New priests for Archdiocese of Washington
Fateful bus trip helped change man’s aspiration from filmmaking to the priesthood
Jun 5, 2019
Deacon John Benson – one of 10 men who will be ordained June 15 as new priests for the Archdiocese of Washington – originally had other plans for his future before he realized God was calling him to the priesthood.
“The plan was to study filmmaking. I was dead set on that until I realized that was not God’s plan for me,” Deacon Benson, 27, said.
But, even earlier than that, he had another goal. Noting that as a child he was a “serious ‘Star Wars’ fan,” Deacon Benson admitted that “my dearest ambition in fifth grade was to be a Jedi Padawan.”
In the sci-fi world of “Star Wars,” the Jedi knights are an ancient quasi-monastic order of self-sacrificing scholars and warriors and Padawans are Jedi apprentices. “Basically it is a Jedi seminarian,” Deacon Benson joked of his fifth-grade ambition.
The turnaround from his aspirations of becoming a filmmaker to seeking the priesthood came about in 2008.
That year, Deacon Benson said he “felt called to give my life to Christ, but I did not understand what that meant, and I was afraid to find out.”
The call came, he said, during a bus trip to New York to see Pope Benedict XVI, who was visiting the United States at the time.
“The bus broke down, and as we waited for a new bus, all night we prayed the rosary and read the Bible,” he said of that fateful journey. “That night, I felt something special touch me … and I told the Lord I would not like to live for myself any more.”
He spent the last two of his high school years considering what the Lord was asking of him.
When he graduated from high school in 2010 – and even though he had already paid his enrollment deposit for college – Deacon Benson said he realized that “God was calling me to become a missionary priest for the New Evangelization.”
The New Evangelization – a term first coined by Pope St. Paul VI and later popularized by Pope St. John Paul II – is the call to the faithful to reach out to fallen away, lapsed and lukewarm Catholics and “re-propose” the Gospel to them, and also share the faith with others.
Born March 10, 1992 in Bethesda to Bernard and Paula Benson, Deacon
Benson’s family – which includes two sisters – attends of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
“My mother was very involved in our parish, coordinating RCIA,” Deacon Benson said. A regular Massgoer who also frequently attended daily Mass, the future priest served his childhood parish first as an altar server and then as a lector.
Deacon Benson said during his youth one parochial vicar serving at his home parish– Father Javier Santaballa – had a profound impact on him. “I was inspired by the joy, freedom and spontaneity I saw in how he lived his priesthood and Christianity in general,” he said.
He said that when he was a parish religious education student, “lots of people thought I might become a priest.”
However, during high school – where, he said, he was “abandoned to the influence of my very liberal public school environment” – he started playing in a band and decided to attend college in Los Angeles with the intent of realizing his dream to be a filmmaker.
He career trajectory took a decidedly different path.
“The Lord introduced my family to the Neocatechumenal Way, where I received a catechesis that was an antidote to the one I was receiving from society,” he said.
Founded in Spain in 1964, the Neocatechumenal Way is a Catholic movement dedicated to adult and family faith formation. An estimated 1.5 million Catholics belong to the Way in about 40,000 parish-based groups worldwide. The Neocatechumenal Way, frequently referred to as The Way, has also established more than 100 Redemptoris Mater diocesan mission seminaries around the world, including one in Hyattsville, Maryland, for the Archdiocese of Washington.
“Being part of the Neocatechumenal Way helps me see how God has a plan for me, and it is good to be accompanied (on my faith journey) by couples who are married, and (by) youth and older people” who belong to The Way, he said.
Men who enter the priesthood through The Way are randomly assigned what seminary they will attend. They can be sent to any Redemptoris Mater seminary in the world. Deacon Benson noted that “it just so happened” that he was chosen to attend the seminary in his home archdiocese.
“These past nine years have been the happiest time of my life,” he said.
As he looks back on his long preparation for the priesthood, Deacon Benson said, “Nine years seems like a long time, but now I know how the time went by so quickly. I am now asking the Lord for all the graces I need for this next step in my life.”
Of his decision to answer God’s call to the priesthood, Deacon Benson said, “my parents are very happy for me. They told me, ‘This is the happiest we’ve ever seen you. We are sure this is the right thing for you.’”
As he considers his life as a priest, Deacon Benson said that “I look forward to reaching out to those (Catholics) who do not come to Church all the time – the ones who come for Baptisms or weddings or only at Christmas and Easter – and connect with them and give them the Good News.”
“I am going wherever the Lord sends me – I am willing to be sent anywhere in the world for Him,” he added.
He said that to any young man considering a priestly vocation, he would tell them, “God’s will for you is to be happy, and He knows better than you what will make you happy.”
The new priest will celebrate his first Mass on Sunday, June 16, at 11:30 a.m. at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Camp Springs.