Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 17, 2003
From pipefitter to priest
God called, but it took years for this seminarian to reply
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Five years ago, Jim Corrigan decided to trade pipe fitter tools for a priestly collar. Now he is about a year away from ordination and not a bit regretful about his decision.
"What I was doing for a living was a job. What I'm doing now is potentially a vocation," he says.
A seminarian since 1999, Corrigan did his pastoral internship last year at St. Anthony's Parish in Lloydminster and expects to be accepted as candidate for ordination March 19. He may become a deacon sometime this summer and could be ordained to the priesthood in the spring of 2004.
In 1999, Corrigan, 45, decided to quit his high-paying job as pipe fitter and project manager with Sherrit-Gordon because he felt God was calling him to serve as a priest.
"I didn't quit out of boredom, believe me," he said. "I liked what I was doing. I was making a lot of money, but I felt I had to quit in order to answer God's call appropriately."
Corrigan's last day on the job was Aug. 21, 1999. Seven days later, he was attending classes at St. Joseph's Seminary. But things didn't really happen that suddenly. Corrigan had to deal with a few personal struggles before coming to the conclusion that God wanted him.
He had been a party animal in his former life. He drank and he dated. He got married at 22 and divorced at 25.
God calls the shots
But when he found himself in the darkest hole of his life in the midst of his drinking and partying, he sought a way out and found comfort in God. In the process, he learned "it was the good Lord who was calling the shots, not Jim Corrigan."
And he said the fact he got help with his alcoholism when he asked for it put him back in relationship with Christ. "I realized that God had been with me the whole way, but he had been waiting for me to ask for the help. He is on a journey with us but we have to ask."
Aided by counselling, Corrigan quit drinking in 1993 and soon after he became actively involved with the Church. He also began to lead what he terms "a more Christian life."
Things came to a head three years later when the relationship with the woman he thought he would marry ended. He confronted God, asking him, "If you don't want me to be married what is it you want from me."
At that point Corrigan had become more open to God's will in his life and so he actively waited for his response. It would come, slowly, in mysterious ways.
Corrigan was still hurting six months after the relationship with his girlfriend had ended. Amidst the pain, he did a lot of thinking. He wanted to maximize his gifts and his service to the community. The idea of the priesthood first came to his mind when he realized he was 38 years old, single and male. "I thought priesthood is where you have an opportunity to help a lot of people."
A priestly thought
But he admitted he really didn't jump at the idea. "I just thought it's a question of worthiness; I really didn't think God would like a guy like me involved in his Church."
"I really didn't think God would like a guy like me involved in his Church."
- Jim Corrigan
He put that whole thought in the very back of his mind basically because he didn't want to face it. But at one point, while having a serious discussion with his folks, his mom said, "Jim, maybe God's calling you to something else."
Because his mom had put the thought on the table, Corrigan felt he had to resolve it. "In fact I knew I had to deal with that issue if I really wanted to carry on with any other kind of life."
And so he began to take the necessary steps. He visited Father Duncan MacDonnell of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Fort Saskatchewan and the priest suggested a religious vocation. The director of vocations also hinted at a priestly vocation. "Many things happened in that short period of time that sort of fell into place that made it seem like the right thing to do."
Corrigan began doing prison ministry at the Fort Saskatchewan jail on Saturday mornings, he signed up for the lay formation program at Newman Theological College and got involved with the Oblate mission team when it came to town for a two-week parish mission.
"All these things just made me thirstier because, really, I was growing in my relationship with the Lord and it seemed to be getting better," Corrigan recalled.
Answering the call
At one point, he felt he was running out of excuses as to why he was not taking positive action. So in July 1999, after 24 years on the job and while taking summer theological courses at Newman, Corrigan resigned from Sherrit-Gordon.
Doubts about whether he had made the right decision consumed him for a while. "I'm at peace now and I'm looking forward to being ordained to the diaconate, God willing," he said.
"But one thing with the seminary," he warned, "is that just because you walk in the door doesn't mean you are going to come out the other end as a priest. So it is a constant discernment process."
Corrigan has been following the path laid in front of him by God and so far "all seems very right," he reports. "What I see right now for me is that God has given me a wonderful opportunity to serve him and to serve others."