By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published March 18, 2004
John Huynh began his life in New Jersey, a member of a Catholic family that rarely went to church.
But after moving to Georgia, his mother started attending a Bible study, and the family’s life—and faith—changed forever.
“We’d go to church periodically on Sundays, but basically we just went to Mass because everyone else did,” John said.
Soon after beginning her Bible study, his mother started going to daily Mass. John was in first grade, the youngest of three boys, and thought it would be “cool” to go with her.
“I really just wanted to get out of the house earlier than my brothers and to do something that was just my mom and me,” he said. “But slowly, gradually, my older brothers decided to come along too.”
It took a little convincing, but John’s father eventually came along, and the Huynhs became a daily Mass-going family. The first seeds of John’s vocation had been planted.
“It was really neat to see our Catholicism growing. Instead of celebrating Christmas, we were actually celebrating the Nativity of Christ. Instead of Easter, we were celebrating the resurrection of Christ,” he said. “God works in many and crazy ways.”
John, 19, is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, attending Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, as a college student. His path toward discernment of the priesthood all started with his family and his experiences in Catholic school.
When he was in fourth grade, John began school at Pinecrest Academy, an independent Catholic school which was founded under the auspices of the Legionaries of Christ Religious order.
John recalled a night that set the vocation wheels in motion, when a Legionary priest from Pinecrest came to dinner at his house.
“I have a really short attention span, so after dinner I think I went to play Nintendo or something,” he said. “And I don’t know what that priest said to my older brother, but when I came back down, he was saying that he wanted to go to New Hampshire to study with the Legionaries.”
John was upset at the idea of his brother, then in seventh grade, leaving. But his parents helped him warm to the idea. It was even harder, when, a few years later, John’s other brother also decided to study in New Hampshire with the Legionaries.
But his brothers were his inspiration, he said.
“They are my older brothers. I’ve always looked up to them,” he said.
So, the summer before seventh grade (the year that boys can first attend the Legionary school in New Hampshire), John decided to join his brothers.
“I loved being with my brothers, but my idea for going there was to be with my brothers, not to discern a vocation,” he said. “I ended up leaving after eighth grade. Neither my spiritual director nor I felt like I was there for the right reasons.”
But everything he learned with the Legionaries John considers a “great blessing.”
When he arrived back in Atlanta, the summer before ninth grade, John desperately wanted to attend St. Pius X High School in Atlanta. Though there was a waiting list, miraculously John found out he had been accepted the Friday before classes began.
“At St. Pius, I was just a normal high school student. I wasn’t considering a vocation at all,” he said. “I went to the socials and the dances, (meeting) up with a couple of girls. I just wasn’t thinking about a vocation.”
But that all changed with a trip to the school library during his junior year.
“One of the computers was open and so I sat down and it was turned on to the archdiocesan Web site,” he recalled. “I started clicking around and clicked on the statistics for the archdiocese.”
The statistics showed the priest to people ratio, he said, dating back to the early years of the archdiocese.
“I saw how the priest number was going down, and that the number of people was skyrocketing,” he said. “At that moment, something clicked in my mind and I heard this voice that said ‘maybe you can help.’ And I just thought ‘oh no, not again.’”
But John didn’t ignore the voice. Instead, he started to pray about it, and spoke to Msgr. Richard Lopez, a religion teacher at St. Pius.
“Msgr. Lopez is just so awesome and so wise. When I asked him for advice he told me that if this is what God is calling me to, then I could only take my advice from God,” he said.
So John began praying about his vocation, and whether it was to become a priest of the Legionaries of Christ or a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Eventually he decided to apply to the archdiocese. He wanted to be close to his parents and the people he loved.
“It may seem like they are selfish reasons, but at the same time, I really think God is calling me to work at home,” he said.
As a college student and seminarian at Franciscan University, John stays in close contact with Father Brian Higgins, archdiocesan vocations director, whom he calls “amazing and so supportive.” But he admits he sometimes has to concentrate on balancing his seminarian life and his collegiate life.
“For me I always have the notion that I’m a seminarian,” he said. “The problem that Father Higgins has with me is reminding me that I’m a college student. He always tells me ‘remember you’re in college. Have fun.’ But he also tells me that I’m called to a greater purpose as a college student. My main focus is on my college studies, but I’m also committed to prayer . . . Father Higgins doesn’t want me to look back, if I end up not having a vocation, saying that I missed out on college.”
John is involved in the campus Young Republicans and plans on working for the college newspaper. He’s meeting new friends and “expanding (his) horizons.” He said that being in college gives him a glimpse into his life as a priest, as he wants to concentrate on ministering to youth.
“I really think for me, this a time to grow, and I’m kind of using this as an apostolic blueprint of my future ministry, if, God willing, I’m called to the priesthood,” he said.
His older brothers are still in formation to be Legionary priests, and John said that even if he is not called to the priesthood after all, he is blessed to have discerned.
“I guarantee that if I didn’t take this opportunity to explore the priesthood, and if I got married and had kids, something would be missing because I didn’t give God the first chance,” he said. “At least I can say I gave God every chance and tried to fulfill his will first.”