"In 1992 my life changed dramatically," says Father Donald Calloway. "I had a profound conversion experience after reaching rock bottom."
Rock bottom indeed! Now a 31-year-old priest who serves as assistant rector at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Father Calloway had been a runaway youngster who was immersed in everything from drug abuse to theft.
"I had gone through all a boy could do up to the age of twenty," he says. "My mother had been married three times and we had no religion. The family was very hedonistic. There was a downward spiral in my life."
It started in Virginia Beach -- where his stepfather was based in the military -- and continued when the family moved to California. Drugs, sex, smoking, and drinking -- all by the age 11. "It escalated to the point of getting out of control," he now recounts. "We moved near Los Angeles. Then to Japan. That rocked my world."
Uprooted so continuously from friends and his environment, young Donald Calloway had decided to teach his parents a lesson. As soon as they got to Japan, he became a "living hell" for them. He tied in with the wrong crowd and started doing "unbelievable" quantities of drugs -- opium, heroin, alcohol every day, even inhaling the fumes of gasoline.
That escalated to where he ran away from the military base and fled around the foreign country, committing felonies -- stealing "massive amounts" of money, cars, mopeds. He even got involved running errands for the Japanese "mafia."
"I had no concern about anything or anybody," says Father Calloway, whose mother had a breakdown, ended up consulting a priest, and became a Catholic -- something young Donald knew nothing about. She was also forced to return to the U.S. without him. Police even tapped phones to the military base to try to get the youngster, and finally did apprehend him. When they did, Calloway spat in the face of one of the military cops. By now he was 15 with long hair and a profane mouth -- so wild that he was shackled and deported.
Thrown out of Japan, Calloway returned to the United States, where he told his mother he hated her but agreed to enter a rehabilitation center. In short order he ran away from there too and went back to drugs on an even grander scale. Heroin, crack, LSD, uppers, downers. And there were the girls. "There came a point where I started following the 'Grateful Dead' and living in places like a tree trunk," recounts the priest. "In Louisiana, I ended up in jail. It was an absolute mess."
He was a drop out, his hair down to his belt. He was tattooed. It was "a life cycle of death." There was another attempt at rehabilitation, but of course, that fell short again. In fact, the drug use got even heavier.
"Then one night in 1992 I knew that my life would radically change, that something was going to happen in my life to cause a radical change," he says. "I knew something was going to happen. Something was coming."
It was this peculiar, sudden, and powerful intuition that changed his life -- a feeling so powerful that he turned down the calls from friends to come out to party as he did on a nightly basis. He still has trouble explaining exactly what happened. The prayers of a mother?
For a while Calloway remained in his room waiting for this unknown "something" to arrive, then went to the hall looking for a magazine or book to read as he waited, guided by an amazing internal feeling. "I wanted to look at some kind of magazine with pictures while I was waiting, something like National Geographic, with pictures, and I went out there and there was a book that caught my eye," he says. "On the binding it said, The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje."
It was a book about the apparition site in Bosnia-Hercegovina by Father Joseph A. Pelletier and Calloway couldn't comprehend what the words meant. He wondered if his parents had taken up a foreign language! Looking at the pictures, he saw six children staring up into nothing. It was the seers during an apparition -- something he had never even heard about. He read the caption and it said they were looking at the "Blessed Virgin Mary." He was so poorly versed in religion that he didn't know who the Blessed Mother was. "I thought Jesus was like Santa Claus," he recalls. "I was a blank slate." Looking at more of the pictures, he saw other words like the Rosary, Communion, and the Eucharist that he had little idea about.
There was all this Catholic lingo, but he began to avidly read it. He couldn't put it down. "I read that whole book by 3:30 or 4 a.m. in the morning," he says. "I ate that book like it was life. I consumed it. And I said to myself, 'That is true. Everything in that book is true.' She was saying that Jesus was God, and I thought, anything she says is true. She seemed so beautiful and flawless. She captivated my heart. And I said, 'I give myself totally to this woman.'"
The young man went to his mother the next morning and told her he wanted to see a priest. She was shocked. He knew there was a chaplain on the base, and that's where he ended up going -- skipping with joy like a little boy, his long hippie hair flowing past marching Marines.
When Calloway caught up with the Navy chaplain, the priest told him to go to church and sit in the back while he said Mass, and then they would talk to him. Donald did as he was told, waiting as a small group of Filipino women recited a repetitious prayer -- which of course was the Rosary. Then came the moment that changed his life. The priest came out with robes. Calloway thought it was some kind of performance. He had no idea what was going on. "I was amazed. All these ladies were kneeling and standing at the same time."
But it just clicked. All of a sudden, this young man -- this drug abuser, this runaway -- "knew" what was happening, that what was transpiring was a "real" re-presentation of what had happened 2,000 years ago, and that it was being poured out again. "Time ceased," he says. "I saw myself at Calvary with the faithful beholding the sacrifice of the lamb." Everything about it captivated him. He felt the Presence of Christ -- knew He was there -- as the priest held up the "white circle."
