Following St. Joseph through discernment

It’s been quite the year for vocational discernment.

Last December, I had a first date. First dates are usually pretty low key – and this one was. No major vocational discernment going on, no strong need to determine what course of life one is called to. The first date went well so we had a second, and then a third. Still, early in a relationship. 

But then, amid a budding relationship, I was handed what has been and probably will continue to be the single greatest opportunity of my lifetime – to travel around the country as custodian of the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus Heart of a Priest relic pilgrimage. 

I don’t know about you, but I think any sane Catholic man would be struck dumb with confusion – one moment, you’re enjoying the beginnings of a romantic relationship, the next you’re spending hour after hour in church after church, with only the Cure of Ars, patron saint of parish priests, as your constant companion. 

I would be lying if I said that the sole object of my prayers in those early days of the relic pilgrimage wasn’t vocational discernment. By that point I was pretty sure I wasn’t called to be a priest, but now I had the literal heart of the patron of parish priests in my hands. Surely, I thought, I had to be called to something. 

But at the same time, I remained confident that, someday, I was meant to be married, to have a family. You can understand why discernment stayed at the top of my prayer list; on the one hand, there were confidences of family life; on the other, there was a sainted priest as my ever-constant companion, bringing doubt where I knew there wasn’t any. Two disparate vocations, but still two obvious callings. 

This, however, is not the Amazonian Synod and I am not a German bishop. I make no pretense to believing myself called to be a married priest, nor do I believe a married priesthood would solve either my problem or the vocational problem in the Church today.

I do not want to be a priest; I am not called to be a priest. What I have come to learn, through the grace of God and the prayers of St. Jean Vianney, that I am called to be the supporter of priests and religious – a spiritual father of vocations.

Turn now to St. Joseph – could there be a better example of a man who models with holiness the calls of my heart? Husband, father, defender, supporter, St. Joseph is a man whom many take as their patron, and for good reason (he’s not called terror of demons for nothing). But for all his popular patronages, his life displays a particular if oft ignored calling, one which I now understand as the call I must echo: father of the first priestly vocation.

Most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph often gets overlooked as a patron of priests. While his blessed wife and our Blessed Mother is constantly invoked as spiritual mother of priests, and as a model by which women can provide spiritual motherhood for priests and religious today, the same is not often said of the earthly father of our Savior. 

And yet, Joseph as a father made possible in earthly and spiritual ways the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He defended his son, provided for him, educated him in the Psalms and Scriptures. Christ’s priesthood is his own, but it was through the life and vocation of St. Joseph that Jesus received the formation necessary to give us the priestly sacrifice of himself. 

Thus, St. Joseph gives us a model – a path by which men who are dedicated to the priesthood and religious life but not called to it themselves can support the formation of vocations and strengthen through prayer and sacrifice those men and women who offer themselves to God in a profound way.

In short, this column is a personal manifesto. It is a dictation of my knowledge that part of my life, part of my vocation, is to model myself after St. Joseph, spiritual father of priests and religious, in support those called to the priesthood and religious life. Instead of modeling St. Jean Vianney in his priesthood, I can continue a life of pilgrimage bringing the heart of a priest – no longer the literal relic, but the living priestly hearts of men today – to communities across the Church.

More importantly, this column is a promise and a public commitment to you, my Notre Dame family:

To all those men and women who feel called to the priesthood, to religious life, to missionary life, or to some other life devoted to God, know first and foremost that I will be praying for you every day.

For those struggling living with their vocation, I will daily offer a sacrifice in support of you. 

For those who know their vocation but find themselves unable to pursue it due to financial reasons, my email is When I can’t help personally, I can connect you with an organization who can. 

St. Joseph, spiritual father of priests and religious, pray for us.

St. Jean Vianney, patron of parish priests, pray for us.

Jesus Christ, eternal high priest, hear our prayer. 

Evan Holguin is a ’18 alumni of the Program of Liberal Studies. From January to June 2019, he had the privilege of being a custodian of the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney during the Knights of Columbus Heart of a Priest relic pilgrimage. Let him know how he can help your religious vocation at