Oliver, a third-year theology seminarian at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary is being formed for service in the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton. At recent meeting of the Pittsburgh Byzantine Catholic Serra Club, he shared his vocation story. It is shared here with permission.
After this brief introduction, Oliver said “For me, it’s hard to pin down when I first started to think about a vocation. For some people they have a light come down from Heaven. My brother is kind of like that with dentistry. He just announced that he wanted to be dentist and in September he started being a dentist in Harrisburg.”
Oliver grew up in the Eastern Church, but was baptized Roman. When his parents visited DC, they fell in love with the Liturgy at Holy Transfiguration parish, and when Oliver’s sister was born, they had her baptized and chrismated.
Shortly after that they moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, but there was no Melkite church there, so the family worshipped at the Ukrainian Catholic Church where Oliver became an acolyte at age six. “Something that I always loved,” he said. “After five years we moved back to DC and started going to Holy Transfiguration full-time.
It was actually tough for me to move. Fr. Joseph’s acolyte program didn’t start until 10 years, so I stopped for a couple of years starting back at 10. But I always loved being at Liturgy and serving at the altar. Another thing that was very influential for me in discerning vocation, I went to a tiny little high school in Washington, St. Anselm’s Abbey School – all boys, jackets, ties – in a class of 31. Tiny little place. It was run by Benedictine monks, and seeing these intelligent, serious, thoughtful men who decided to do this with their life, I think, that was helpful to me – it opened up my eyes to the idea of a vocation.”
He went off to college and double-majored in Economics and Philosophy. When he completed requirements for Econ, he was shy of credits. By filling in with Philosophy, only a small number of courses enabled him to declare a second major.
“One thing I really appreciate about studying philosophy was it called me to really evaluate my Faith, not that I had ever doubted it, but it really did give the opportunity to step back, and say is this something – and growing up in the Faith, you can easily take it for granted. And studying philosophy, calls me to really evaluate where I find meaning in my life,” Oliver said.
“Also, the summer I graduated from college, my father was ordained a deacon. It makes it easier to find a vocation if your father is also ordained. It predisposes you to look at that life and it really makes it easier when you go to your folks, saying, I think I want to go to the Seminary.” But Oliver floated through a variety of jobs – Starbucks to George Washington University Law School clinics – before it would come to that. He found each experience provided tools and inspiration along the way. Oliver highlighted some lessons and insights. “I’m 34 now, so it took me about 10 years after college to get to Seminary,” he said.
“And all this time, there’s this Voice the back of my head: Well, what about the Seminary, what about the Seminary? I kinda pushed it away…I always had a good reason not to look at the Seminary. I was still active in the Church. At this point I’m running the acolyte program, I’m on the Parish Council.
Somewhere I realized I was not Melkite – I was baptized Roman and never went about changing it. So I went to the bishop to ask permission to change Rites.” And with 25 years actively participating in his parish, permission came quickly.
After that, “I was serving as an acolyte. It was Presanctified or something like that, I was there in a holy place, Fr. Joe was doing whichever service it was. And I realized this is just where I am at peace; this is where I’m happy – this is where I need to be. What I want to do for the rest of my life, stand at the Holy Table and offer praise to God. It wasn’t so much a miraculous Voice, it was the realization that this is where the center of my life is – this is where I wanted to be, and so I’m at the Seminary.
So I talked to Fr. Joe, he said ‘Oh, I wondered when you were going to talk to me.’ I talked to my parents and they more or less said the same thing. It turns out I was the last person to realize that I had a vocation. But you know, better late than never. So that’s kinda how I came to apply and talk with Bishop Nicholas, and went through the process of getting into the Seminary. But that’s how I came to be here.
And it’s been the best couple of years in my life. It’s been a lot of work, a lot of study. Sometimes you can lose sight of why you’re there, you get so caught up in classes or that kind of thing. This summer, example, the CPE, clinical pastoral education, where you work as a hospital chaplain and help people who are suffering.” Oliver said that all of the academics can get dry at times, “but you have experiences like the summer and it makes it worth it.”
Oliver was permitted to do his CPE last summer at Georgetown University Hospital, near his parents’ home. Since the hospital is nominally Catholic, he had to wear his cassock. It caught him by surprise to be called “Father” so often, but Oliver admitted that it was one of the little things he’d have to get used to:
“It really affirmed for me that this is really where I am meant to be. I never felt so fulfilled, so happy and so at peace with who I am and what I’m doing. One of the things that can be taken away from that, that’s applicable to everybody, not just people who go into the Seminary, is finding that which really makes you – that which is your vocation – whatever it is that God is calling you to do – whether it is be a mother or father, husband, wife, dentist, priest – you name it. That experience is available to everybody. It’s not limited to people who go to the Seminary. It’s what I’m called to do and I’m doing what fulfills