He was twenty, going on 21, and "all I knew was that I was madly in love with God and Our Savior."
So touched was he by the Mass that Calloway was ready to go door to door to tell everyone about it. The enthusiasm exploded. After Mass he went home, tore down all his posters, grabbed several big black trash bags, and threw away just about everything in his room -- replacing it all with a picture of the Pope and another of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the priest had given to him (along with a Crucifix).
"I don't remember ever having said a prayer in my life," he says of his return to his room. "I looked at the book, the six children, who were on their knees with their hands folded, and I did the same thing and just looked. I had no idea how it worked. I didn't know what was supposed to happen next. My eyes focused on the picture of the Sacred Heart and as I looked at that image something within me knew that was the God-Man hanging on the Cross -- and that everything the Blessed Virgin Mary said was for people like me.
"I cried profusely. You could have filled a bucket. I was so remorseful for the things I had done. Everything came on me at once. It was like every fluid in my body was coming out of my eyes. Yet at the same time I knew there was hope, and I was crying tears of joy. I was almost laughing. I knew that this Jesus died for me and loved me.
"After a long time I laid on the bed and for the first time in years I felt free. An unbelievable peace came over me. Something happened to me that I don't know how to explain. Right on the verge of sleep, something came from behind me and knocked me out of my body. My soul or spirit or whatever was leaving my body. I couldn't say anything, I couldn't move. The only person I knew to cry out to was Mary, and I cried out spiritually. I was terrorized with fear. I screamed with everything I had, "Mary' -- and all of a sudden I was pushed back into my body with the force of a universe come crashing down upon me and I heard the most beautiful feminine voice I have ever heard and will ever hear say, 'Donnie, I am so happy.'
"No one called me Donnie but my mother," he notes. "It was unbelievable."
And so was what was to come next:
Instantly, Calloway had lost his craving for all his vices -- from impure thoughts about women to cigarettes. There was no more desire to do anything he had been doing! "God had simply changed me, and it was unbelievable," he says. "Christ just overwhelmed me with His love. I started 'living' in the church, saying the Stations of the Cross until I was worn out, even slept in the pews. I began reciting the Rosary, wearing a scapular, reading everything I could on the saints."
He says he experienced a supernatural "infusion of knowledge" about the faith and became a Catholic within nine months.
Shortly after, he joined the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and discerned a priestly vocation.
Last September, he finally made it to Medjugorje -- where he delivered the homily as forty other priests joined him on the altar. "All I knew was that I loved Jesus," he says. "I loved every minute of Medjugorje. I'm going back in March. It's the edge of Heaven, wonderful." At the seminary, he says, most of his peers had also been there. "Our Lady is building up this army, this whole new generation, layer by layer. Rank by rank they are coming out of seminaries to take their places. There's a whole generation of priests coming, and they're just like me. No nonsense. I always tell people, get ready, because it's coming to a parish near you. We've only known one Pope, and he's a saint. We've been formed by the Blessed Virgin Mary and her apparitions. So many of the guys I knew in the seminary, they loved things like Medjugorje or Betania or Amsterdam or Kibeho. They don't have a problem with it. They bite onto truth like a shark, and they're going to be the guys in the seminaries teaching. They're going to be in the parishes. One cardinal said if it were not for Medjugorje, he would have hardly any seminarians. I compare it to Guadalupe."
Hell broke open in the Church, Calloway opines, due to a lack of emphasis on both Mary and the Blessed Sacrament. "You take away the Eucharist, and you take away a priest's passion, his understanding of who he is," he says. "And when Mary was deconstructed -- made just a sister -- it tore priesthoods apart. I attribute a lot of the problems to feminism. We need to go against that."
Homosexuals in the church are the result, he believes, of "the devil twisting" priests and seminarians. "With no Mary, there is a lack of tenderness and they seek in a new way," he asserts. On the current culture, says Father Calloway: "It's not the kingdom of Heaven. We're going back to Sodom and Gomorrah, and we're there. And we better get ready for the Father's discipline. He loves us, and because He does, He's going to chastise us." With youth, the biggest problem is indifference, he notes -- the attitude of "whatever." Everything is okay.
What is the most important thing parents can do?
"The best thing that a kid can see in the parents is for a man, a father, on his knees," says Father Calloway. "That is strength. When a man is on his knees, that is stability. When a kid sees that, it's a confessional statement. It speaks volumes. And when they see a mom and dad being kind and loving to one another, that's also important -- showing kindness to each other."
As for his conversion, Father Calloway notes: "There are no accidents in life. Everything happens for a reason, because of God the Father's plans." And as for Our Lady of Medjugorje: without her, he says, "I might be dead."
Originally reported in 2004 in Spirit Daily online newspaper.
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