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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

111116 engineerFather Casey ColemanImagine you spend years studying for a certain career. You get a job in that field, achieve a degree of success – and then a call, a little tug, begins to pull at your heart… God is calling you to a religious vocation.

For several priests in our diocese, this is their story. Our Lord called them from a career in engineering to a life of service to His Church. For National Vocation Awareness Week, they share their stories with the Catholic News Herald:

FATHER CASEY COLEMAN

Was there anything is particular that drew me from the field of engineering? I would have to say yes, and that was the desire to save souls.

I remember an evening not long before I was actually able to quit my job at Corning Cable Systems, LLC, a fiber optics telecommunications company where I worked as a development engineer designing fiber optic connectors and associated manufacturing equipment and processes. I had completed my application process to the Diocese of Charlotte and was waiting to hear if I had been accepted.

I was heading back into work during an already long day, as part of an already long week, to check on some test samples that came from a pilot manufacturing line we had set up in our plant in Mexico, part of environmental testing for product qualification before releasing the product to full live production and sales.

I had gone to Wendy’s for a late dinner, I think it was around 8 or 9 in the evening, and as I was getting ready to get out of my car to go back into work, I remember thinking how I couldn’t wait for priesthood, because I would much rather be going into a hospital at that hour to anoint someone than going in to the office to check on an environmental test.

I thought to myself, in the end what does all this really mean with respect to the salvation of souls? How is my doing this really helping God? All I am doing is helping this company run, which does supply needed jobs, but in the end all I am doing is helping this company.

I thought, “I want to help God save souls, something that really means something.” This desire was not for my good, but for the good of others that they may know the love of God.

At the risk of oversimplifying things and sounding a little cold or callous, as an engineer I was a problem solver. I was given certain needs or demands with a certain set of requirements and I was asked to find a solution. The work often required a lot of patience, both with the design process and with people.

Serving as a priest, I find there are many similarities. The end product or goal is to get people to heaven.

I have to look at and address whatever problems they are having, and help them find solutions within the unchanging teachings of the Church.

My own path to discernment was part of my personal conversion. I was at a point of dissatisfaction in life. I had pretty much everything someone at my point in life was supposed to have: a good degree from a reputable school, a well-paying job and all the comforts of life that those things could provide.

However, something was still lacking. Through a number of circumstances of life, I was re-introduced to the Catholic faith that I had been given at baptism. The more I got to know all the truths of the faith that I had missed out on growing up, I saw how much sense it all made.

It was all very logical, and as someone coming from a scientific background where everything is governed by the laws of physics, logical is good. In fact, the faith is super-logical or super-reasonable meaning it is above or beyond reason, but not illogical or unreasonable or contrary to logic or reason. So to some degree, it made a lot more sense than a lot of things and it heightened my understanding of the world.

So when I started to recognize God calling me to the priesthood it made sense.

FATHER MARK LAWLOR

By the age of 16, I knew that I wanted to be an engineer. It made sense. I enjoyed working on mechanical devices such as bicycles and eventually old cars, and I was much better in math than in other subjects.
My father was a chemical engineer and he worked in a chemical plant. He oversaw many mechanical and system projects. In high school, I also worked part-time for the same company in the maintenance department. I learned a lot working around experienced mechanics.

I only applied to one college, N.C. State, and I only pursued one degree, mechanical engineering. I worked in construction during the summers while I was in college. I remember on the day of my graduation, I overheard a classmate say, “I look forward to getting into management.” I thought to myself, “I would rather work with machines than with people!”

After graduation, I went to work for the Naval Shipyard in Charleston, in the repair and overhaul of nuclear submarines. The work was interesting, especially coming from a small town. While I didn’t think that I would stay with the government for a career, I did think that I would stay in a technical field. Engineering has many formulas and equations, and I enjoyed working in problem solving.

Spiritually, I was wandering in those days. It was through my attendance at a parish Lenten mission that I began to rediscover my Catholic faith. I then heard the call of the Lord to pursue a religious vocation. It was initially a shock to me. I originally thought that I should become a religious brother and use my engineering experience in a mission or a monastery. I didn’t think that I could ever be a priest. After a couple of years of discernment, I accepted the call to holy orders and began formal preparation.

I have used my engineering experience in my pastoral assignments. Most facilities have some maintenance issues and I feel good when I am able to fix something in lieu of having to call a contractor.

There is a certain order in the study of engineering. I also think that faith is reasonable. Studying philosophy, theology and Scripture helped me to grow in ways I had not previously explored.

