Hello and welcome!
I hope you all had an enjoyable and safe Independence Day holiday!
As I always like to do this time of year, I have asked a couple of our newly ordained priests to share their stories with you. I think it is an important opportunity for all of us to get to know them a little better and, hopefully, be inspired by their vocation stories.
This week, we will be hearing from Father Joseph Almeida and, later in the month, Father Brian O’Hanlon will share his reflection with you.
– Cardinal Seán
My name is Father Joe. In 1983, I was born into a Catholic family, the fifth of eight children and we lived in Somers, Connecticut until I was 6 years old when we moved to the little town of Heath in the countryside of Western Massachusetts.
Our faith was a very important part of our home. Every Sunday, we would put on our best clothes and head out to church as a family. After Mass, we would return home and have Sunday brunch together. Then, in the afternoon and evening, we would often play board or card games, which I have always enjoyed. Needless to say, we looked forward to Sunday throughout the week.
During and after brunch, we would talk around the table. Often in our talks, a papal announcement or some other Church related news would come up, and we would read and discuss it along with any other news one of us wanted to share. Even when I was young, I was always welcomed in the discussions, although I mostly listened. As early as this, the Lord was giving me a longing for his truth and to have a relationship with him.
Many of these talks were on topics brought forth by Pope John Paul II, and it was from then on that I could see in him a great example of Christ. In John Paul II, by his asking and encouraging for vocations, I saw the importance of the priesthood and, in a sense, the search for my own vocation was fed by his example. In these years of my early life I began a deep relationship with Christ and started serving as an altar boy at Mass.
While I had a beautiful childhood, my relationship with my mom was very difficult. She would call me her “Slow Joe” and I took it badly. Also, I had many problems growing up; we had bad well water, and I would drink it and get very sick. My mom would have to take me often to the hospital, where they did numerous tests to try to see what was wrong. During this time, I often felt like I was a burden for my family.
When I was 10 years old, my mother, oldest brother Adam, and youngest siblings Mark and Christie were driving home when a tractor-trailer truck collided with another car, which in turn hit my mother’s vehicle. Both my mother and brother Adam, who were seated in the front, were in critical condition, while my younger siblings had only minor cuts and bruises. The doctors saved the life of my brother Adam with some major operations, but my mother had a blood clot after an operation that went to her heart leaving the doctors powerless to save her, and she died.
Having to face the reality of death was very difficult. I thank God that he gave me a large loving Catholic family and, in the light of this tragedy, we all drew closer together and relied heavily on the providence of God.
My father left his work and became a “domestic engineer,” raising us kids with great faith. His willingness to take care of us and his continual trust in God and the Church will always be a powerful example for me of a Christian man. He gave himself completely for us in order that we could have full lives.
After high school, I began to feel that something important was missing in my life. I was going to college and, humanly speaking, had everything — friends, family, education, work, a car, money, etc. — but I felt a calling to something more. I started bouncing around from devotion to devotion, looking for something more, and I began to really question if I was called to the priesthood.
In these young adult years, I found that I was most happy when I did some form of service for another person — whether by tutoring someone in their studies, helping someone move, or performing work for someone not able to do it themselves. In serving someone else, there was a joy for me that transcended the difficulties of the task and transformed my experience of it.
At times, I would go to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge for a sort of Sunday retreat. There I would pray, go to confession, Mass, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Often I was with my family or, later, I would bring my nephews and nieces. Returning home afterwards, I would celebrate by taking them out for a beautiful dinner and be filled with joy for the mercy and love of God.
One of the times I went, I confessed with Bishop Emeritus Thomas Elliot of the Virgin Islands. I told him I was questioning if I had a vocation to the priesthood and he canceled all his appointments for that afternoon and told me his life story, then I told him mine. At a certain point, I mentioned that my brother John had begun the Neocatechumenal Way in New Jersey and that I was thinking of becoming part of it, as well. My brother had shared with me his experience of the Neocatechumenal Way, of meeting in a small community; living the Catholic faith in the Liturgy of the Word midweek, the celebration of the Eucharist on Saturday night, and in gathering one Sunday a month for prayer and fellowship with the community.
When I said this, Bishop Thomas stopped me and told me that he is not part of the Neocatechumenate but that he had been to some of their events and was impressed with their spirit. He told me that the Neocatechumenal Way would help me in my discernment. Encouraged by that, I moved out to Boston in 2005 to become part of a Neocatechumenal community.
Through the Neocatechumenal Way, I began to see the events that I experienced in my life, especially the death of my mom, in a different way. I started to see more and more how God had been present with me through all the sufferings and difficulties. I saw how he had used these to form a relationship with me and to call me to enter into his plan for my life. Within this context, I was invited to an international meeting of men considering the priesthood, and I was sent to the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary of Boston.
In the seminary, I found a great sense of fraternity with the other seminarians and was touched by the spirit of mission within the house. We would help each other and be constantly involved in the evangelization in Boston. My time in the seminary established in me the rhythm of prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and formed the discipline to pray in times of peace, joy, and fecundity, as well as in times of difficulty and dryness. It was a beautiful time full of graces, in which I experienced the faithfulness and mercy of God deeply.
Now as a priest, I have found great Joy in doing priestly things and serving the people of God. My first assignment is to serve as parochial vicar in the Sacred Hearts Collaborative in Bradford and Groveland. Having been a month in ministry here, I already have seen God working powerfully in the lives of the people and am in awe of how He can use me to carry out His work.
Being outside of the city and more in the countryside, Sacred Hearts Parish reminds me of where I grew up in Western Mass., which is a blessing for me and helps me to feel right at home. Little by little, I am coming to know the people of Sacred Hearts Parish and visiting the sick and ministering to those in need has given me the opportunity to share a little of the love and comfort I have received from the Lord in my life.
I am just beginning, but already I am finding joy in my ministry here. Please pray for me that God may continue to bless me and give me the grace to live faithfully the call I have received to follow Him.
Yours in Christ,