Three men who plan to be priests in Maine walked from Lewiston to Bangor to promote vocations in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
Joe Moreshead, 25, of South Portland; Dennis Fitts, 18, of Scarborough; and Liam Gallagher, 19, of Woodstock arrived Thursday at St. Matthew Catholic Church in time for the 5:30 p.m. daily Mass. It was important that they be there for Mass because it was the Feast Day of St. John Vianni, the patron saint of priests.
The trio left Lewiston June 30 on a pilgrimage that took them to Litchfield, Augusta, Freedom, Monroe, Hampden and, finally on Friday, Bangor.
“A few months ago Dennis and I were talking about doing the Camino [de Santiago] in Spain,” Gallagher said Friday at St. Matthew’s. “We decided we should practice. We went from the Cathedral in Portland to the Basilica in Lewiston in two days earlier this summer.
“We decided we should do more,” he continued. “We wanted to invite Joe, who had some time this month. Then we decided to have a purpose to our journey and we settled on vocations because that is a great need in our diocese right now.”
The Camino pilgrimage, also called the Way of St. James, is a 580-mile trek through northern Spain to the tomb of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The distance from the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston to St. John Catholic Church in Bangor, where the seminarian’s trip officially ended, is 108 miles, less than a fifth of the Camino trail, according to MapQuest.
Yet, the men felt that the pilgrimage challenged them physically — Moreshead was unable to walk the final leg on his severely blistered feet — but strengthened their faith.
“It’s forced me to rely more completely on God,” Moreshead said Friday before his fellow seminarians headed to Bangor from Hampden with a group of high school students. “I remember praying a lot of Psalms this week.
“Usually the Psalms are very abstract ideas for me,” he said. “This week, they became very, very literal. Relying on Christ, relying on God, pulled me through whatever struggles I had because I had nothing else.”
Moreshead, who later this month will enter the Theological College of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., also became much closer to Mary.
“I said a lot of ‘Hail, Marys,’ asking her to find us a place to sleep and to get us through that next leg of our journey,” he said.
Fitts said that although they were on some of Maine’s less traveled roads, God seemed to be watching over them.
“We had so many instances when people would just randomly stop and give us Gatorade or Power Bars right when we needed them,” he said. “We found a nice field to spend the night [in Freedom] when we had nowhere to spend the night and we were really tired. We just had a sense that everything will work out even if we aren’t in complete control of the situation.”
The trio met with school-aged children in Augusta and with teenagers in Bangor to talk about their decisions to become priests. Fitts and Gallagher will attend Providence College and Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Rhode Island this fall.
“It’s kind of a radical choice for someone out of high school to enter the seminary, to decide that this young that we want to give our lives to God,” Gallagher said. “But it makes sense. There’s no reason to wait if God is calling you to the priesthood now. Now is the time to act.
“He wants us to give our lives to him in this particular way and, I’m sure I can speak for Dennis, we’re both so happy to do it,” he said. “We’re joyful to give our lives to something so much greater than we are.”
The pilgrimage included praying their way through three of the four holy doors that were opened in the diocese for the Holy Year of Mercy. The seminarians went through the doors at the Cathedral in Portland, the Basilica in Lewiston and at St. John’s in Bangor. They did not have time to walk to St. Luce Catholic Church in Frenchville.
The Rev. Frank Murray, pastor of St. Paul Apostle Parish that includes churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport, said Friday that he felt good about meeting the young men who might replace him.
“They’re young, energetic and enthusiastic,” Murray, 67, said. “I also like to see guys who are creative and willing to try anything, like they are, in the priesthood.”
Since the Rev. Seamus Griesbach, who walked from Hampden to Bangor with the seminarians and teens, was assigned to be director of vocations two years ago, the number of men studying to be priests has gone from five to nine and the average age has dropped by 10 years.
“It’s easier for young men to see the process of becoming a priest when they see young seminarians,” he said Friday. “You see a man in his 40s who’s much more capable than you are, it’s hard to imagine yourself in that position. But if you see a guy who’s 19, just trying to respond to the possibility of becoming a priest, you’re more likely to relate to his experience.”
Griesbach said that it is unusual to have two men such as Fitts and Gallagher going to college and attending the seminary at the same time. The priest said that statistically only half the men who do so are ordained.
Noah Robinson, 16, of Bangor is one of the people the seminarians hoped to reach out to when they planned the pilgrimage. Robinson said after meeting the trio that the idea of being a priest is in the back of his mind but he has not decided yet what kind of future he wants to pursue.
Gallagher recognizes that there are ways other than being a priest to serve the church but he’s confident God’s calling him to the priesthood. He said that his 108-mile walk symbolized what the church will expect of him.
“We had to really give ourselves completely to this trip, otherwise, we wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “We had to not care so much about our physical well being and just keep going.
“It’s kind of symbolic of the priesthood because a priest gives so much of himself to the church and so much of himself to God for the people of God,” Gallagher continued. “So, we were doing that, in a small way, on this pilgrimage.”