I value my studies and work experience in engineering. All of my previous experiences have helped me in some way in pastoral ministry. In reflection, engineering was a practical application of my skills and aptitude. I see my priesthood as a calling from God. I believe we will find our greatest fulfillment when our will is accepting of God’s will.

FATHER LARRY LOMONACO

111116 Engineer priests Fr Larry LoMonacoFather Larry LoMonacoI went to college to earn a degree in engineering, so I could make a lot of money, have a big family and live happily ever after. After four grueling years spent earning a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering, I felt called to enter the military because I wanted to serve my country and travel.

I went to Officer Training School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. I was assigned to a Civil Engineering Squadron. I enjoyed serving in the military and traveling throughout the world. I was stationed in Texas, Japan, Korea and Colorado. After 7 and a half years, I was forced out of the military during the reduction in force that took place after the first Persian Gulf War in 1992 (250,000 people were forced out of the military, including 75 percent of the reserve officers in my year-group). I was not happy about being forced out of the military, but what could I do?

I spent one year working as a supervisor at a corrugated paper company in Massachusetts, then I decided to move south because I did not want to deal with the winters up north. In August 1994, I moved to Charlotte and was hired by a local manufacturing company to document its assembly processes so they could meet the quality demands of an ISO certification. I initially enjoyed that job, but I eventually became bored with the daily routine of working in a factory. All the employees at that factory would be given a “pep talk” every three months by the company president. He would essentially tell us to work harder so the company could make more money.

I became discouraged that my life had been reduced to working hard so some guys could get rich. I became depressed that my life was so shallow and meaningless. I thought to myself, “There has got to be more to life than this.”

I talked with a Catholic priest I met while I was in Japan (he was serving as a priest in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pa., at the time) and he encouraged me to pursue a vocation to the priesthood. I quit my job, rented out my house and went to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. I was ordained a priest by Bishop William Curlin at St. Patrick Cathedral on June 1, 2002, at the age of 40.

I can definitely see God’s hand in my long journey to the priesthood. My delayed vocation – the fact that I worked in the military and in industry prior to becoming a priest – enables me to relate to the struggles people deal with in the working world. I say to them, “Been there, done that.”

I love being a priest because I love serving God and I enjoy the challenges of ordained ministry. I take great comfort in Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”

FATHER JAMES STUHRENBERG

When I left the U.S. government, I left the second-largest bureaucracy (the military) to work for the world’s largest bureaucracy, the Church.

I began my career as a project engineer for the U.S. Department of the Navy after earning a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from UNC-Charlotte in 1987.

I worked on H46 helicopters as a project engineer in aviation electronics. I also worked on communications systems and navigation systems – just about anything with a wire attached to it in the aircraft. I worked my way up to project manager over the years.

God’s sense of humor is what lured me away from engineering.

I was praying for vocations, for other people to become priests. God said, “What about you?” I said, “I was waiting for someone else.” God just kept bringing it up in prayer and in conversations with other people. A lady from the church and other ladies at church would come up to me and say, “You would make such a good priest.”

So I finally gave in. And I love being a priest.

I enjoyed being an engineer, too. Even then I was involved in the RCIA program and served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

There are some differences between an engineering career and the priesthood, but there are many parallels.

One of the things I learned as a project engineer was to get up in front of people and talk. Without that training, I don’t know if I could have done that easily as a priest. As an engineer and as a priest, you have to organize projects and programs you want to get done. You have to argue your case in front of people. You have to create budgets and understand financing.

With both paths, you learn what issues are important to hold your ground on. As an engineer, one thing I would fight for completely was safety. I would not do anything that I felt would make the aircraft unsafe, no matter what the management wanted. As a priest, I will not do anything that is heresy, against the Catholic faith.

Luckily in my career as an engineer and as a priest, I have not been asked to. My management back then didn’t want me to do anything unsafe; they knew I would stay strong and they wanted me to. The bishop has always supported me with the teaching of the Catholic faith, and he wants me to teach the Catholic faith.

Some of my family and some of my friends said they saw an inkling of a future in the priesthood for me years ago. I had no idea. I was not even thinking about becoming a priest. I hadn’t thought about becoming a priest until around the year 2000. I had it in my head that I was supposed to be an engineer.

God has put a great love in my heart for His people. I really enjoy being a priest. I never would have thought that when I was an engi-neer I would. The main reason why I thought I might not make a good priest is that I thought that was for “all those outgoing people,” and engineers generally aren’t the outgoing people!

— SueAnn Howell, Senior reporter