[This is the first in a series of articles profiling each of the seven men who will be ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church) on May 19.]
It all started with a mission trip.
The summer of Deacon Michael Rora's senior year in Stoneham High School, he and his twin sister took part in a 17-day mission trip to Peru. Together with the other teens from his home parish, St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham, Deacon Rora was given hospitality by an order of friars in San Bartolo, a small fishing village in Peru. It was during one of those evenings that the seed to his vocation was planted.
"The men of the religious order, and honestly I don't even remember what the order was exactly, sat down all the boys on the mission trip and asked us if we had ever considered the priesthood," he recounted.
"I'm pretty sure that they were trying to get us to consider joining their order, but for me that was the first time that anyone had asked me to consider the priesthood," Deacon Rora continued. "I remember sitting there and thinking, 'Yeah! Maybe that is for me'."
However, Deacon Rora did not immediately heed the call. Instead, he attended the University of Illinois, where he studied biology.
"Honestly, for the next five years, it was kind of an ongoing thing for me," he said, admitting that he never really looked into entering the seminary.
"I just kind of kept thinking, 'Well, if God wants me in the priesthood, then he'll have to have me come to it,'" he added.
That is exactly what God did.
During Deacon Rora's senior year in college, he suddenly found himself praying the rosary every day. Then one day, "halfway through the fourth decade, I just had the realization that God wanted me," he said. Moved, he decided to apply to enter the seminary.
"Everything happened pretty quickly after that," the 28-year-old said.
He called his house to tell his family. He recalled that his parents, his twin sister and younger brother were all very happy and supportive at the news.
"My mother just got on the phone and said to me, 'OK, so what can your father and I do to make this happen?'" he said. "My entire family was very excited for me."
Looking back on his time at St. John Seminary, Deacon Rora said that the first few years of seminary "were a whirlwind" for him, but noted that he has grown "quite a bit -- both spiritually and academically."
"I will certainly miss the fraternity with the other guys here at St. John's," he said pensively. "I know that you get some of that in the parish with the pastor, but the great bond of fraternity that is formed with all the men studying together, learning together, praying together and living together is pretty unique."
As his ordination day nears, he noted that he is "looking forward to so many different aspects of the priesthood."
"I really am looking forward to the pastoral ministry," he said. "I want to be with the people, to walk with them, to pray with them. Being in the parish on weekends has been a foretaste of what's to come, and I am looking forward to being in a parish more permanently," he said.
Deacon Rora noted that the priesthood is not without its challenges.
"I think that one of the biggest challenges the priesthood is facing -- and in fact all Catholics are facing -- is apathy," he said. "There's a feeling in the secular world at large that none of this matters. As someone who is being formed for the priesthood, I am called to stir up the faith in my community, not just on Sundays, but by my way of living. By preaching clearly, honestly and fervently, and by inviting those present within the parish and reaching out to those who are no longer there. This is the greatest challenge ahead of me, and I am looking forward to meeting this challenge."