Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 20, 2003
Fr. Gerard O'Hara: Spirituality wins over science
Computer whiz finally follows Christ's path
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Instead of fulfilling a child hood dream of becoming a scientist, Father Gerard O'Hara fulfilled his real calling - to be a priest.
"I didn't always want to become a priest. Actually I wanted to be a great scientist . . . to amaze people with . . . powerful and fascinating inventions," he told the WCR.
Together with 43 other deacons, the Edmonton native was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute for the Vatican Secretary of State, Dec. 24, 2002, at the Legionaries of Christ Seminary chapel.
Although fascinated by science and technology as a young boy, the 37-year-old priest still recalls the seed of his vocation being planted at Our Lady of Victory Camp in Bentley.
He was 14 years old and counsellor to a group of nine-year olds. Assigned to take care of one group, he taught the youngsters by example, not just words.
"It was a time of growth, sacrificing for others, being trusted and being depended on," said O'Hara, a former parishioner of St. Joseph's Basilica.
"Once, I even had to risk a fight and drew the line against another boy who made some scandalous comments about Mary."
The first call
There was a talk about vocation at the camp and that was the first time O'Hara saw "the priestly vocations as something actually good, if not great."
Still not sure about the priesthood, he made a deal with God to seriously look into it after high school.
"But after high school, I felt too embarrassed to bring up the idea. I wanted to get a degree, to become a scientist."
Priesthood considerations were put on the back burner while he took his bachelor of science in mathematics applied in computer science at the University of Alberta and later his master of science in computer science in Toronto.
This led him to work at Alberta Mapping Branch for three years as a member of the computer support team.
Looking back on his path to the priesthood, he remembers a Medjugorje trip he made with 50 other youths in 1989 after graduation from the U of A.
That journey made him realize he needed to pray.
"Prayer had to be part of my life. I even found that I wanted to pray. Faith was a part of my life that I just had to express in some way," shared the new priest.
The fifth child of Francis and Wally O' Hara of Ephphatha House, the searching young man met Father Anthony Bannon, an Irish Legionary priest, who came to Edmonton to give a talk about vocations in 1991.
O' Hara was impressed by the dignity and the poverty of the priest, not to mention his good humour and evident zeal after taking numerous hours of travel to get to Edmonton.
The second call
"What hit me though was the solid Catholicity of the Legionaries. They seemed very solid in their faith and very forthright in explaining it."
Bannon showed a video about his congregation, which for O'Hara, was "strongly unapologetic.
"It bluntly stated that they were a congregation centred on Christ, faithful to St. Peter's successor and devoted to Mary.
"The video didn't try to water things down, for instance by trying to show how the individual interests of the seminarians could be worked into the priestly vocation."
He was impressed how it emphasized that the world and the Church needs a group of faithful, well-formed priests, who give their utmost to form lay people to transform the whole society.
O' Hara carried the thought of joining the Legionaries in his mind and heart for a year.
Answering the call
Finally, in 1992, he took his step of faith.
It was 10 years before he was ordained a priest because he had to undergo novitiate, studies in classical humanities, philosophy and theology.
O'Hara admitted it was odd for him to enter a religious community. He had once had a serious vocational conversation with Father Mike McCaffery, who explained to him that diocesan priesthood is another option.
"But I guess . . . I wasn't attracted to the priesthood in a general way, but to Legionary priesthood specifically," said O'Hara, who is close to finishing his licentiate in moral theology.
"Perhaps my God-given personality helped me feel more secure, more challenged and more generous to this group of dynamic priests who live in community and with religious vows."
Being in a religious community is a serious commitment. With this particular one, not only do they have to take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but these vows must be expressed in their love for Christ, for Mary, for the Church and the pope.
Their practice of obedience is rigid.
When the WCR first attempted to interview O'Hara, the new priest had to ask permission from his superior to do a telephone interview.
The request was not granted. O'Hara was advised instead to take questions from the WCR via email and respond through the same method.