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From the Beach to the Mission Field

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Fr. Darrin Merlino

CMF Vocation Story

Mine was a somewhat late vocation. I didn’t get the “call” until I was 22 years old, on January 6, 1987, the feast day of the Epiphany. That fateful, vivid moment brought me the revelation of what I’d be doing for the rest of my life. Yet before it I was not open to the priesthood whatsoever. Never crossed my mind ever—not once in my life until then.

Before I was called, I wanted to get married and work in the L.A. entertainment industry, in TV or radio or both. At the time, I was co-owner of a DJ business for private functions—definitely a job I loved. Moreover, I had just completed a degree program in video-production only days before. God could have saved me a lot of money if He’d called me before I started the degree program!

After that day, I also discerned two things: that I was called to Religious Life rather than Diocesan Priesthood, and that my specific vocation would be to evangelize through media.

Not long after, a Claretian Missionary priest introduced me to the Congregation. When I found out that Saint Anthony Mary Claret used the media of his day—in other words: public preaching, books, pamphlets, and a range of written material—and that the Claretians were open to use all means necessary to evangelize. This intrigued me quite a bit and eventually led me to discern with the Claretians.

As I dove deeper into researching the Claretians, I discovered that our founder had a deep love of the Blessed Mother and the Eucharist. That sealed the deal and I felt very much at peace moving forward.

In reading St. Anthony Claret’s autobiography, his way of seeing, his view of mankind, really resonated with me. Rarely do I read biographies about saints that talk about the practicality of evangelization, the most effective ways to reach people. His ability to think and evangelize outside the box struck a chord.

Over the years, a lot of people I’ve met—whether casually or in my ministries—have expressed surprise, even shock, that a guy who lived a very active Southern California beach boy lifestyle would ever want to be a priest.

Well, truth is—you can take the boy out of the beach, but it’s hard to take the beach out of the boy. I still enjoy playing basketball, football, volleyball, golf, ultimate frisbee, going body surfing, eating too much Italian food, and traveling—though not necessarily in that order. I’m also a passionate photographer and a major movie buff.

Somehow, ALL of my life experiences, all my loves and pursuits, including that expensive degree in video production, have been utilized by God in my current work—as co-founder of Catholic Media Missionaries. It’s almost as if He knew where I was heading all along.

Whenever a young man comes to me and asked me how or where he should go, or what type of priest he should be, whether religious or diocesan, the first question of discernment I ask him is, “What are your gifts, passions, desires, and personal spirituality?” Then I tell him to look at those religious communities that seem more of a fit to their spirituality, personality, and talents.

I believe this is the best advice I can give any young man discerning the priesthood or religious life. St. Teresa of Avila would say that one of the first steps to becoming a saint is to know yourself. Most vocation and spiritual directors would agree with this.

My love of St. Anthony Mary Claret, the Claretian Missionaries, and the ministry that I do today all came about because I was willing to say “yes” to God. Without a doubt, doing this one thing, over and over, will bring anyone the greatest joy and fulfillment in life. I know it has for me.

Could you be called to a vocation to serve the people of God as a missionary? Check out to find out more and contact a vocation director who will be happy to accompany you on your discernment journey.

Do you have some thoughts about vocations and discernment that you would like to share? Send them to us and maybe we will share them on our blog! Shoot for somewhere between 500 -1,000 words. Be sure to send us a photo or two to share as well!

If you haven't chosen your vocation: What vocation do you feel called to? Why? Have you spent time discerning your vocation? Has God given you some clues along the way? Are there some gifts, talents or passions you have that you feel would help you in this vocation?

If you've already chosen your vocation: What was your discernment like? How have the seeds God planted in your discernment started to bear fruit? What are some surprising ways that God prepared you for your current vocation during your younger years?  (ex. Challenges you faced or "chance" encounters or gifts that were encouraged in you by others?)

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