Diabetes suffering nearly derailed vocation, now enhances it

| May 22, 2015 | 0 Comments
Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Deacon James Stiles’ journey to the priesthood nearly ended before it began.

It happened right before the start of his senior year at the University of St. Thomas in August 2008. He had decided to enroll at St. John Vianney College Seminary on campus and take a serious look at the priesthood.

“I applied to SJV, I was accepted, I was all excited,” he said.

A trip to Rome the year before drew him to ministry, especially after spending time there with a Jesuit priest, Father Joseph Carola.

“There’s a small chapel at this house where we stayed in Rome,” said Deacon Stiles, 27, who grew up in Owatonna and belongs to St. Mark in St. Paul. “There’s one part where he was elevating the Eucharist [during Mass], and I remember just being taken by that moment. There was something so beautiful about that, and I asked myself, ‘Can I do that?’ There was a desire welling up within me: I want to do that. I remember asking him after Mass, ‘What’s it like holding God in your hands each and every time you celebrate Mass?’”

Deacon Stiles wanted to know personally the answer to that question, and the first step was tasting life as a seminarian at SJV.

Only one last detail needed to be taken care of before starting the school year — a physical examination.

What he thought would be a routine checkup revealed something abnormal: a high blood-sugar level. So, doctors followed up with more tests. Then, he got some bad news — he had diabetes.

No problem, he thought. He went to the rector of SJV at the time, Father Bill Baer, and asked if he still could join. Father Baer gave his approval, so long as Stiles could take care of his health.

“I thought I could learn how to manage the disease, as well as become a seminarian all at once,” he said. “I entered in and just couldn’t do it. I got too sick and had to leave. I had to take a whole semester off of school to be able to figure out how to live with this disease. It was a real cross at that time in my life.”

But, with a cross can come a blessing, and time showed how God’s hand was at work, using that experience to reach into the soul of a man who was opening his heart to God’s plan.

“During this time, I was drawn closer to God,” Stiles said, “because as I was suffering through this, I reached out to God and was calling upon him and praying a whole lot more and really asking for help.”

Though he never made it back to SJV, he graduated from St. Thomas with degrees in philosophy and Catholic Studies near the end of 2010. Then, he got a job as a custodian at the St. Paul Seminary, which lasted for about five months.

That put him into contact with seminarians, and essentially sealed the deal. He applied to the seminary and started in the fall of 2011. He hasn’t looked back, and his diabetes has not caused a problem. In fact, he thinks having the disease may make him a better priest.

“I’ve got a sense of what it’s like to suffer with an illness, a chronic illness that doesn’t just go away when you wake up in the morning,” he said. “One of the toughest things about it is that you just have to, day by day, be patient and you have to learn to live with it.”

He now claims the disease is under control and his health is fine. With ordination just around the corner, he already is looking forward to his priestly ministry.

“I certainly think of celebrating Mass, the great joy that it will be to celebrate Mass,” he said. “I’m very excited to hear confessions, to be able to absolve people of their sins and participate in that gift of mercy.”

He also feels a strong call to evangelization, taking his cue from Pope Francis.

“There’s a great need in our time to spread the good news,” he said. “I think it’s hugely important that the priest be doing this. All that he says and does should be geared toward this mission of inviting people to Jesus Christ, [and] into the Church.”

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Category: Ordinations