‘Day of Prayer for Vocations’ highlights journeys to priesthood

By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer

“Sometimes we priests are very blessed by the holiness of the people to whom we minister and they voice for us God’s love. This is a reason for us to thank all of you, in the Serra Club, for your care for us and for Jesus’ holy church,” said Father Lucien Longtin, a Jesuit priest for more than 50 years, May 6 during the Serra Clubs of the Diocese of Allentown Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Father Longtin and Father Joe Kumblolickal, visiting theology professor at DeSales University, Center Valley, were presenters for the day at St. Mary, Kutztown, where the priests shared their personal calling to serve God’s people.

The day also featured Holy Hour with rosary for vocations and recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, confession and Mass celebrated by Msgr. Alfred Schlert, administrator of the Diocese of Allentown.

“Like all of you, I aspire to someday give my all to the Lord. But that is an aspiration, more than an achievement,” said Father Longtin, whose road to the priesthood began after graduating from a Jesuit high school in Philadelphia.

Father Longtin said he was deeply influenced by one of his teachers, Father John Burton, but still gave serious thought to marriage because the legacy of his family name was at stake.

“As with all of us, my family has been an important factor in my life and growth, and an important factor in my decision to become a Jesuit priest,” he said.

Father Longtin’s mother was an Irish immigrant and one of six children. His grandfather and grandmother eventually split as the result of his addiction to alcohol.

“I learned all about this break-up later. I never knew my grandfather was alive until he was dead. And on the day of his funeral my father took me, aged 12, for a walk and told me about him while my mother was at her father’s funeral,” he said.

“My dear mother was very much affected by her father’s and mother’s problems. She had resolved never to fight with the man she married and to maintain a household of peace, which she did with absolute dedication,” said Father Longtin.

He said his mother was a gentle woman, and his father, a dentist, deeply loved her along with him and his two younger sisters.

During his father’s eight years of Jesuit education, Father Longtin said, the order had a deep impact on his father even though he was not “pious,” but a man of principle nonetheless.

Although the family was not well-to-do, he said the family purchased their own home with a yard when he was 9.

Despite his father working six days a week, Father Longtin said, his father volunteered to help people with mental disabilities two mornings a week and would often treat his relatives to dental care at no charge on Sundays.

When thoughts about becoming a priest began to surface during Father Longtin’s senior year of high school, he spoke to his mother first.

“She looked down and in a soft voice said, ‘Why would you do that?’” recalled Father Longtin.

He said her response made him wonder if she thought she failed in raising him, if he squashed her dream of a happy household and feared her heartache would be too much for him to see.

“My father, whom I spoke to next of my wish to enter the seminary of the Jesuits, was always at his wisest and best on long-term decisions. He responded then to me, ‘I want you to do whatever you think will make you happy, and if you find it doesn’t, you always have a home to come back to,’” he said.

When July 30, 1952 arrived, he set out for the Jesuit Novitiate with both him and his mother in tears.

“The Jesuits at the novitiate were very kind and I felt very welcome, even though the break with family was then more radical than it is for Jesuit novices today. We were permitted to see our family four times a year in those days, for four hours each time. We were not permitted to go home for any vacation there. This would be true throughout our 13 years of seminary training,” he said.

While in the novitiate, he said the strict atmosphere dictated that they speak only when necessary inside the house, but were allowed to speak outside the novitiate.

“When we spoke about necessary matters in the house, we were to speak in Latin so that we could learn to use and converse in Latin, a process followed then in the Jesuit seminaries where philosophy and theology were taught,” said Father Longtin.

During his training, he said, a 30-day retreat centering on St. Ignatius was a crucial experience leading him to learn more about himself and spirituality.

Another pivotal moment – a detached retina playing handball that ultimately caused blindness in one eye – also shaped his desire to enter ministry.

“I went on with studies, but was slowed down, and my superiors were afraid that I might not be able to do all the study needed to complete the Jesuit course,” said Father Longtin.

He decided not to give up and was supported by his rector as he went back and forth from teaching Latin and continuing his priestly studies.

In 1962 Father Longtin found himself in Woodstock, Maryland, being taught by famous teachers such as Avery Dulles, John Courtney Murray and Gustave Weigel.

In 1965 he was ordained and began teaching high school religious studies or theology, which he would do for more than 30 years.

Additionally, he served as rector of the community at Loyola High School (now Loyola Blakefield), Maryland and Gonzaga High School, Washington, D.C.

“Teaching kids is hard work and important work, and it is also at times, a lot of fun. I never tired of doing it. And sometimes, kids are very funny,” said Father Longtin.

In 2003 he was assigned to the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville.

“It is a privilege to walk with people as they seek God’s will for them. I don’t tire of exercising this privileged ministry and also of ministering the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist to God’s people at the retreat house or at the neighboring parishes,” he said.

“So many of the diocesan priests I have met here are wonderful, inspiring and dedicated servants of God and the Gospel. I feel privileged to complement their wonderful work,” he closed.