A Remarkable Conversion From Addict to Priesthood
When you consider the road he took, it’s hard to imagine him as a Catholic priest.
Or even alive.
Fr. Donald Calloway, 47, didn’t take the typical path to the priesthood – if there is such a thing. While some have the seed of a religious vocation planted by parents, that wasn’t the case with Fr. Calloway.
“I wasn’t born into a Christian household,” he said. “My parents didn’t believe in God. They didn’t adhere to any religion.”
That was only the beginning.
Growing up in a “tumultuous house,” Calloway’s parents divorced before he was two and saw his mom remarry two more times by the time he was 10. His third father adopted him, and although his new grandparents insisted on baptism, his family never went back to church or prayed.
Living in a military family, they moved often. An eventual stop in California proved to be pivotal: Calloway picked up a love of surfing as a teen, but he also got involved with drinking, drugs and pornography.
After his parents said they were moving yet again – this time to Japan – Calloway revolted even more. There he sought out the “bad kids,” continued drugs, grew hair down to his waist and ran away from home. He soon became a drug mule for the Japanese mafia, helping to smuggle illegal drugs throughout the country.
Before long, Calloway was wanted by both the Japanese and U.S. governments. He caused an international scene by being kicked out of the country in handcuffs at age 15. Though he had zero contact with his parents during those four months away, it was at that time his parents had a conversion and were ready to join the Catholic Church.
“I thought that was some kind of cult. I had no idea,” Fr. Calloway now recounts. “My parents started going to Mass every day, so I thought they were nuts. I had no idea what they were doing.”
Back on American soil, Calloway dropped out of high school, smoked crack, went in-and-out of rehab, and ended up homeless for a time – eventually settling back into his parents’ home in 1992.
One night, he even considered taking his own life until he noticed a book in his home about Marian apparitions.
“I had no idea what that was,” he said, “and I couldn’t put the book down.”
Calloway passionately read the entire book in one night, then told his mom he insisted on meeting with a Catholic priest – immediately. Although it was 6:00 a.m., their military base in Norfolk, Virginia, had two Catholic chapels.
“I ran out the door and ran to the priest,” Calloway said. “I freaked him out. He didn’t know what to think of me.”
The priest encouraged Calloway to attend Mass, which changed Calloway further.
“I really believed that Jesus was present at that Mass,” he said. “I heard a voice – this was real – a being speaking to me who told me to worship. I was overwhelmed. I cried on my knees for a whole day.”
Calloway went through what he calls “divine detox”: he cut his hair, prayed, fasted, got a job, and contemplated his life’s vocation. He eventually joined the church like his parents. And yet every time he saw the priest celebrating Mass, Calloway thought, “I want to do that.”
He prayed and discerned, and wasn’t daunted after being told that formation would last 10 years. He earned a B.A. in Philosophy and Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, M.Div. and S.T.B. degrees from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., and an S.T.L. in Mariology from the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio.
Now a prominent Marian priest, Fr. Calloway exhibits an unmistakable zeal for the priesthood and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is a well-known conference speaker, and has written 13 books, as well as conducts pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Fatima.
“It’s humbling, because I know myself,” Fr. Calloway said. “I’ve been shown a ton of mercy, yet I’m still a guy.
After becoming a priest and enjoying the honeymoon with God, it was on with the reality of sacrifice and commitment. So I don’t wake up every morning and say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to pray.’ Being a priest today is tough.”
And yet, as he ponders his own redemption, he realizes so many can relate to him. When he speaks at conferences, Fr. Calloway finds that everyone wants to go to confession with him: “They know they’re not going to shock me.”
Currently serving as director of vocations for his order – the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Ohio – Fr. Calloway keeps a rigorous travel schedule. He still finds time to partake in a lifelong hobby: surfing.
It’s an outlet far greater than the false gods of his past.
“It’s good to have an outlet,” Fr. Calloway said. “I know what that (previous) life is like. It’s just horrible. I’m done with that.”