Brothers in Arms

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These siblings were ordained priests on the same day, but what drives two young men to give their lives over in service to God and the Catholic Church in 2020? I asked the two young men from Mobile, Alabama.

Questions

Why have you committed to a life of celibacy, obedience and service?

Fr Connor;
I’d be crazy if I said I haven’t weighed issues including sexual abuse, long hours and loneliness in discernment, but at the same time, in the midst of so much turmoil and very few worldly compensations, the Holy Spirit is the only answer. The Holy Spirit calling me to be a priest is it. But that’s not the whole story. The reason I answered the call to priesthood is because I know I am called to it, which means, I know that I will have the greatest amount of joy, peace and meaning in my life by being a priest. This is my vocation. This is how God is calling me to follow Him.

Fr Peyton;
I think what drives a man to pursue priesthood in this day and age is quite simply the impulse I believe to be at the heart of every man, which is the impulse to fight and even die for something valuable. Everyone wants to spend themselves for the sake of a greater goal. Fathers sacrifice daily for their families, soldiers die for their countries, and even athletes train tirelessly for excellence. For me, all of the inconveniences and pains of priesthood are simply the cost of uniting myself to Christ on the cross, the suffering by which the whole world was saved. Nothing is more worthy of sacrifice than that, in my humble opinion.

How would you describe your upbringing?

Fr Connor;
I grew up in a Catholic family. We went to Catholic grade school and high school. We always went to Mass as a family every Sunday and had a family dinner every night of the year. Our family is very close. We were always active and busy with extra-curricular activities, mainly sports. We weren’t an incredibly religiously active family when I was young. We never talked about the faith as a family until my brother Peyton entered high school and got involved in campus ministry. I’d say we were a normal family.

Fr Peyton;
I would describe my upbringing as active. I have three siblings, and we were all incredibly busy with sports, music and other kinds of hobbies. Apart from all the craziness of normal life, my family’s faith life consisted of two main activities: first, we went to mass as a family every Sunday, and second, we ate dinner as a family almost every night. My parents were always incredibly present and supportive in my life.

Father Connor Plessala and Father Peyton Plessala after their ordination in Mobile, Ala., May 30, 2020, during the ordination Mass at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile. (CNS photo/Rob Herbst, The Catholic Week) See BROTHERS-ORDAINED-MOBILE June 2, 2020.

When did you first think about a vocation?

Fr Connor;
I was a junior in high school, 16-years-old. I never thought about it a day in my life until then.

Fr Peyton;
I first thought about a potential vocation to the priesthood when I was 18. I was almost finished with high-school when I first considered entering the seminary.

Was there a single moment when you were sure you were doing what God wanted?

Fr Connor;
During my junior year in high school, I felt God stir my heart and speak to me, telling me He was calling me to priesthood. I prayed about it every day and told Him, “I will do whatever you want, just tell me what it is.” The more and more confirmation and affirmation I had in prayer about my discernment, the more confident I grew in knowing I was following His call for me. There was a clear moment when I started discerning, and I’d say ever since that moment, I grew more and more confident in the call to priesthood.

Fr Peyton;
The moment I knew for sure that I was doing what God wanted me to do was when I decided, at the age of 21, to enter the seminary. I was filled with an incredible amount of peace, joy and confidence once I made that decision.

What was the response from your family / friends when you entered the seminary?

Fr Connor;
My family and friends were very supportive from the beginning. They were always there to help me grow and were willing to do anything and everything to help me follow God’s call. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone. But I was very blessed to have such good family and friends that always supported me. They seemed to not be as surprised as I was when I said I was going to enter the seminary.

Fr Peyton;
My family and friends were all very supportive when I decided to go to seminary. The only person from whom I received any resistance was my girlfriend at the time. I had to break up with her in order to enter the seminary, so she was understandably upset with the idea.

How would you describe your life when you did (studying, working, girlfriend etc)?

Fr Connor;
I was a junior in high school, heavily involved in sports and schoolwork. I was running track and playing soccer at the same time when I started discerning. I was focusing on schoolwork and my girlfriend. I was a normal 16-year-old boy in high school when the Lord spoke to my heart.

Fr Peyton;
When I decided to go to seminary, I was studying biology, psychology and Italian language in college. I wanted to become a doctor and was about to go to Medical School. I had been dating a girl for two years at the time, and we were talking about getting married. Needless to say, she was surprised by my discernment decision.

Often you hear from seminarians that finally making the decision to enter was the most freeing aspect of their lives, would you agree and why?

