III Philosophy

Elijah Bailey, St. Joseph Church, Conway

Attends the House of Formation in Little Rock

I’ve heard that God works in great and mysterious ways, but I never thought he would work so explicitly in this way for me. I grew up as a practicing Catholic and was fairly involved with my home parish of St. Joseph in Conway. As much as I interacted with the priests, I never considered that I would someday feel the call to the priesthood.

I entered the United States Military Academy (West Point) after graduating high school in 2020. I knew that reliance on God would be important to any hope of success at such a rigorous school, so I really began to deepen my prayer life, especially asking for the help of the Blessed Mother. I found a very strong Catholic community during my first summer training (known as BEAST) and interacted with them as often as I could.

When I entered the school year, I joined the Knights of Columbus group associated with our parish on post (Most Holy Trinity), as well as began to attend a small Bible study group led by a gentleman from FOCUS Missionaries. Though I was very reserved, just being with other men who shared the faith and were so dedicated to living a Catholic life really inspired me to delve even deeper.

I would talk with my pastor, Father Matthew Pawlikowski (COL., Ret.) about the faith and try to tap into the vast amounts of knowledge he held. Pretty early on in these discussions, he told me that he wanted to talk to me about the priesthood. However, I wasn’t ready for that, so instead I began to ask God to show me what vocation he wanted for me.

During the first week of my sophomore year, I was approached by the head of the medical department at West Point who told me I was being considered for medical separation from the academy, and there wasn’t much I could do. When I returned to my room that night, I was so shaken by this news that I began crying out to God.

I remember my prayers were as if I was yelling at God. Among all of the things that I asked, the most important question was: “What in the world will I do if I go back home? This (the Army) was my plan for the next 10 years at least!”

And God answered. In something that I can only describe as a thought that was not my own, I heard: “Why not become a priest?” This took me by surprise, and my mind was quiet for a long moment. Then I dismissed the notion, claiming the stress had caused this wild response, so I began to throw out objections to the idea.

Much to my dismay though, every objection was met and refuted so absolutely that I couldn’t ignore it. Eventually I got tired of being told what I didn’t (at the time) want to hear and decided that it was simply stress and sleep deprivation that caused this crazy encounter. I was about to realize how wrong I was.

Over the next few weeks, I was hounded by such perfect coincidences that I could no longer ignore it. YouTube videos about the priesthood, daily reflections about calls to the priesthood, letters from home telling me I should consider the priesthood, it never ended. I eventually decided that there might be something to all of this, so I reached out to Father Jeff Hebert (who I had known from St. Joseph’s) to talk about the potential of this being a call to the vocation.

He was very helpful in the discernment process and met with me every two weeks to see how I was feeling about the priesthood as a vocation, and whether that call would be as a diocesan priest or military chaplain.

Finally, in December I decided to leave the academy of my own free will to pursue the seminary here in Arkansas. In my limited exposure with the other seminarians thus far, I am confident that this is where I am supposed to be. While I feel incredibly undeserving of this call, I thank God every day for his influence in my life so far, and I pray that he will continue to guide my every step until I reach his kingdom.

My first year of formation was absolutely incredible. I experienced personal growth in ways I was not expecting, as well as faced challenges that helped me mature in my faith. Getting to see more of the diocese and meeting people from different parishes was a huge blessing as well. Every time we go somewhere my desire to serve is reinvigorated. I am only just beginning to see how beautiful this calling is, and it is already breathtaking. Please pray for me as I continue on this journey, and be assured of my prayers.