For decades, certain geographical regions of the Catholic Church have been struggling to spur vocational growth, a problem that has led to priest shortages in recent years. According to Catholic Culture, vocations to the priesthood in the USA fell in 2019 and in 2021 alone the number of priests fell by .57%, while the number of faithful grew by 1.3%. With a growing flock and a shortage of shepherds, Catholics are seeking new means to encourage vocations in young men.
One way to do this is by bringing young people testimonies from men who have already walked the path of the priesthood. Vocation stories are tremendously beneficial to young men who have been curious about a priestly vocation, or who have felt the call, but have no idea where to start in their discernment. They can open our eyes to a different way of life that may have eluded consideration thus far.
This is the case with seminarian William Waters, who shared the story of his vocational discernment on a video for True Faith TV, a website that shares Catholic-themed videos for education, evangelization, and entertainment. Waters explained that he was born and raised Catholic, but it was not until he was studying at West Point and had to decide for himself to go to Mass that he really began to explore and treasure his faith.
As the student of the premier US military academy said:
“Thanks be to God, I went. I think Mary had something to do with it … part of it too was that they had cookies and it was the one hour a week where you just weren’t getting yelled at.”
William explained that the chaplain at West Point was an alumnus of the school who became a priest after his time in the service, only to come back and serve both the military and the Church. William admired the path his chaplain had taken, but he was still adamant that he did not want to be a priest, even as he admitted that he identified a calling.
As he continued his training, William was set up on a date with a girl named Allison, who shared his devotion to the Catholic faith. The pair dated for a while, attended Mass together regularly, and William expressed that he was in love with her. He called the relationship “the best, holiest, healthiest relationship” he’d ever been in. He recalled praying to Jesus and Mary to thank them for bringing her into his life.
Little did he know that Christ and the Blessed Mother had other plans. Throughout the relationship, Allison was aware that William was being called to the priesthood, although she never broached the topic with him. Then a change came as they sat in Mass. During the homily, the priest called on the young men in attendance to be open to vocational discernment, but he went so far as to call out the young women, too:
“He also called out the women and said ‘Women, if there’s a guy in your life that the Lord has his hand on, you have to help him figure it out.’ Allison and I were holding hands during that homily and when she heard that, she thought, ‘I have to drop this guy’s hand.’”
The two began to talk and pray about this calling that William was clearly experiencing and William began to speak with his spiritual director. Even though he was adamant that he did not want to go to seminary and that he was in love with Allison, he was invited to apply to the seminary and was eventually accepted.
The military, however, was not as supportive as Allison. William was only three years into a five-year program at West Point and the military was not about to let a promising recruit leave for the seminary. William recalled:
“I remember going to Mass the day I heard that and I said ‘Jesus, what the hell are you doing? Do you want this or not, because I don’t. I’m just being faithful, but I don’t actually want this, so if you do, you need to do something about this,’ and I got the spiritual equivalent of ‘All right, hold my beer and watch this.’”
It was at that same Mass that William found himself sitting next to a woman who was friends with Allison. This woman knew a little bit about William’s vocational discernment and when she inquired about it, he explained that he would have to figure it out when he graduated from West Point. That was when the woman revealed that she was married to a four-star general. She gave him her husband’s card and told William he would help.
With support from a military higher-up, William was able to switch to the seminary, where he described himself as being “completely, perfectly, incandescently happy,” but he still was not sure that he wanted to be a priest. However, this pulling in opposite directions was eventually stilled, a feat that he credits to Mary changing his heart. William’s devotion to the Blessed Mother runs so deep that today he prays the Rosary four times per day.
While William’s story goes on to give touching testimony of his work with the homeless, and how the Blessed Mother was able to reach them through their interactions with William, it’s worth hearing the tale in William’s own words. Watch the video above to hear William’s full testimony on his religious discernment, and be sure to share it with a young man who may have felt the calling, but is sure he does not want to be a priest. It may just lead to a new vocation.