By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor
REHOBOTH, Mass. — As a young lad, Joseph Day used to tell his parents he wanted to become a priest. Day, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk and a recent valedictorian at his graduation from Providence College doesn’t remember that. But years later, as a freshman at PC he “began to sense something deep in my soul, a pull,” he told The Anchor. “It would come over me strongest during Mass sometimes. I tried to ignore it for a while. I was dating a great girl and planning on a future as a husband and father. I wanted to go to grad school, get a doctorate, and become a college professor. I didn’t want this other life.”
“He used to say as a young child of about four that he wanted to be a priest, but I don’t recall hearing it from him after seven or eight,” his mother, Elizabeth Day told The Anchor. “I always felt like God was calling him, but would say to him and all my kids that I only wanted them to be whatever God made them to be.”
Throughout his four years at PC, the draw of God’s call never went away. “For the next few years I wrestled with discernment,” he said. “Discernment is a hard process of wrestling with God and wrestling with yourself. There is no way around that. There are no thunderbolts, no St. Paul on the road to Damascus moments. I think it is so hard because you are trying to decide between two very good things, the good of married vocation and the good of the priestly vocation. And although it is God Who decides which one you are called to, you still have to make the choice to follow His will, to give up one good thing and accept that what God has made you for is infinitely better.”
While he felt the tugging at his heart during his freshman year, Day continued that “wrestling” match with the Lord until just before his senior year, when he decided “to stop fooling around and get serious about discerning God’s Will.”
If the name Joseph Day sounds familiar it may be because The Anchor featured him in November of 2013 when a picture of him handing a new zucchetto (the skull cap worn by the Holy Father) to Pope Francis, who in turn re-gifted it back to Day went viral.
Even in that 2013 Anchor feature on Day, he never referenced a calling to the priesthood. He then told The Anchor, “I’m not sure about what I’ll do when I graduate from Providence College. I’m still trying to discern what the Lord is calling me to do, but I would like to pursue a graduate degree and possibly teach at either the high school or collegiate level.”
Day said while the time spent in Rome, part of a study-abroad program called “Providence College in Rome,” didn’t provide him with any certainty about a priestly calling, “It did deepen my love for Christ’s Church. I saw how old, how deep, how rooted in beautiful traditions the Church is while being at the same time alive and universal. This was exemplified by my experience of the Papal Mass for the end of the Year of Faith. For the Mass, Pope Francis brought out the bones of St. Peter for public veneration for the first time ever. I saw the bones of the first pope held by his 266th successor while I stood with Europeans, North and South Americans, Asians, and Africans, peoples from all the corners of the world and the Church gathered together to worship our one Lord.”
It wasn’t until November of his senior year that Day sensed he was indeed being called by God to a priestly vocation. “I attended a vocations weekend at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.,” he told The Anchor. “While I was there I saw all that I loved about the Dominicans. When I returned, I prayed and pondered about the weekend and God’s Will. Even when I wasn’t praying about it, my thoughts would drift back to the House of Studies. I realized that I missed it, I missed living the Dominican life, I missed the Brothers. At last, I saw that my will had finally been conformed to God’s. I finally wanted what I felt for so long that God wanted, for me to become a Dominican.”
Day began the process of applying to the Province of St. Joseph shortly after and received a phone call in April that he had been accepted.
Day explained that he had never met a Dominican Father or Brother before he attended PC, and knew practically nothing about them. “It was definitely part of God’s providential plan that I attend PC and have the opportunity to meet and get to know many friars,” he said. “I fell in love with their charism, their Spirituality, their way of life. Their dedication to study and the intellectual life, but not just for itself, but for the Salvation of souls appealed to me.”
He credits several professors and priests at the college for molding his intellect and Spirituality. “I was blessed to have wonderful professors during my four years at Providence College who helped me grow in knowledge and wisdom,” said Day. “Dr. Tony Esolen, who was my Western Civilization professor freshman year, first taught me how intellectually rich and beautiful our faith is and what a heritage of literature we have. Dr. Richard Grace with whom I took five or six classes was also very influential, teaching me to love history and art. Along with many others, they helped foster a love of study and the pursuit of the truth.
“The Spiritual guidance of Father James Cuddy, O.P. (chaplain) and Father Justin Brophy, O.P. (associate chaplain) were invaluable. It was the example of these two and other Dominicans that first instilled in me a desire to become a friar and a priest. They showed me the beauty and sacrifice of the priestly and Dominican life. They also helped guide me during my long and difficult discernment process.”
Day also credits the friends he made at PC; some he had for the full four years and others “God threw into my life at different stages along the way.” He said they all helped him and he enjoyed their company on the four-year ride. “As St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.’ At PC I made many true friendships.”
And of course, Day is grateful for the love and support of his family, his mom, dad and five siblings. “My mom is overjoyed with my decision,” Day told The Anchor. “When I told her, she cried and told me she always knew I was going to be a priest. She has been very supportive and I know that her prayers will help sustain me during my novitiate.”
“None of us were surprised by Joe’s announcement in December that he was joining the Dominicans, he had been discerning for several years,” said his mom Elizabeth. “We are all very happy and excited for him. He found his true home at PC with the Dominicans.
“As a convert, personally, I am greatly humbled. I spent my early years floundering around looking for ‘it,’ that elusive ‘thing’ that would make me happy, then I met my husband Fred, who happened to be Catholic and was instrumental in helping me enter the Church, and the rest is history. God is amazing and does work in mysterious ways! I never thought I would be Catholic, homeschooling (all of the Day children were home-schooled), or a mother of six children.”
Day’s home parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Seekonk is equally proud and pleased with his decision.
“Our parish is thrilled with Joe’s vocation as well: he has a lot of support there where he served for years as an altar-server and has been asked many times to witness to Confirmation classes,” added his mother.
“Everyone at my parish has been very happy for me and very supportive,” said Day. “They’ve already put my name in our adoration chapel on a sign that says ‘Pray for our parish seminarians!’”
Day said he will be leaving for Cincinnati on July 25 where he will spend one year as a novice while continuing to discern God’s Will. On August 8 he will receive the habit of St. Dominic and his new religious name, and “God willing, next August 15, I will profess simple vows as a Dominican,” he said. “Then I will spend six years at the House of Studies in Washington, D.C., studying philosophy for two years and then theology for four.
“I definitely think it is a Godincidence and an immense blessing that I will begin my novitiate during the Year of the Consecrated Life, which is also the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican Order. It is a beautiful and fitting time!”
Day’s discernment process is ongoing, but he encourages other young men and women to follow their hearts should they feel that “tugging.”
“You will never arrive at 100 percent certainty about your vocation,” he advised. “Do not fall into the cycle of perpetual discernment where you spend years ‘discerning’ but never take the next step. One of the best pieces of advice I received was when a Dominican told me, ‘Don’t deprive the Lord of the best years of your life.’ The decision is not an easy one.
“You must wrestle with it and pray about it much. But if that pull does not go away, then take the plunge, take the risk. Trust God. If you are meant to be a priest or a religious God will reveal it to you more and more during your first year of postulancy or novitiate or seminary. And if you discern out, that time was not wasted, but a time to grow closer to God and to learn His Will.”
Just as Elizabeth Day was brought to tears when her oldest son had a close encounter with Pope Francis in 2013, she cried tears of joy at the announcement of his decision to join the Dominican order.
“Joe has a great love for the Lord and will do great things, she said. “He is very personable, what you see is what you get, i.e. genuine, compassionate, here to serve.”