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Allow the Spirit to Lead

My Vocation Story

By Fr. Tom McGann CMF

Growing up in Philadelphia, from the age of 5 or earlier, I wanted to be a Franciscan missionary priest. My mom had a picture of me as a baby being held in the arms of her WWII Army chaplain, a Franciscan priest, and wearing his skull cap. In grade school I sang in the boys’ choir and started serving Mass in the 3rd grade. In the 8th grade I applied to the Franciscan minor seminary, but my pastor told me and my parents he would only allow me to go to the diocesan seminary. I left the rectory in tears. For the next 4 years I attended a diocesan high school and then applied to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary for college and theology. Ordained in May 1976, I had a variety of assignments: parish priest, chaplain at Little Flower High School for Girls, Newman Director at the University of Pennsylvania, hospital chaplain, youth ministry, etc. In my early priesthood I became very involved in local civic affairs, especially in the areas of poverty and racial tensions, and 11 years into my priesthood I took part in civil disobedience with the Epiphany Plowshares.

My journey to the Claretians started during my 20th year of priesthood. Friends among the Sisters of St. Joseph urged me to look for a religious community. So, in late June 1995, I participated in the 30-day Ignatian Retreat. At the end of the retreat I had no answers, but my director assured me I would know within 6 months. In January of 1996, I was awakened from sleep by a voice that told me to “go to the Claretians.” I said, “Who are the Claretians?” I wrote the word on a pad of paper and went back to sleep. The next day began my journey to discover who this group was.

I initially called the Western Province’s Vocation Office, but I didn’t identify myself as a priest. I was told to call Fr. Carl, the vocation director of the Eastern Province. He arranged to meet with me and invited me to attend a Chapter meeting. Following this experience, I decided to visit the Claretians in Chicago and then go on an 8-day Ignatian Retreat. I figured the visit would provide me with enough material to bring to the retreat to help my decision. However, due to scheduling conflicts, my director asked me to make the retreat prior to going to Chicago. I protested that the retreat would be my decision maker, but the director prevailed. I made this retreat in November 1996 and, through the scriptures, the Lord directed me to apply to the Claretians. I wrote to the Archbishop for permission to leave the Archdiocese and go to the Claretians. It took 2 years but finally, in late August of 1998, I was released to make my way to Chicago where I entered the novitiate.

I’m in my 44th year of ordination and my 22nd year as a Claretian. If I had been permitted to pursue my dream of being a Franciscan, I wouldn’t be a Claretian today. We must allow the Spirit to lead us. We can suggest, but in the end, allow the Spirit to lead.

Do you feel the Spirit leading you to a religious community? Our Vocation Director can accompany you in your discernment. Contact him today!

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