My name is Fr. Francis Mary Roaldi, CFR. I was born in Buffalo, NY, so a New Yorker, but certainly not in the normal sense of the term. I'm the eldest of three children and we had, by all accounts, a peaceful and beautiful childhood in the suburbs of Buffalo where my parents, Art and Mary, still live after 38 years in the same house.
I suppose many people think that someone who becomes a priest knew since he was young that he was called to the priesthood. In my case that was not true. My mom relates that I was very interested in a job as a garbage man (I liked the trucks), a construction worker, and, my dream, was to be Spider Man. In any case, none of them related very closely with the priesthood.
I was a good child, but not particularly religiously inclined. We would pray at home, attend mass every Sunday, but I don't remember God being a particularly big part of my childhood mind (Star Wars on the other hand occupied my thoughts a lot).
My parents sent me to Catholic grade school and high school. I received a fine education in both places, for which I'm extremely grateful today. Especially in high school I became very involved in the music program, and generally enjoyed being with my friends and the school environment that was provided. However, even though I continued to be a part of religious things, I look back and see that my faith was slowly being eroded. I generally continued to be a "good kid" but in my heart I was definitely beginning to drift.
The move to university was fine. I attended a state school named Geneseo in upstate New York. At this point my drifting became a little more pronounced with the help of individuals that I met there. I never abandoned Sunday mass or led a life of total abandon to sin, but I was less and less centered in the principles that I inherited from my family and the Church. I also found, perhaps surprisingly that as opposed to enjoying the little forays into sin, I actually found myself more and more depressed.
I remember one night feeling emotionally low and thinking I would read something of the Bible (having heard that can help at times). I took the Bible off my shelf, flipped it opened randomly, and landed upon some obscure Old Testament passage that really did not help me in the least. I felt lonely, a little depressed, aimless and not close to God. Sighing I plopped the book back on the shelf and went to bed.
A little later in the year when the choir I sang with was on tour a few of us were hanging out in the hotel lobby in the evening. One of the young women in the choir, Lisa, began to share about her relationship with Jesus. She, two others and myself sat in that lobby until about 4 am talking about religion and faith. At the end of the conversation I realized a few things: my questions were still there - so was the emptiness in my life - but Lisa had something that I had never found in my 17 years of Catholic life. She knew Jesus like a person, He mattered tremendously to her, and I had no idea what that was like.
That blessed conversation led me on a journey through the next months of my Freshman year of college, which landed me at a retreat. The retreat wasn't Catholic - I wasn't very open to a number of the things being taught - but I showed up. At some point in the retreat I told God, "I'm not sure about all of this faith stuff - I don't know what I believe - but I give it all to you." That was enough for Him. Later that night, while sitting by myself, I suddenly came to know 2 things deeply in my heart (not the way you know math and science, but the way you know the beauty of a sunset and the love of a mother - deep in the heart) - I came to know: 1) that God is real and 2) He Loves me. That moment changed my life and all my questions fell away as I simply realized I was loved.
If you think I just jumped into the priesthood it would be incorrect. For years I grew in my faith, I dated, I thought about leaving the Catholic Church and becoming Evangelical, I chose to stay Catholic, I made a choice to move to New York City after college and do volunteer work. Through this all the question of the priesthood was there, but the desire was not. I wanted to get married.
In New York two decisive things happened (perhaps more, but this is what I identify). First, I met the Friars of the Renewal. I was immediately attracted to the choice of poverty, the evangelical witness of life, the fraternal dynamic between the men, and so on. But I wasn't going to get into being a friar too quickly. The second thing that happened was simple and momentary: I was seated by myself in the chapel and I heard a voice in my heart, "Be a priest." I wasn't too happy about the message, but it was the first substantial indication I received in that way to move in the direction of the priesthood and consecrated life.
I still took some time. I continued to live in New York after I finished my year of volunteering and took on a job as a foster care caseworker. It was a tough line of work. After two years of prayer, spiritual direction, discernment, struggle and the like I came to a place of being able to say, "Lord, I'm not sure about this whole consecrated life thing. I do think you want it and I'm willing. So, if you give me the grace I'll take the step." Through the 16 years I have had the chance to live this life I have never seriously doubted the call. I took the first step and He took care of me.
I would simply conclude by saying that I am extremely content as a friar and priest. I celebrated 7 years of priesthood on May 10th of this year of Consecrated Life. It has been a wonderful 7 years. They have been years of struggle, work, joy, success and failure. My 16 years as a consecrated religious have been filled with many beautiful relationships, events, and encounters that never would have happened otherwise. And most importantly God has shown me His love more and more deeply. It has not always been so dramatic as on that retreat my Freshman year, but it has been going deeper and He has impressed on my again and again His faithfulness. He is loyal - He is compassionate - He is kind - and I trust the next 16 years, filled both with the cross of Good Friday and the joyful Alleluia of Easter will bring much of the same.