Casual Invitation Leads To Lifetime Commitment To Church

May 15, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A boyhood friend's casual invitation to Sunday Mass became James D. Proffitt's first step on his path to the priesthood.

Raised in theBaptist faith, he went to St. Bartholomew's Church in Manchester nine years ago out of curiosity, he said.

That same curiosity led him to write to Father John Kelmartin, pastor of the small parish, inquiring about Catholicism. He later attended weekly religion classes.

"I had no intention of changing religions, and the pastor didn't put any pressure on me," he said. "Aftera while, though, everything made sense. I decided God was leading me."

In 1982, while a senior at North Carroll High School, he joinedthe Catholic Church, making his First Communion at St. Bartholomew's.

Brenda J. Proffitt said she wasn't happy at first with her only child's change of faith, adding she wasn't sure a 17-year-old could make that decision.

"He always was mature and thought things out before he acted, though, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt," she said. "He followed through with his new faith, and I soon knew it was right for him."

After North Carroll High, he received a scholarship to the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where he intended to study business.

"I had envisioned the whole big-bucks scenario: great job, comfortable life, wife, kids, white picket fence," he said.

When his faith collided with those "material ambitions," he abandoned them for a career in a service field, crediting his teachers -- Franciscan priests -- for his change of heart.

"I just kept getting more involved with my religion," he said. "Converts make the best Catholics; we are more enthusiastic."

During his second year of college, he said, he also toyed with the idea of becoming a priest.

"I was 19 and hot and cold on joining the priesthood," he said. "I knew that it would fit with my goals and that priests were called to be faithful, not successful."

Kelmartin helped him once again, suggesting he write to the archdiocesan director of vocations.

Following a year of indecision, he was accepted as a college candidate atSt. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. Candidates continue their studies at their respective colleges, but spend summers and vacations at the seminary.

Still a little unsure about the priesthood, he left Steubenville in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in a double major: mental health/human services and theology.

"I decided to continue at St. Mary's," he said. "If it was the wrong decision, it would show itself along the way."

After much prayer, he said, he came to terms with the most difficult aspect of his vocation -- "being available to all people at all times and not concentrating on an exclusive relationship."

The church requires promises of obedience and celibacy from priests.

"We are not robots," he said. "Those promises are difficultto keep, but God gives us a special grace."

For a man who loved children, celibacy was the most difficult vow to make, he said.

"Being celibate does not diminish my capacity to love," he said. "Ratherit enhances my ability to share the love of Christ with all people."

That concept also was difficult for his mother, who at first resisted the idea of no grandchildren in her future, she said.

"I always thought Jim would be a teacher or a preacher," she said. "He was considering a most demanding job, one you can't leave behind you at the end of the day."

Eventually, she and his father, who died last year, decided to go along with whatever their son wanted, hoping he would be happy.

Before ordination, seminarians participate in a two-year internship at a parish. Proffitt came back to Carroll to intern at St. John's. His spiritual director at the seminary assured him hisdesire to be a priest would be confirmed by the people to whom he would minister.

"I knew St. John's was the right place for me," he said. "Although with 3,000 people attending Mass here each week, it ishard to get to know people."

After earning a master's in divinityin 1990, he devoted himself full time to parish work here, taking onseveral duties.

He taught in the religious and adult-education programs, instructed Confirmation candidates, performed baptisms and weddings, and preached.

"The people here have nurtured me tremendously," he said. "As long as people can reach Christ through me, I know I am living upto my call."

With his mother's blessing, he was ordained Saturday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

He said first Mass Sunday in the church he has called home for two years. He will return to St. Bartholomew's May 26 to say Mass there and celebrate with old friends.

Proffitt, 26, will be leaving St. John's soon for another parish assignment. He doesn't yet know where. The where doesn't really matter, he said.

"As long as I can bring people closer to God as a result of my ministry, I know I have chosen the right path."

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