Deacon Little sees himself as a ‘Catholic missionary’

| May 23, 2012 | 0 Comments

Deacon Ben Little

Age: 28

Hometown: Little Canada

Home parish: St. John’s Church of Little Canada (formerly St. John the Evangelist)

Parents’: Robert and Donna Marie Little

Education: Bachelor’s degree in politics at the University of?Dallas

Teaching parish: St. Anthony of Padua, St. Hedwig and Holy Cross in Minneapolis

Pastoral learning experiences: Hospice ministry (CPE) at Doherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Spanish immersion summer in Mexico and Venezuela; deacon summer at St. Charles Borromeo, St. Anthony

Hobbies: Fishing, camping, cycling, cross country skiing

Favorite books: “The Song of Bernadette” by Franz Werfel, and “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Favorite movie: “Patton”

Person you most admire: Mary Jo Copeland, founder of Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis

Thanksgiving Mass: 2 p.m. Sunday, May 27, St. John’s Church of Little Canada

Two major events took place for Deacon Ben Little when he was 8 years old — his first Communion at St. John’s Church of Little Canada (formerly called St. John the Evangelist) and a diagnosis of juvenile diabetes.

Both are part of his journey to the priesthood, scheduled to take place with his ordination May 26 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

He went to school at St. John’s from kindergarten through eighth grade, and had a particularly striking memory involving the pastor during that time, Father Robert Fitzpatrick.

“I remember receiving my first Communion and taking a picture with him in front of the church and just how joyful he was on that occasion,” Deacon Little said. “I had the realization that someday I could be like him. As time went on and he continued to be a presence in my life and a friend of our family, I just knew that I could be a priest someday.

“That thought was with me my whole time growing up, from second grade on. It was not a complicated thing. . . . I’m not sure at any point did he say directly, ‘You should be a priest.’ It was more of a lived witness that was a reality and possible for me.”

Making choices

Shortly after his first Communion, Deacon Little was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. The following summer, he started going to a camp for diabetic children. He continued going every year, then became a camp counselor during his junior and senior years at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul. The experience of being a camp counselor, he said, played a role in the discernment of his vocation.

“In some ways, it prepared me for what came later — being attentive to the needs of these young people,” he said. “It taught me compassion and gave me a chance to practice it, knowing what somebody was struggling with and being able to walk with them through it.”

As he approached his high school graduation, he continued entertaining thoughts about the priesthood, to the point of meeting with Father William Baer, then rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

He was all set to apply, then visited the University of Dallas and chose to enroll there instead. It’s a decision he felt was right for him and helped lead him to his vocation.

“UD was, in some ways, my minor seminary,” he said. “When I arrived at UD, I saw my fellow students going to Mass, praying the rosary, doing service projects and living the Catholic life in a way that was new to me. I found it really refreshing.”

Yet, when he graduated, he wanted to put his degree to work in the professional world. He accepted an internship at The Claremont Institute in California, a conservative think tank, and hoped to put his faith-based political views and philosophies to work in ways that would impact the culture.

After just a few months, he called home and talked to his mother, Donna Marie. Things seemed to be going well, but some surprising words came out of his mouth during that conversation.

“I found myself declaring, saying out loud, ‘I want to be a priest,’” he said. “To which she responded: ‘I know. Come home.’ She knew, as a mother would, long before I was ever ready to admit it. I felt peace [when she said it]. I?was ready to do what I needed to do to leave things behind there and take the next step.”

The following fall, in 2007, he enrolled at the St. Paul Seminary and has not looked back. Along the way, he joined the Companions of Christ and now lives at a Companions house just a few blocks from the seminary.

“I consider myself really blessed that I have not had any serious doubts about my vocation,” he said. “Thanks be to God that the seminary has confirmed me, and here we are, ready to be ordained.”

As Deacon Little moves forward into the priesthood, he is sure to carry with him an experience he had during his seminary formation. He took part in an evangelization initiative during the Easter season in which he and other seminarians visited the University of Minnesota campus and talked to students there about their faith — not in a building, but randomly on the sidewalks that weave throughout the campus. And, they wore their collars while doing it.

“We called it the New Pentecost,” Deacon Little said. “It was modeled after a similar initiative that some seminarians out East had done.

“We went out on campus in pairs and basically just engaged people in conversation. We walked up to people and said, ‘We’re Catholic missionaries.’”

Though it made him uncomfortable, he realized that this is an important part of the Catholic faith. And, he felt the Holy Spirit nudging him to move forward and take some bold steps.

“It ended up being a really rewarding experience,” he said, “and it’s something I hope to bring to my parish, wherever that may be.”

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Category: Ordinations