This year's four candidates with Cardinal Thomas Collins at the 22nd annual Ordinandi Dinner Photo by Emanuel Pires, archdiocese of Toronto

Future priests share the stories of their call at 2012 Ordinandi Dinner

  • March 9, 2012

TORONTO - Ten years ago, Chris Lemieux sat amidst a crowd of Catholics listening to the vocation stories of a group of young men on the brink of entering the priesthood. Though it was only a few months after his baptism, he knew then that he was being called to religious life.

So on March 6, it was only fitting that Lemieux would follow in the footsteps of those men and become one of this year's four priestly candidates to share their stories with a crowd of more than 1,900 at the 22nd annual Ordinandi Dinner. Serra International, an organization promoting vocations to Catholic religious life, hosted the evening, which was held at the Pearson Convention Centre in Brampton, Ont.

"Priesthood is the way that God has called me to give myself completely to others in the world," said Lemieux, 40, who was raised without the faith.

Lemieux's gradual conversion to Catholicism was matched by an attraction to the priesthood. Though he feared the ridicule of his friends, he followed the calling and — to his surprise — both his parents and friends supported him. When he is ordained this spring, he will serve the archdiocese of Toronto.

Francesco Marrone, the oldest in an Italian family of 10 children, will also minister to the people of Toronto upon his ordination. Like Lemieux, his call to the priesthood didn't come without its difficulties. As a child in Italy, Marrone faced financial difficulties in a large family and he said he became an arrogant and selfish youth. It was his faith that turned his life around.

"How could I ever thank Him for all He has done for me?" asked Marrone, 30. "There is only one thing: to give back my life to the one that from day one wanted me to be happy."

While Marrone described his priestly vocation as an offering to the Lord, Michael Goring saw it just as much as an offering received.

"I sensed that God was offering me a gift," said Goring, 38, a Pembroke, Ont., native. "It was the gift to become a priest."

Goring, like each of the other Ordinandi, didn't always envision himself entering the priesthood. Instead, he said, it was simply a calling that, as soon as he had felt it, he couldn't turn away from. Once he gave the idea a chance and entered the seminary for a year, he knew he was indeed being called.

"God is calling men and women in this generation just like He always has," said Craig Cameron, 31, the last of the Ordinandi. "In every generation, God is perfectly faithful and He raises up men and women to holiness for His Church."

Cameron emphasized the role that point played in his vocation and how it might play a role in the future vocations of some of the youth in attendance at the dinner. Young people, who came from about 30 different schools across the GTA, accounted for about a quarter of the record crowd.

"Every year this grows bigger and bigger," said Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto. "It's a sign of vibrance of faith."

In fact, the Ordinandi Dinner has grown so much since it began in 1990 that founder Mario Biscardi is thinking of ways that will allow it to continue to grow in the future. Since the venue is at capacity, he said, he might have to consider hosting an Ordinandi lunch just for youth in addition to the traditional dinner. Whatever the case, he is inspired every year by the results of his work.

When he heard Lemieux's vocation story — and that it included one of the past Ordinandi Dinners — he said, "It is that type of feedback that makes all our efforts very worthwhile indeed."

Neil MacCarthy, the dinner's MC, concluded the night by reiterating the notion of a cycle of vocation inspired by witness.

"Who knows," he said, "we may have people in the audience this evening that feel chosen to answer the call to the priesthood or religious life, who will be sharing their own journey up here in a few years."

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