Archbishop Alexander Sample speaks to potential seminarians during a vocations retreat Jan. 9 in Beaverton. “The question is, what do you think God made you to do, and will you do it?” the archbishop told the 18 retreatants. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Archbishop Alexander Sample speaks to potential seminarians during a vocations retreat Jan. 9 in Beaverton. “The question is, what do you think God made you to do, and will you do it?” the archbishop told the 18 retreatants. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
" You owe it to God to do that. You owe it to yourself to do that.

" Archbishop Alexander Sample on giving seminary a try

BEAVERTON — Jake Coleman, 30, had long considered priesthood before he began the seminary application process seven months ago. A member of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, he now works at a care home for disabled adults.

Coleman — who attended St. Clare School in Southwest Portland, Jesuit High School and the University of Notre Dame — said the calling strengthened as he matured and came to know himself better. He hit that time of life when young adults confront their weaknesses; for him, the process revealed that he deeply needs Christ.

“I guess I had to learn things the hard way,” Coleman said.

His idea of priesthood centers on bringing the mercy of Christ to others.

Coleman was one of 18 men at a Jan. 8-10 retreat for those considering priesthood in the Archdiocese of Portland.

Jake Coleman, 30, listens during a vocations retreat Jan. 9 at Our Lady of Peace in Beaverton. 

‘You are a treasure’

Archbishop Alexander Sample told the group that God yearns to have a deep relationship with them.

“You are a treasure in the heart of the Father,” the archbishop said.

The retreat — held at Our Lady of Peace here amid masks, physical distancing and hand sanitizer — was sacred ground where the men bared their souls, some suggesting they felt unworthy of the calling. The archbishop and Father Jeff Eirvin, vocations director of the archdiocese, reassured them that everyone is on a journey and that God calls those who struggle. Archbishop Sample urged the discerners not to listen to Satan, who is the liar who suggests we are not good enough.

“The question is, what do you think God made you to do, and will you do it?” the archbishop said.

Discerners sing at morning prayer Jan. 9 during a vocations retreat.

Variety of discerners

The retreat drew a mix of men. There were the tall and the stocky. Some wore jeans and sweatshirts while others donned khaki pants and button down shirts. One man wore a suitcoat and tie. Some knelt to receive Communion on the tongue while others stood and received in the hand. They were white, Latino and Asian.

During a break, Michael Patton sat in the conference room, a crucifix on the wall above, playing gently on his guitar. It was music of peace and prayer.

Patton, 24, grew up at St. Patrick Parish in Canby. After graduating from the University of Oregon in 2018, he joined the FOCUS campus missionaries and has served at colleges in California and Montana.

Priesthood has been on his mind for years, but he has discerned seriously only in recent months. The notion has endured in him in many small ways: memories of family life, religious education, great priests, being an altar server.

Patton decided to be brave and act on the feeling. He is glad he did.

Jorge Apodaca, 15, attended his first retreat. A member of St. Francis Parish in Sherwood, he was impressed by how many other men have the same thoughts he does.

Beto Montes, 39, has made four of the discernment retreats. This year, he is applying for seminary. Deeply involved with Hispanic ministry at St. Mary Parish in Eugene, Montes said the discernment retreats fill him with courage and empowerment from the other men.

Archbishop Alexander Sample listens to Michael Patton.

Called to speak truth to culture

Archbishop Sample — saying he is seeking apostles, not administrators — told retreatants he wants priests who are willing to rock the boat of culture for the sake of the Gospel. He described the modern world as akin to pagan Rome, when the church was active, zealous and running counter to society, even to the point of martyrdom.

In a glimpse of a grand course the archdiocese is about to take, Archbishop Sample explained to the potential seminarians that he plans to create a mission-oriented local church for the modern world, one characterized by intensity rather than lukewarmness.

“You should know what you are getting into,” he said. “We need courage in priesthood today.”

The archbishop described his vision of priesthood as “a band of brothers going into battle armed with the joy of the Gospel.”

He warned against capitulating to modern culture as well as against a bunker mentality that attempts to re-create the church as it was long ago. Jesus, the archbishop said, would choose a church that brings the Gospel to the modern world courageously. He quoted Pope Francis’ frequent calls to leave the comfortable life and go to the peripheries.

“If we retreat, how are we going to change the world?” the archbishop asked.

A siren sounded on the busy Beaverton roadway outside as the archbishop spoke, as if to illustrate the urgency of his ideas.

Jacob Groux, a 17-year-old member of Queen of Peace Parish in Salem, returns to his pew during a Jan. 9 Mass at the annual vocations retreat in Beaverton. 

A hard but good life

The vocations retreat is one of those annual events that fires up Archbishop Sample.

“You see the grace of God at work here,” he said. “For many guys, it’s what pushes them off of the fence.” After meeting one-on-one with the retreatants, the archbishop emerged to say, “It continues to amaze me how God is at work.”

“It’s an amazing retreat,” said Jacob Groux, a 17-year-old from Queen of Peace Parish in Salem. Groux, making the retreat for the second time, said he was struck this year by the power of praying and discerning in common with the other young men.

Father Eirvin described a statue he had seen — a tired but satisfied Christ offering bread. God would never ask anyone to take on a life of unhappiness, said Father Eirvin, but God may invite people to something that is hard.

“If Jesus is calling you into priesthood,” Father Eirvin said, “it is going to be a life of fulfillment and joy, overflowing.”

Father Eirvin explored the Gospel story in which a young man walks away sad after Jesus has lovingly explained that the way of discipleship is to sell all one owns and then follow. Readers may think the young man never came back, but Father Eirvin thinks the encounter with Christ pushed the man toward apostolic mission.

Archbishop Sample reminded the group that all lives — celibate, married single — have challenges and require overtime work.

Anthony Nguyen of Our Lady of La Vang Parish in Happy Valley lights a candle before Mass. 

St. Joseph a model

Noting that the church had entered a year focused on St. Joseph, Archbishop Sample urged the prospective priests to look to the saint as a man with a humble father’s heart, saying such a heart is something all priests must have. 

The archbishop held up St. Joseph as the kind of man who gets the job done without drama. “Without making a fuss, he does what the Lord asks him to do,” the archbishop said, “Let’s face it. Joseph’s plan was blown up and he accepted it.”

Discussing celibacy, the archbishop said it’s natural for priesthood discerners to struggle over whether they want to be fathers of a nuclear family or of a spiritual family.

“That tension is good,” he explained.

The archbishop concluded by urging the discerners to give seminary a try. He said no one expects a man to have everything figured out when he walks in the seminary door.

“If you think God might be calling you to the priesthood, there is only one way to find out,” the archbishop said. “It’s taking a step. Diving in. Giving it a shot. You owe it to God to do that. You owe it to yourself to do that.”