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From a Slave to Sin to My Mother’s Arms: Fr. Donald Calloway’s Improbable Journey to the Priesthood


Freed from a life of addiction, sin, and crime by an encounter with the Blessed Mother

My first thought was, “Idiots. If they take off the cuffs, I’m going to run.” I had friends in southern California from a few years earlier and thought I might be able to track them down. And to go surfing again in SoCal would be awesome.
But what exactly was I going to do? Everyone I knew in southern California was also a military dependent. Since I hadn’t stayed in touch with anyone since moving to Japan — that out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing again — I had no way of knowing if any of my friends were still living in the same place. Without money, transportation, or any particular place to go, my normally cocky bravado was cooled temporarily. The idea of making my own way in Los Angeles was a frightening enough prospect that I decided to stay put. I reluctantly agreed to the MPs’ demands, and the guards went back the way they came. I boarded yet another plane with my father, this time en route to our final destination — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It was on this long flight that I spoke with my father for the first time since running away from home. Like everyone else, I had cursed him out a few times since being captured, but this was the first time we had a somewhat civilized exchange of words. I don’t remember what we talked about — and make no mistake, I’m sure I was still an arrogant jerk — but for the first time, we had some semblance of a conversation. I suppose a lot of awkward silence was better than total silence.

When we landed in Philadelphia, my mom was waiting for us at the gate. In those pre 9/11 days, friends and relatives could meet arriving passengers as soon as they exited the jet way. I knew she was going to be there, but I didn’t really care. I was so tired and disgusted that all I cared about was having a place to crash.

Yet when we got off the plane, my mother rushed up to me, hugged me, and smothered me with kisses. She told me how happy she was to see me. It had been almost two-and-a- half months since I had last seen her, right before I ran away in Japan. She was so motherly, telling me how much she loved me. It didn’t seem to bother her that I looked awful — disheveled, stooped over, my eyes vacant and cold. She even called me “Donnie,” a name that only she used with me.

But something about the way she approached me got me really agitated again. When she tried to embrace me, I immediately pushed her away, pointed my index finger in her face, and said with the most hateful voice imaginable: “I hate your guts!”

And I meant it. It was years of teen rage and frustration wrapped up in a single statement and gesture. Of course, no mother could handle that kind of response from her first-born son. Right there in the terminal, my mother broke down. She snapped like a twig and started crying uncontrollably. I didn’t care at all. I was as unfeeling as a rock.

My dad was furious about me talking to my mother that way. He said something like, “How dare you talk to your mother that way!” But somehow, in spite of my behavior, we all made it out to the airport parking lot together. When we got into the car, I demanded to know where we were going. My mother whispered, “You are going to a rehabilitation center in central Pennsylvania. It will be a chance for a new beginning.”

A new beginning? “Yeah, right,” I thought. All I said was, “Fine, it will get me away from you!”

Fr. Donald Calloway has been a priest for 13 years and is currently the Vocation Director and Vicar Provincial for the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Steubenville, Ohio. He is the author of  8 books and leads pilgrimages all over the world. To find out about Fr. Calloway’s books, pilgrimages, and to purchase the book No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, please visit his website,

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