Mass as often as possible, prayed the morning and evening prayers of Liturgy of the Hours, and was involved in youth ministry, campus ministry and the Knights of Columbus.
“I also developed a devotion to the Memorare, asking Our Blessed Mother to unite my prayers to her own,” he said.
His vocational discernment took nine years, and it was a difficult decision, he said, because for a time, he tried to set the rules for what his vocation should look like.
“Once I let go of the notion that it was my plan with God’s permission, and began to see it as my accepting God’s plan for my joy, then I was able to make a healthy decision to follow Christ,” he said. “Discernment is never easy. No truly fulfilling life is ever without difficult times. Ask happily married couples if they ever struggle. They do. Ask priests and religious if we struggle. We do. However, if you are discerning — truly inviting God to be with you, then he will give you the grace to sustain you and he will guide you along the way to fulfilling your vocation.”
Capuchin Brother Matt Hindelang
Brother Matt Hindelang, O.F.M. Cap., thought about a religious vocation many times when he was growing up in Frankenmuth, Mich., but there were a lot of detours along the way.
“My education and life in school was marked by severe migraine headaches,” he said. “During these scary and painful times, I had my faith and was able to call on God for help. In these times of prayer, I began discerning a call from God. But I decided to go to college instead.”
|Brother Matt Hindelang, O.F.M. Cap.
With one year to go before completeing a bachelor’s in business administration, Brother Hindelang was diagnosed with epilepsy. Unable to drive to school, he took time off to refine the diagnosis and treatment and to seriously consider his desire to join a religious order. First stop was a two-year stint with the Capuchin Volunteer Corps at a school on the south side of Chicago.
“I felt called to work with the poor and to have both an active and contemplative life,” he said. “The Capuchins offered all of that. Life in community was also attractive to me because it would hold me accountable to a life of common prayer. And I was always attracted to St. Francis because of a shared love of God and his beautiful creation in nature. My deepest prayer when discerning was often done in the woods.”
Brother Hindelang, now 34, returned to college to finish his degree before joining the Capuchins at the St. Augustine Province in Pittsburgh, Pa. He professed simple vows in 2007, made a solemn profession of vows in 2011, and completed a master’s in pastoral studies in 2012. He now runs a dinner program and English as Second Language program at Sacred Heart Church in Washington, D.C., and is learning how to tailor habits for the province.
Brother Hindelang is pulled out of his comfort zone by serving the poor, many of whom are physically or mentally disabled, or addicted, and who need both tough love and compassion.
“I am regularly calling on God’s help to keep order and yet have everyone know that I sincerely care about each of them,” he said. “I have been yelled at and called names, but with God’s grace I have kept my cool and am able to continue caring for them and seeking the best for them. At the end of every day, I am able to bring these things to prayer and ask for God’s help. It is also a blessing to have the support of the fraternity through all of this.”
Father Joseph Tregre of Houma-Thibodaux, La.
|Father Joseph Tregre being ordained. Lawrence Chatagnier photos/Bayou Catholic
Father Joseph Tregre, 28, grew up in a parish with a charismatic pastor who, in retrospect, influenced his vocation. But he entered college with the intention of becoming a doctor, and it wasn’t until he was in a pre-med program that he realized that he had a calling to the priesthood.
“I prayed about it for about three months and had some really good experiences,” he said. “I decided to go from there. I realized that I had some practical questions, but deeper than those was a true sense of peace in going to the seminary. In becoming a priest, the Church is my bride, and in Christ, they are my completion.”
He was ordained last May in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La, and has his first assignment as associate pastor at Annunciation Catholic Church in Houma.
“I think that young priests can bring passion and zeal for the new evangelization,” Father Tregre said. “I bring a breath of fresh air to young people by the witness of my life that may be an example for them. I would encourage anyone considering a vocation to the priesthood and religious life to be open to God’s calling.”
The highlight of his priesthood, he said, has been the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Father Eric Leyble of Houma-Thibodaux, La.
Father Eric Leyble remembers being so in awe of his parish priest that when he got home from church, he “played Mass.” He was 4 or 5 years old then, and later was an altar server. Whatever interest he might have had in being a priest, however, became “stagnant” when he went to school.
|Father Tregre, Father Mitchel Semar and Father Eric Leyble at their priestly ordination. Lawrence Chatagnier photos/Bayou Catholic
In the Philippines, where he grew up, students can finish high school at age 15. So he was able to graduate from a university when he was 20, and went into education as planned.
“I became a substitute teacher at a school run by religious priests and I could see their lifestyle and the way they related to people,” he said. “That restarted the fire and stirred up my interest in becoming a priest.”
He entered the seminary with a missionary order, but later felt more drawn to the work of a diocesan priest. His uncle, Bishop Antonieto Cabajog of the Diocese of Surigao, Philippines, recommended him and another man for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La. Father Leyble, now 34, arrived in 2006 and was ordained in May 2012.
“These days, it’s a big challenge for men who are discerning for the priesthood,” he said. “They are confused or afraid to really explore it, and they may get anxious. My advice to them is to trust the Holy Spirit and allow themselves to be open and say ‘yes.’
“When you get confused when you are discerning, think that (the confusion) is from yourself and not from the Lord. Be not afraid, and open wide the doors.”
In this first year of priesthood, he is “receiving, learning and being mentored” by the more seasoned priests. He meets monthly with Bishop Sam Jacobs “for evaluation on how I am doing with my faith.”
Father Leyble has been inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s call to prayer.
“I want to look at our parish as a school of prayer where we help people to learn how to pray and to offer themselves up in prayer,” he said. “That is a great vision in our diocese. The people are really into their faith, and it’s easy to teach them how to allow themselves to be instruments of prayer for themselves and for the diocese.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.