Fr Connor;
I think that makes a lot of sense. We are so worried about finding out what we are going to do with our lives, what we are going to do when we grow up, what we want to do, what should we do, etc that we end up missing out on living our lives. Entering the seminary does not require prior knowledge of “I am absolutely committed to the priesthood.” No! We enter the seminary to figure it out! We enter the seminary to answer the question, “Is the Lord calling me to this or not?” Entering the seminary can be very freeing because we have committed to figuring it out, we have committed to letting God direct our lives instead of us trying to direct it.

Fr Peyton;
I completely agree. I have found that if you make the slightest effort to follow God’s will in your life, He will multiply those efforts one hundred fold. Once I knew that I was going to seminary, I felt joy, peace and confidence in abundance.

Father Peyton Plessala gives his first blessing to Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala., May 30, 2020, during the ordination Mass at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile. (CNS photo/Rob Herbst, The Catholic Week) See BROTHERS-ORDAINED-MOBILE June 2, 2020.

How would you describe your many years at the seminary?

Fr Connor;
To be honest, I did not know what I was expecting when I entered the seminary at 18-years-old. I did not really know anyone there besides two people. I did not know what I would be doing besides taking classes and praying. But, I would say the last 8 years of my life were some of the greatest ever, far greater than I could have imagined. Why? Because I met some of my closest friends, some of the holiest people, visited places around the world on pilgrimages (Australia in the future I hope!), and experienced the Lord in incredibly real ways, working through others and through me. The seminary is an incredible place. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But it is a place where men go to figure out how God is calling them to follow Him and how God is planning to work through their lives.

Fr Peyton;
Seminary is a very unique experience. I have told people many times that most people are never afforded the opportunity to spend 6-8 years simply learning more about themselves and growing in relationship with the Lord. Seminary, when done well, is a great gift for men in learning how not only to be a priest but also a man. Like all things, though, human frailty can sometimes make the process more frustrating than it has to be, but I think even those frustrating times are a great opportunity to learn how to live with and minister to a fallen people.

What do you want to achieve as a priest?

Fr Connor;
Bring people closer to Christ and bring Christ closer to people. That’s it. I want people to have life and have it to the fullest. The only way to do that is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the plan.

Fr Peyton;
As a man, I want to go to heaven. As a priest, I want to bring everyone I can with me.

How would you advise someone asking how they can become closer to God?

Fr Connor;
How do you become closer to a friend? You spend time with them and talk to them. That’s how it is with God. If we want to be closer to God, we just spend time with him and talk to him, this is prayer. God desperately desires to be in relationship with us. He wants to talk to us, to listen to us. All we have to do is give him our attention. The next step is to ask him where he is leading us, in this moment, today, this year, in our life. He will tell us, we just have to ask Him.

Fr Peyton;
It may be unconventional advice, but I would advise someone looking to grow in holiness to find holy friends, or at least find friends who want the same holiness you do. We were not meant to live this life alone, which is why we are called the Body of Christ. We need good mentors, good friends and good examples to help us grow in holiness.

What do you think will be your biggest challenges?

Fr Connor;
The priesthood is full of joys and blessings, but it is also full of struggles and challenges. It is tempting to become a workaholic, always saying yes to everything because I want to be at everything. I am a people person, so I have to be weary of burning out and spreading myself too thin. If I don’t take time to slow down and pray and let the Spirit lead me, then I will go astray fairly quickly, and that is not good.

Fr Peyton;
I honestly think my biggest challenge in the priesthood will be getting drawn into too many things at once. I am pretty industrious and creative, so I’ll have to be careful not to get so busy that I can’t pray, rest or take care of myself.

Father Connor Plessala, left, and Father Peyton Plessala of Mobile, Ala., hug their parents, Dr. Deneen Plessala and Dr. Kirby Plessala, outside the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception following their ordination to the priesthood May 30, 2020. (CNS photo/Rob Herbst, The Catholic Week) See BROTHERS-ORDAINED-MOBILE June 2, 2020.

What advice would you give to someone discerning a vocation?

Fr Connor;
If you are discerning a vocation, whether it is to the religious life as a religious brother/sister or to the priesthood, please talk to someone about it! Talk to a priest. Talk to a monk/nun. Ultimately, we have to remember that discernment is done in action. Therefore, if a call to religious life or priesthood is on your heart, pursue it in action, enter the seminary, and visit a religious order. Enter! Go and see. Go and let God guide you. Do not put it off. Your vocation is how God wants to bring you closer to Him. Do not put it off.

Fr Peyton;
For anyone discerning a vocation, I always begin with this: discernment is something done in motion. Discernment is not about sitting around and waiting for the Lord to drag you somewhere. Discernment is done by pursuing something and listening to the Lord while you do so. For example, if a young man is considering a call to the priesthood, he will never be satisfied with his discernment unless he actually goes and visits a seminary or joins a discernment group. If you are discerning a call to any vocation, go and test it out. It’s the only way to really know.