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Friday, May 8, 2009

"Banking on priesthood: Broker leaves behind a lucrative career to become a man of the cloth"

From the National Post
By Katherine Laidlaw

In Thomas Lim's last job, he earned a six-figure salary, lived in an expansive home and managed the bustling operations of Sun Life Financial, a brokerage firm. He was a high roller on an upward career trajectory.

On Saturday, he starts a new job: one without material luxuries and the fast-paced intensity of the stock market. He is becoming a Catholic priest.

Eight years ago, Mr. Lim was assistant vice-president of Sun Life. He had it all: money, power, relationships, upward mobility. And yet, he says he was intensely unhappy.

Now 40 years old and after six years of study, he is being ordained at St. Michael's Cathedral.

The Catholic Church doesn't require priests to give away their savings when they enter the seminary, but he has left his financial investments in the hands of his brother, who is also a banker. He doesn't miss working in the business world. "There were moments in the past where you'd be obsessed with every tick up, every tick down," Mr. Lim said. "I don't feel like I'm shackled any more."

Between about five and 10 men have been ordained each year for the past five years in the Greater Toronto Area, according to the Archdiocese of Toronto. Seven are being ordained this Saturday.

Many come from diverse backgrounds, such as Mr. Lim, seeking spirituality they cannot find in the pressures of everyday life.

Frank Portelli, a 33-year-old once far more interested in clubbing, left his job working with the federal government's bankruptcy regulator to become a priest.

"During my undergrad [at the University of Toronto], it was more about drinks, smoking, dancing, girls, not studying," he said. He reluctantly applied to the seminary after being encouraged by a priest he knew.

Likewise, Eric Rodrigues was completing a master's in biostatistics at McGill University in Montreal when he realized his dreams of being a doctor were eclipsed by a call from God. "Deep down I know that it was a desire to serve people and help people who are suffering."

In Mr. Lim's case, he ignored his first push toward the priesthood, which came a long time ago when he was attending De La Salle College, a prestigious private school run by the Roman Catholic Lasallian brothers.

The nudge came from Brother Benedict, a short, bespectacled man who patrolled the locker hallway. "I had the fourth or fifth locker from the chapel," said Mr. Lim, whose older brother, also a student at De La Salle, was thinking of entering the monastery. Brother Benedict came down the hallway to ask Mr. Lim if he would be following suit. "I kind of laughed and said, 'Are you crazy? I want to make money,' " said Mr. Lim. "I think he thought he could get two for the price of one."

Instead, attending De La Salle left Mr. Lim with a burning desire to be wealthy. He grew up in the Regent Park housing complex, one of Toronto's most destitute, crime-ridden neighbourhoods, where he lived with his mother, father and seven brothers and sisters in a small, four-bedroom home.

He attended the private school on a scholarship. "People did look at you a little strangely. You know, you're coming home in your blue blazer and tie to Regent Park," Mr. Lim said.

"After being in that environment, with those kids who had so much, I came up with a plan. That plan was to make as much money as possible."

After high school, he went on to the University of Toronto's business school. After graduating with a bachelor of commerce, Mr. Lim took a job at Toronto-Dominion Bank, where he was made manager of the mutual funds division before moving to Canada Trust and then to Sun Life. His parents were devout Catholics. But Mr. Lim turned his back on his faith and refused to practise for 12 years. "I found out later, [my mother] prayed for my return each day," he says, voice cracking.

Eight years ago, Mr. Lim had broken up with his last girlfriend, a Catholic who attended church regularly and had encouraged him to attend as well. One Saturday, he wandered into St. Justin, Martyr, a parish in Unionville. Standing at the back of the church, Mr. Lim says he was "overpowered" by the pastor's homily. He listened while the priest spoke about encouraging those who felt lost to return to the church.

Soon after, Mr. Lim was ringing Rev. Michael Busch's doorbell, asking to speak to him about his sermon. Instead, Rev. Busch says, they talked about their lives.

"He was what we call a 'walk-in off the street'," Rev. Busch said. "I always say to him, my first impression of him was anger, bitterness, dissatisfaction."

The description is a stark contrast to the soft-spoken man he knows now, he says. "He's a lot calmer. The man that was before, sometimes those are the qualities that come out when we're searching or when we're frustrated."

Like Mr. Lim, Rev. Busch left behind a lucrative career in advertising to become a priest. "It was the same kind of thing: young, had it all, going in a certain direction but not happy," Rev. Busch said.

"It's something that's very prevalent among young people today. They're really searching for that kind of spirituality."

Seeing in Mr. Lim many qualities he remembered in himself, Rev. Busch told Mr. Lim he should consider joining the priesthood.

"I more or less threw it at him," he said. "I knew it was a bit of a shock for him. I could see he was reaching a point where his questions were leading in a very specific direction."

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