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Doing it God’s way leads to altar

Posted By June 12, 2014 | 1:24 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

A youth conference chaperone offered to do things God’s way.
The next day he was fighting a sudden urge to respond to a possible priestly vocation. The next month he was in seminary.
“From the time I had this big encounter with God to the time I entered the seminary was 35 days,” James M. Boland told The Catholic Free Press last week. But he said that wasn’t the miracle; “the miracle is, six years later I’m still here and I’m going to be ordained a priest.”
And he was – Saturday at St. Paul Cathedral.
“I had my plan post-college, and, after I graduated, that plan pretty much fell apart,” said Father Boland, who got his bachelor’s degree in athletic training/sports medicine from Springfield College. “It was 2008 so the economy was slowly turning.” Even entry-level jobs in his field were hard to find.
And, he said, “I was kind of coming to a conclusion in my own heart that this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” (He’d played several sports himself growing up, and still likes to watch football and play a pick-up game, he said.)
Born on Christmas 1985, in Framingham, to Thomas and Virginia Boland, and baptized at St. Anne Parish in Southborough, he grew up at St. Bernadette Parish in Northborough, where his mother is administrator of religious education. He worked at the church and its school for summer jobs.
“That’s what kept me in touch with my faith during the college years,” he said.
He said he responded to an invitation from Father Stephen M. Gemme, then his pastor, to help chaperone a Steubenville East youth conference. (Last fall Bishop McManus told parishioners in a letter that Father Gemme had acknowledged a gambling problem, resigned as pastor, and was in treatment, after apparently using parish and school money for personal expenditures. Despite what he called “very distressing news,” the bishop urged parishioners to remember the good their pastor did. He has not been charged.)
Father Boland was a chaperone in 2007 and 2008 for high school youth conferences organized by Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, and the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro. The conferences were held at the shrine.
The second year, the second day, “I went before the tabernacle,” Father Boland said. “I made the most honest prayer in my life: ‘For once in my life, why don’t we try it your way instead of my way? But listen, Man, I need you to do this now.’
“Be careful what you ask for, because he showed up,” Father Boland warns, speaking of God.
“The next day at the Mass they have the vocation call,” he said. “Men are kind of walking up for the priesthood portion of it.” (During Steubenville conferences participants are invited to go up front if they feel they might be called to priestly or religious life.)
In 2008, Father Boland said, his mother and his sister, Meaghan, were also chaperones, and his brother, Michael, was a student participant.
Meaghan, now called Sister Pio Maria, is about to take her first vows with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michael is a student at Franciscan University, as their sister had been when she went on a vocation discernment weekend with these Dominicans.
During the conference “vocation call,” Father Boland said, he kept getting an “internal sense” to get up.
“My stomach’s, like, twisting in knots, and I’m trying to stay in the chair,” he said. He said to God, “This is not what we discussed. I said, ‘act,’ but not this.”
Father Boland said he’d only once had a passing thought about a priestly vocation. As a teenager serving Mass at St. Bernadette’s he thought, “You could do this the rest of your life.”
“I brushed it off immediately,” he said. “I had the idea: ‘I’m going to get married.’”
At the conference, after an internal battle that seemed like forever, “I finally take the walk up and I received the blessing,’” Father Boland said.
Upon returning that night, the St. Bernadette’s contingent had exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at their parish.
“Following adoration I pulled Father Steve aside,” Father Boland said. “I recounted the whole story to him: ‘Is this crazy or is there something to this?’
“He’s, like, ‘Take some time to come off the mountain and put everything into context.’”
After a week of praying, thinking and doing research, Father Boland said, he wanted more information. So he and Father Gemme went to see Father James S. Mazzone, director of the Office for Vocations.
“Somewhere during this conversation we’re talking about entry” into seminary, Father Boland said. “After kind of dodging the question a couple times (I said,) ‘I don’t see the harm in trying.’
“It’s the end of July. Seminary starts Aug. 25. Trying to accomplish everything we’re trying to accomplish in this time period is really hard.” But, he said, all obstacles fell away. God was providing.
Among other things, he needed a physical examination and a new doctor, he said. Getting them quickly didn’t seem likely. He made a call at 9 a.m. one day, and at 1 p.m. learned that an appointment had been scheduled for 3 p.m. that day – down the road.
“I went into the adoration chapel here (at St. Bernadette’s) and I had a little heart-to-heart with the Lord: ‘I understand you’re trying to have me do this, but I need one last push,’” Father Boland said. Things were moving fast and he had some trepidation.
He invited God to speak through his Word, and opened the Bible at random – to Mt. 4:18-22, where Jesus invites men to follow him, including one with his name: James.
“About a week and a half later I was in the seminary,” Father Boland said. “I never thought this would be my call. If you give God a chance to do it his way in your life, he can do miraculous things with you.”
He said he was looking forward to priesthood, “just trying to respond to what he wants me to do,” celebrating Mass, hearing confessions.
“Trying to bring people to Christ,” he continued. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I encounter Christ in the Eucharist. Bringing that truth to people: Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. How, if we let it, it can change our lives.”