Fr. John Wassell


How God Called Me To The Priesthood


I will begin the most significant part of my spiritual testimony with my going away to Cornell University in 1968 to study engineering. A timid small town boy from Pennsylvania, I was thrown into a world class university in the mist of the 60’s unrest. I had short hair, was in AFROTC and carried around a slide-rule. I was bombarded with anti-war messages in the Cornell Daily Sun (the university’s daily newspaper) and in homilies at Sunday mass. My sophomore year on a Saturday night in early December I was watching an old movie about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. John Brown used the bible to justify killing. This got me thinking about my ROTC involvement. I said to myself “You can’t use the bible to justify killing.” I was getting ready to sign on with the Air Force for 5 years after graduation and they would pay my last 2 years of college. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to ever be put into the position of having to kill someone. I loved this country and already my two best friends were in the Air Force. If I wasn’t going to serve my country in the military, then how else could I serve my country? The only thought that came to me was that of being a priest.

This blew me away. I never ever considered that possibility, was never an altar boy, didn’t go to Catholic school, no one ever suggested that to me, but once the idea was there I couldn’t shake it. (I had had a miraculous answer to prayer when I was 15 when for the first time I prayed for 3 months about a relationship with a girl….. and God answered my prayer. Because of that I loved God and always went to mass.) I told my dad at Christmas break and he agreed to pay for the last 2 years at Cornell. He encouraged me to get my degree first and then if I still wanted to go into the seminary he would support me. I was relieved because I didn’t want to go into the seminary since I always planned to be married.

My senior year I got more involved with the Catholic chaplains because I knew that I was going to have to face this decision after graduation. The first Saturday of February in 1972 there was a “day of renewal” on campus and I attended. This was very “Pentecostal”, very much influenced by the “Love Inn” - a Jesus freak commune that was about 20 minutes from campus. The Catholic chaplains allowed this but had no clue what it was and they didn’t attend. I argued with their fundamentalist teachings all day but when it came to the prayer meeting at the end I was extremely uncomfortable but at the same time attracted. I lasted 5 minutes and left. I went home to my apartment and looking at myself in the bathroom mirror – eye to eye, I said to God, “I want what they have!” I was lonely and depressed after 2½ years of fighting God over the priesthood and they were joyful and had a personal relationship with Jesus. I surrendered to Him and made Him Lord of my life (which meant being open to the possibility of priesthood.) I entered the seminary in September after graduation