Ordination class of 2016: Deacon Christopher Bae

byDonis Tracy Pilot Correspondent

Deacon Christopher Bae Pilot file photo

This is the second in a series of articles profiling each of the nine men who will be ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on May 21. Earlier articles in the series are available at TheBostonPilot.com.

On May 21, Deacon Chris Bae will celebrate two things: he will be ordained to the priesthood and he will turn 33.

"How can it be more obvious that I am called to the priesthood," he said with a smile. "I will turn the age of Jesus at the very moment when I become a priest for His Church."

Born in South Korea, Deacon Bae attended a local Protestant church as a child. In 1998, one year before his family emigrated to the United States, his parents converted to Catholicism.

At the time, he was not so sure.

In 1999, his family emigrated to Orange County, California in 1999 for his father's work.

"There was a big financial crisis in the Asian countries in the mid-1990s and as a result my father had lost his job," he explained.

While in California, "my mom convinced me to convert to Catholicism," he said. "She told me, 'As a mother, I won't teach you something bad. Just come to the Catholic Church with us.'"

He agreed, completed the RCIA program, and at 16 was baptized in the Korean Catholic parish near his home.

"My faith was never strong, even after being baptized," he explained. "I was always taught, 'Chris, the most important thing for you is to study, to get good grades in college in order to get a good job and then get a lot of money. And then you'll be happy.' I believed in that."

Deacon Bae attended UCLA, where he studied mechanical engineering. He received his master's degree in Mechanical Engineering at MIT, where his concentration was in neuroscience.

"Basically, I wanted to make a robot that you can control with your thoughts," he said. "The practical application was for prosthetics."

After receiving his masters, for two years, he worked as a consultant in a firm in Boston.

"The first year was very exciting," he recalled. "However, after the first year, even though the projects were different, everything seemed similar."

"All I ever did was work, go home, have dinner, watch television, maybe check some emails on the computer, and sleep. Saturdays were about rest. Sundays I went to church and got ready to start over again," he said. "Somehow, this just seemed so mundane."

One day, as he was commuting to work, a disturbing thought jolted him. "I was thinking out my life -- I was 27, and thought that maybe in 3 years I would marry. Then maybe have a couple of kids who one day would go off to college, and then what? Work some more and eventually die."

"Once I realized that I was going to die, once I saw that I have to put death into my life plan, I was very confused. Given the fact that my faith wasn't that strong, then if there's nothing after death, I wasn't sure why to live," Deacon Bae said. "Because no matter how much money I make, no matter how successful I am, I can't take that with me once I'm dead."

According to Deacon Bae, he began searching for a value to his life -- which he found in a very unexpected place.

A few short months afterwards, he went with his parish, St. Antoine Daveluy at Corpus Cristi in Auburndale, on a mission trip to Haiti.

"That experience really changed my life," he said.

For 10 days, Deacon Bae lived and worked alongside the Missionaries of the Poor, an order of religious brothers who minister to orphans and the elderly.

"Before this trip, I never thought that you could be happy without money. I always thought that you had to have money to buy what you want. But when I went there and saw the smiles on the faces of the poor, that really shocked me," he said.

"How can poor people smile?" he said he kept asking himself. "Then I realized the source of happiness is something beyond money."

"I realized that everything I have is a pure gift of God, and that I wanted to share it with others," he said. "Suddenly, it didn't make sense for me to use all my talents and gifts for myself. I wanted to share them with others."

Deacon Bae said he returned to Boston feeling "confused" and turned to his pastor, Father Dominic Jung, CPPS, for advice.

"After listening to my story, he said, 'Chris, maybe you could be a priest,'" Deacon Bae recalled.

"I said no," he said smiling, "because I always wanted to have a family, to have a nice house, to buy my dream car -- a Lamborghini -- and that doesn't really go with the priesthood."

However, "that conversation sowed a seed in my heart," he said.

After speaking to many priests and religious sisters, Deacon Bae realized that "if God calls me to the priesthood, it's because that is the happiest way of my life. If I have a vocation, God will give me the grace to continue; if I am not called, he will tell me."

"I thought of it like this: if I don't know how to use a smartphone, the best person to talk to is the engineer who developed the phone. If I don't know what to do with my vocation, the best place to go is to God who engineered me," he explained.

In 2010, just four months after returning from Haiti, Deacon Bae entered St. John's Seminary. His family was not immediately supportive.

"By now I am the only practicing Catholic in my entire extended family," he explained. Over the years, roughly half of the family has come to accept his vocation -- the most notable exception is his mother, who still "wants me to have a normal life like everyone else."

Nevertheless, Deacon Bae knows he is called to be a priest.

"I am so grateful that I am being used as an instrument of God," he said.

He praised the faith community in Brockton where he has been assigned as a deacon.

"I feel blessed to be in Brockton," he said, adding that the parishioners at the Brockton Tri-Parish Collaborative of St. Edith Stein, Our Lady of Lourdes and Christ the King parishes have given him "lots of love and support."

"As a priest, there's a special way that I can bring people to God -- through the sacraments, and through preaching the good news that God is real," he said. "I want to proclaim this news until my last day on earth."