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WESTON -- Deacon Peter Okajima, a seminarian at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, said he laughed when he realized God was calling him to the priesthood.
Addressing the attendees of the seminary's 38th annual Lawn Party on Sept. 25, Deacon Okajima shared how he had grown up in a household without faith. He married, had two children, and had a good career working in finance, but he felt "a sense of incompleteness," as though "something important" was missing from his life. One day, as he pondered this feeling, he heard a voice telling him, "Go to church."
He met a deacon who invited him to join an RCIA program, and a year later he received the sacraments of initiation. He became an active member of his parish, but over time he realized that he was being called to the priesthood.
"I laughed because of my age, and I laughed because, at the time, I was married. But life happens," Deacon Okajima said.
He and his wife eventually divorced. Their marriage was annulled, and their children grew up.
"Throughout this process, God's gentle tug persisted," Deacon Okajima said.
He prayed about his vocation and decided that he would "only follow God's will." His bishop decided to send him to Pope St. John XXIII, which provides formation for men who respond to the call of the priesthood later in life.
"This is a special place, and your generosity makes it possible," Deacon Okajima told the benefactors at the dinner, which raised $280,000 for the seminary.
"You are never too old to answer God's call. I'm overwhelmed when I think of the hundreds of men ordained from this seminary and the many thousands of lives that they've touched and the countless souls that have been saved all because of your unselfish charity. There are no words that can adequately express my thanks for what you are doing to serve God's kingdom on Earth," Deacon Okajima said.
Laughter rang out periodically under the tent as the speakers shared jokes and anecdotes poking fun at themselves and each other. Father Brian Kiely, the rector of the seminary, recalled a time when he was pulled over for speeding and, in exchange for not getting a ticket, agreed to baptize the police officer's child. Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley matched that with an anecdote of a time he was pulled over and told to pray three "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys."
Bill Janovitz, who co-chaired the dinner with his wife Ro for the second time, spoke briefly about the seminary's financial needs. He said the seminary has a budget of $3 million, about a third of which depends on fundraising and donations.
In his remarks, Father Kiely expressed his gratitude to his predecessors, the seminary staff and faculty, and the benefactors.
"The world needs what we do here. What we do here is to prepare men to be priests after the mind and heart of Christ in the parishes, and they will serve you. That's an awesome responsibility, and it's a tremendous privilege," Father Kiely said.
Cardinal O'Malley, who is the chairman of the seminary's board of trustees, spoke about the origin of the seminary. It was founded by Cardinal Richard Cushing after he heard Pope John XXIII say that a vocation can come at any point in a person's life. At the time of its founding, the only seminary of this kind was the Pontifical Beda College in Rome.
Cardinal O'Malley said that each of the four dioceses where he has served as bishop has had priests who were alumni of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary.
"This seminary has made a unique and irreplaceable contribution, not just to the Church in Boston but to the Church in the whole country," Cardinal O'Malley said.