Propaedeutic Year

Benjamin Keating, Immaculate Conception, Fort Smith

Attends Saint Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana

While studying music at The Juilliard School, I imagined playing in a symphony orchestra or in the pit for a Broadway musical. Perhaps I would teach trumpet at a big university. Life was good in New York City. I would travel across New York City to play music in a variety of healthcare facilities.

I experienced the extraordinary power of music to heal. These experiences left me no longer content with sitting in the back row of an orchestra for the rest of my life. I was changed. I knew I could do more, and I longed for something more meaningful.

About the time I was pondering what this "real" difference might be, I was drawn into the U.S. Marines Corps Recruiting Command. The officer and I discussed my desire to make a difference in the world, to be a leader in my community and to serve others. He told me I could do all of these things as a marine officer, and I was sold. Eventually, I found myself at Marine Officer Candidates School, but something still didn't feel right. It still left me searching for something more.

I left the Marines to finish my Juilliard education. In my last year, I still felt empty. I reflected more on some of those experiences playing music in hospitals. I thought if music could have that kind of effect on patients, how much more could I do as physician? I applied last minute for a post-baccalaureate program in Philadelphia to obtain the necessary science prerequisites for medical school, and I was nose-deep in pre-medical textbooks the following summer.

While in Philadelphia, the excitement about being a doctor lasted for a while. However, the feeling began to fade. I felt the familiar restlessness creeping back inside. Without my NYC friends around to help me ignore that feeling, I found myself spending my extra time reading. One day, I stumbled upon C.S. Lewis', "Mere Christianity," and I couldn't get enough. Eventually, I felt this little voice inside calling me back to confession and Mass. I will never forget that first Sunday.

Processing forward to receive holy Communion, being at the front of the communion line, the priest stood there, looking into my eyes with the warmest smile. I had never seen him before. Yet, with the most gentle invitation, he said to me, "It's good to see you."

For the rest of my pre-medical studies, I couldn't get those words out of my head. I thought about that moment every time I went to Mass. After my studies, I returned to Arkansas. Then, one Sunday at my home parish, I again found myself face-to-face with a familiar voice. This time, at the front of the communion line, the priest gently grabbed my open palm and whispered, "Welcome Home."

The signs pointing me to priesthood from this point onward almost became impossible to ignore. I had dreams about altar serving alongside the bishop and dreams of being in the adoration chapel. My heart leapt when vocations were prayed for in Mass. People I had never even met approached me after Mass to tell me I would make a good priest. My close friends started to mention priesthood in our everyday conversations.

As I let God's love and mercy back into my life through the sacraments, Scripture and daily prayer, my relationship with God began to change from "doing what I think will please him" to "asking God what he wants me to do."

This opened my heart and mind to the idea of being a priest. Little by little, one Mass to the next, this feeling intensified. Eventually, I realized that I had found what I had been searching for in music, the Marines, medicine and all those apologetics books: It was the profound love of Christ. I yearned for so long to find identity in my career, but God longed for my identity to be as his own — his child — his priest.