Father Mark Ballard Pilot photo/ Courtesy Office for Vocations
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Parish/assignment: Recently assigned as pastor in Our Lady of the Assumption in Marshfield
Place of birth: Stoneham, Mass.
How many brothers and sisters do you have? 1 brother
High school: Melrose High School
Undergraduate - Massachusetts College of Art
Graduate 1 - St. John’s Seminary College
Seminary (Theology) M.Div. St. John’s Seminary
Date of ordination: May 26, 2002
What assignments have you had since ordination?
All Saints Parish, Haverhill
What have been some of the greatest joys for you as a priest?
My joy has come in the privilege of seeing the powerful grace of God at work in the lives of my parishioners, especially through the sacraments. Also, seeing the tremendous power of the Eucharist calling someone to deeper union with Christ is such an incredible gift. In addition, seeing Christ’s power to heal and free people from their sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Anointing. There is nothing more exciting than to see these transformations of grace take place. I love helping men and women enter into a relationship with Christ by teaching them how to pray. It is truly an awesome experience to see people move from knowing about the Lord to actually coming to know him deeply through prayer. When this connection takes place, so many other things in our common life together begin to come into focus. Especially our worship and the rich teaching of the Church are discovered in ways that the person had not been open to before. It is also a privilege to be with my parishioners, assuring them of Christ’s love for them when they are in difficult and painful moments of their life, especially when facing suffering or death.
Who influenced your vocation most to consider the priesthood?
Fathers John Leonard, Frank Ritchie, and Maurice Connolly most influenced my considering a vocation to the priesthood because of their faithful service to the Church and because of their great love of Christ and his people. I was always impressed by their loving, gentle witness to Jesus Christ in their homilies, in their counsel and in their pastoral care of me and others. They just witnessed to Jesus in such a powerful way in the day to day. They helped me to see Christ as accessible in my daily routine. They helped me to open myself to the call of Jesus in the midst of my ordinary life and to see that Christ is not far away. The other important thing is that at the moment the Lord opened my heart to his, Father Leonard asked me if I had ever considered being a priest. I cannot tell you how important his question was to my taking the final step. The Holy Spirit really used Father Leonard to move me to do something about the call I had already been hearing but did not yet have the courage to answer.
What events or practices in your life helped you to discover and discern your call to the priesthood?
Eucharistic Adoration is where I first heard the call to priesthood. Prayer, prayer, prayer! One of the most important things that I began to do in the Seminary was to pray using Sacred Scripture every day. Prayer with Scripture has sustained, nourished and helped me to hear the voice of the Lord, first as a seminarian and now as a priest. Also, I have found great help through devotion to Our Lady and the praying of the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet.
What is one of your favorite scripture passages and why?
I have always loved Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills -- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” I have learned the need to rely on the Lord’s help. I believe that one of the important things that I do as a priest is to teach others to learn to turn themselves over to this unfailing help of the Lord Jesus.
What are some of your hobbies?
I am a swimmer and I also weave Nantucket Lightship Baskets. I love history, art, architecture and music.
What advice would you give to a young man who is considering the priesthood?
Spend significant time in prayer each day. Through your faithfulness to daily prayer and the Eucharist, Jesus will help you to hear his call in your life and act on it. Also, talk to a priest with whom you feel comfortable.
What are some of your favorite books/ spiritual reading/ magazines?
I love Thomas Merton’s book, “Seven Storey Mountain,” the journey of a 20th century man as he discovers his faith in Jesus and his vocation as a Trappist Monk. I also love Catherine Doherty’s book “Poustinia.” In “Poustinia,” Catherine Doherty introduces the reader to the spirituality of the Russian Poustinik, hermits, who combine a life of prayer and action. I also highly recommend that any man or woman discerning a religious vocation participate in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I made the 19th annotation of the Exercises within the first year of my priesthood and those experiences helped to build the spiritual foundation of my identity as priest. The Spiritual Exercises also provide powerful tools of prayer and discernment that are of a very practical value to anyone seeking to do the will of God.
Through the cardinal, God is calling each of us personally to help rebuild His Church. How must the priest respond to this mandate today?
Each priest must personally respond to this mandate by being loving shepherds who live out their ministry in integrity. If we are about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord can use us to draw others into deeper communion with him.
When Cardinal Seán came to Boston, he wrote a pastoral letter entitled: “Vocations: Everybody’s Business.” What are some ways that we can help all individuals and families understand their role in promoting and supporting vocations?
As priests we need to preach about vocations. We need to talk about the growing need for new priests. We also need to help the faithful to understand that vocations to the priesthood do not come from some faraway place but from faithful families like theirs. Answering God’s call will not often yield worldly treasure but instead will point the person to his/her eternal home. In the end, what greater treasure is there?