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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Lawyer prepares to become priest"

His new career began with a search for a date
From Ventura County Star
By Alicia Doyle

Christopher Fagan was a successful lawyer seeking to settle down and raise a family when he was called to the priesthood.

“I had been practicing law for about 13 years, and I was very much enjoying what I was doing,” recalled Fagan, 56, a student living at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo who expects to be ordained in May.

While the Catholic faith was always important to him, his only involvement in the church was to go to Sunday Mass.

“I was also trying to meet someone with whom I could settle down and raise a family,” he said.

So he started going to his parish’s Sunday night meetings of its young adult group. But instead of meeting a potential partner, he got more involved in parish activities, including outreach programs for the homeless and social justice programs.

Fagan, who specialized in estate planning, probate and general corporate law after graduating from the University of San Francisco, worked with the parish’s outreach programs for five years. Then the pastor asked him to assume the chair of the liturgy committee, where he spent the next five years preparing and coordinating various Sunday and seasonal liturgies.

“One day, one of the older priests told me that he noticed I was at the parish a lot and he wondered if I might have a vocation,” Fagan said. “I told him that the thought had crossed my mind.”

Still, there was a part of him that fought the idea. “I really did not want to give up my job, my house, my lifestyle.”

And more people noticed his work at the church. “ People would come up to me and ask, ‘Do you think you might have a vocation?’ In fact, I began to think that the pastor was paying people to come up to me and ask me that question.”

He always answered that he had no intention of becoming a priest.

Age not an issue

At the pastor’s suggestion, he began regular spiritual direction, again, with no intent to change careers.

“But the more I prayed and volunteered at my parish, the more joy I felt in doing parish work, and I felt the need to explore why I experienced this joy, a joy that I did not feel in my regular job as an attorney.”

He entered the seminary in the fall semester of 2003.

Fagan is older than most men pursuing a life in the priesthood. But it is not unusual for a man to enter the seminary in his 30s or 40s after having had other careers, said Monsignor Craig Cox, rector and president of St. John’s, a multicultural community of seminarians pursuing advanced degrees leading to ordination and pastoral ministry.

“We have a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who entered this year at age 50,” Cox said.

The current student body also includes a physician, a second attorney, a respiratory therapist, and people with careers in education and business.

“Their education and experience brings a richness to their studies and to their eventual ministry as priests,” Cox said.

For these men, it is not primarily a search for personal fulfillment that motivates them but rather a sense of being called, he added.

Path to the priesthood

Born in Whittier, Fagan is the youngest of five children. He attended St. Mary of the Assumption School, Whittier Union High School and Pomona College.

“At Pomona College, my undergraduate alma mater, I was fascinated by history, language and science and the different analytical methods and perspectives each has,” Fagan said. “I was also struggling with how to make a difference for the better in the world.”

In his senior year, he decided to go to law school because he could remain a “generalist” and apply the different analytical methods and perspectives he had learned at Pomona to any legal problem.

“As a generalist, I would never lose sight of the larger picture. I might be able to contribute to making the world a better place and I could actually make a living.”

After passing the bar in 1979, he worked at the Goldman and Kagon law firm in Los Angeles, helping people plan their futures and devise ways to care for their families after death.

“I helped them walk those journeys as a legal adviser and, sometimes, just as someone who would listen to them as they grieved and tried to cope with significant life changes,” he said.

When it comes to his priestly vocation, Fagan believes “we are dealing with the mystery of how the Holy Spirit works in a person’s life. I don’t know anyone who can fully answer the basic questions, ‘Why me, Lord? And why now, Lord?’”

Challenges ahead

After his ordination in May, one of his biggest challenges will be maintaining a balanced lifestyle in the midst of a busy parish setting.

Another challenge is living a celibate life as part of his total gift of self.

“My pastoral internship year provided an opportunity to deepen my understanding of what it means to live a celibate life,” he said.

Fagan emphasized that vocations are part of the mystery of how the Holy Spirit works in people’s lives.

“So do I believe that God chose me to be a priest? Absolutely, just as he chooses others to be married and still others to live in the world as single people,” he said.

“Why did it take 30 years and the pursuit of a different career to come to this realization? Because the priest that God wants me to be is the priest that has been formed by that life experience.”

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