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God’s mercy draws teen rebel to priesthood

By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
(Email Renee)

After starting to smoke pot at age 11 and getting kicked out of the country of Japan as a teen, the keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Divine Mercy/Marian Conference in Sioux City described himself as a poster-child of God’s mercy.

“The Divine Mercy message is a message for our time,” said Father Donald Calloway, a prominent Marian priest. “It is unbelievable the way that God has blessed us with the promise he has made. I am privileged to be a recipient of this message – this mercy of our God and now to be one of the witnesses to it.”

As a well-known speaker on Divine Mercy, he said some people make assumptions and assume that his life has been perfect.

“That would have been awesome but that is far from what my life was,” he said.

The wild child
To illustrate the extent of God’s mercy, Father Calloway told the story of his youth. Born in 1972, he noted that his parents were not Christians and divorced early on in the marriage. His mother married again and divorced and then married again.

“By the time I was 9 years old, I had three fathers. None of my fathers were St. Joseph. They were not men of virtue and honor. They were men of the world,” he said.

Father Calloway explained that he was adopted at age 10 by Dad #3, who was a military officer. This father was a Christian in name only. The speaker noted that he was baptized in a Protestant church at the urging of his grandparents but he stressed it didn’t mean anything to him or his family because religion wasn’t important. In fact, as a youth, Father Calloway said he thought those who believed in God were “idiots.”

They lived in San Diego and that “was my heaven on earth,” said Father Calloway. Southern California was the place to be with movies and music scenes. That’s also where he started smoking marijuana as a pre-teen.
“I became a filthy, sick, perverted freak – pretty much just like all of my friends,” said the priest.

The family eventually moved to Japan and that set him into a rebellion mode. By age 15, he had dropped out of school, ran away from home and became an internationally wanted criminal.

“You have no idea the nightmare I became for my parents,” he said. “My mother was having a huge crisis. She was in her third marriage. They were arguing about me. She was on medication for anxiety and depression. I am running free and wild. She didn’t know if they would bring me back in a body bag or what.”

His dad was catching heat from his superiors and eventually he had opted to retire early and take a reduced pension because of the trouble his son was in.

“During that whole time, the God that my family didn’t know, didn’t want to know and had no experience with, had a plan,” Father Calloway said.

There is hope
A friend of his mother’s – a Filipino woman - took her to see a priest, even though they were not Catholic. The priest spoke to his mother about the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Eucharist, confession, the saints and especially St. Monica whose son Augustine had been “a player.” The conversion of St. Augustine gave his mother hope.

His mom fell in love with the Catholic Church and eventually moved back to the United States with Father Calloway’s half-brother. His dad stayed back to hunt with the authorities for the teen runaway. Eventually they apprehended the rebel, put him in the military brig and flew him back to this country.

After three months in rehab, he went back to his parents and his mother informed them that they had become Catholic. Father Calloway said he thought it was embarrassing; his family was taken in by a scam.

While his family said they had discovered “the truth” in the Catholic Church, he wasn’t buying it at the time. He was still “living the dream” of alcohol, drugs and women. He was institutionalized twice and thrown in jail multiple times.

A few years later, in his early 20s, he moved back home and eventually “had a crisis of being.” In March of 1992, he didn’t want to go out and party. Alone in his parents’ house, he was experiencing quiet for the first time in years. He was drawn to a book, The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje, for its beautiful pictures.

“I thought it was the dork manual,” said Father Calloway, but he kept looking at it because it had plenty of pictures. Eventually he began to read about the beautiful woman – Mary. He was captivated by this story of Mary, Jesus’ mom, and read into the wee hours of the morning.

He was frightened because he knew that if he began to believe, he was on the verge of “something radical happening in my life.”

At 5 a.m., he told his mother that he wanted to speak with a priest. She didn’t believe him at first, but then sent him to the military base to talk to the chaplain there. The priest was about to start Mass and invited him to attend the liturgy, then they could talk afterwards.

“Guess who was in the chapel? Five Filipino women,” said Father Calloway, who noted that they always tend to be good evangelizers.

The women recited a repetitious prayer, which was the rosary. Soon one woman asked if he wanted to pray the next decade and he thought they were asking him to pray for the next 10 years.

At the liturgy, during the Eucharistic prayer, he heard the word worship. Father Calloway knew that was God.

“Out of nowhere I felt some type of presence,” he said. “It was as if Catholicism was being injected into me. I knew at that point that it was Jesus Christ.”

The experience freaked him out.

After all of the different treatments and rehabs, the young man had discovered that this – the church – was the real place for healing. He also learned that the goal wasn’t just sobriety, but was holiness.

He went home that day and threw out all of his music and posters – even those things that weren’t necessarily bad - because he wanted to make a new start.

“God led me through a detoxification process with my own tears and his grace and mercy,” the speaker said.
Later that same day, he had felt an evil presence come into the room and he was so frightened it almost paralyzed him. As he felt his very soul being pulled from him, Father Calloway said he cried out, “Mary.” The evil presence left and he heard her – Mary’s voice – say, “Donnie, I’m so happy.”

Despite the fact that all of his friends abandoned him, he was happy too. He said it was as if he was having a spiritual romance and he was on his honeymoon.

From there, he went through the RCIA process and joined the church. On the day of his confirmation, his dad said, “Welcome home son.”

Soon he began to feel God calling him to the priesthood and others were telling him that he should become a priest. He joined the Marians of the Immaculate Heart, which is devoted to spreading the message of Divine Mercy, and had the opportunity to study at the University of Steubenville. He was named the vocations director of his community in 2005 and they presently have 27 seminarians.

Father Calloway described himself as the poster child of Divine Mercy and said he was a super-recipient of God’s mercy.

“We are all messed up,” he reminded. “We all have issues. Every single one of you has relative, family member, who is off.”

The priest said God has given the message of Divine Mercy “for you and all of your kooky family members. And remember, if God can do what he did for me, he can do it for the multitudes. I am nothing. God made a promise and he will be faithful to it. He is here to the end.”

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