COLUMBIA — Father Richard D. Harris of St. Joseph Church spoke to students from Holy Family home school support group in March about his journey into the priesthood.
About 30 children, ranging in age from 3-year-olds to high school students, gathered around the priest as he told them tales from his childhood and about the ensuing steps that led him to his vocation.
Apparently, it all started with funerals for bugs.
Merrie Mullaney, a mother of five who organized the discourse, laughed as she recalled the bug story during a phone interview with The Miscellany.
“If he had gone straight into his love of the Mass, he would have lost their interest,” she said.
So Father Harris started his talk on vocations by telling the students about the make-believe funeral home he created with his friends when he was a little boy.
He told them about using matchboxes for coffins and creating crosses with matchsticks.
“He grabbed their interest right away and held it the whole time,” Mullaney said.
Father Harris told The Miscellany that the emphasis of the speech was on vocations, but it was not the only subject covered.
“It was just a nice dialogue back and forth,” he said. “They got off on different subjects; wanted to know if priests have pets and that sort of thing.”
Some priests do, Father Harris said, but he does not.
Mullaney said it is important for children to see their priests and other members of the clergy as human.
Her oldest son, William, was 7 years old when he first heard a religious sister speak about receiving a call from God. Afterward, William told his mother he felt God call him while the sister was talking. He still feels the call four years later, and Mullaney credits that personal connection with opening the door.
“They just love to know what happened to their priest when they were little. What made them want to do that,” she said.
Some of the questions the students asked focused on the hardest part of his ministry versus the most cherished parts of being a priest.
Ironically, the toughest aspect for Father Harris is conducting funerals, noted David Mullaney, who attended the vocations talk with his family.
Father Harris explained to the group that the inability to sometimes relieve the pain and suffering of grieving family members is difficult.
But the hard part is more than balanced by the joy, such as celebrating the Mass and bringing Jesus to the people, Father Harris told the students.
He encouraged the children to pray and be open to a call from God, but said it is not something they have to decide now.
Father Harris said it was not until he was an adult and received encouragement from his parish priest that he decided to make vocations his life’s work.
Now that he has answered God’s call, he plans to keep the line open.
When students asked him what he wanted to do after being a priest, he replied, “Go to heaven!”