By Kaelanne Jordan Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For persons discerning a vocation to the priesthood, there is the dilemma that “God couldn’t be calling me to leave a five-digit salary…God couldn’t be calling me to leave a relationship to be a priest…God couldn’t be calling me at this age….” This was the reality for Fr Derek Anton as he “adjusted to God’s call” by choosing the priesthood after a failed marriage and a 24-year career as a successful accountant.
Fr Anton is parish priest at St Philip and St James RC, Chaguanas and the Regional Vicar of the Central Vicariate. He was the guest speaker for the November 11 talk ‘Adjusting to your call’ which chronicled his journey to the priesthood after a secular career.
Raised in a Catholic household, Fr Anton underscored that from a young age, there was a constant Catholic underpinning to everything as he attended “every Sunday Mass,” Catholic primary and secondary schools and was involved with the Scouts programme. “Which are very service and discipline oriented. Looking back, that was part of your formation because it was about service,” he told co-hosts Fr Matthew d’Hereaux, Vicar for Priestly Formation and Vocations, and Sr Sarah Waterman O Carm.
While in secondary school, Fr Anton was certain of his decision to become an accountant. “Maybe because my father was a banker…and I tell young people all the time, I don’t think I stopped to ask God what He wanted me to do. And it’s very important that at all stages, to ask the Lord what He wants… what He wants is always the best….” After a successful career, Fr Anton joined the seminary at age 41. “So those 24 years did not get in the way ultimately…God’s will could not have stopped in your life….” Fr d’Hereaux commented. “I did frustrate His will. I wanted to be an accountant and I wanted to be married,” Fr Anton replied. It was during a weekend at Emmaus Centre in 1990 as a member of a men’s prayer group that Fr Michael Moses suggested the priesthood. “I came away from that talk thinking two things were clear: I’ve been married and divorced…I could not get married outside the Church and two, God may be calling me to the priesthood. I had a very heavy weekend because that was not in my plan at all.”
He continued, “I think I was running away from what God wanted. I spent seven years of running away…that frustrating of His will. Somewhere deep down I wanted to do God’s will, but I was too afraid to let go of what I thought would make me happy,” Fr Anton said. During that time, a “huge career opportunity” presented itself to Fr Anton. Unsure of what to do, he went to Fr Reginald Hezekiah who advised him to go on a private retreat.
At Mt St Benedict, Fr Anton knelt before the statue of Our Lady of Fatima and prayed for help. “And I listened to what He had to say. And I left knowing that it was for the priesthood. In a very short time after that I accepted it myself and it brought me great peace and joy, after years of conflict. Deep down in my heart, I was running from it and finally I was able to say ‘yes’ God.” The process of getting rid of his possessions at his apartment, in preparation for joining the seminary was “very cathartic”.
The seminary, he said, kept him “young” and he felt rejuvenated physically and spiritually. Asked to share on how he adapted from a lucrative salary to a $200 monthly stipend as a seminarian, Fr Anton shared that he would have accessed funds from his savings. He also kept his professional accountant membership in “reserve….because supposedly the seminary said ‘we don’t think you will be priest’…” It was only when he was ordained, he resigned as a member. “It’s a spirit of generosity that comes out of trusting in divine providence. You have to trust God that if He’s calling you, whatever you have to give up for that, you have to give up.”
He continued, “…I do not see myself doing anything else other than this because this is whom I’m called to be and this is the truth to who I am and I cannot be anything else other than this. It’s not a career, it’s a call,” Fr Anton said. Posed with the question ‘what has sustained your pastoral zeal for people who feel discouraged by their age?’, Fr Anton asserted that there is no age limit to service to God.