Fr. Donald Calloway: Modern-day prodigal son
Rebel-convert to Catholicism resuscitated by Christ’s mercy, Mary’s help
Catholics today may recognize Fr. Donald Calloway as a Marian priest who is a prolific author, speaker and pilgrimage guide. But as a young man, he was a drug-addled high school dropout who had been kicked out of a foreign country and thrown in jail multiple times. A chance encounter with a book about Marian apparitions sparked a radical conversion to the Catholic faith and a subsequent calling to the priesthood.
Father Calloway, 45, the vocations director and vicar provincial for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, today lives in Steubenville, Ohio. He will be speaking at the 2018 Legatus Summit in January. He recently spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
What are you going to be talking about at the Summit?
I’m giving two talks. One will be on my conversion story. I was not raised a Catholic, and I had a radical life before becoming Catholic. Then I converted to Catholicism and got my vocation to become a priest. Hopefully, I’ll give the people a message of hope in that talk, especially anyone who may be having difficulty with their children who are away from the faith.
The second talk will be about my book, Champions of the Rosary. Tom Monaghan read that book after it came out, and he loved it. He said one of his staff members bought dozens of copies and gave them away. As result of that book, he said he wanted me to come and speak at the Summit. Basically it’s about the history of the rosary, the popes, the saints, the major players, miracles, battles, all that good stuff.
What was your life like before you converted to Catholicism?
It was pretty messed up. I had dropped out of high school. I was involved in criminal activity, immoral activity. I ended up in two drug rehabilitation centers, was kicked out of a foreign country, was thrown in jail. I had long hair down to my waist. I followed the band the Grateful Dead. I was all messed up.
Did you grow up in any faith tradition?
No. I wasn’t anything. I didn’t believe in God.
What brought you to your conversion?
My parents had a big conversion almost three years before I did. They became Catholic, and I was resisting all that. I thought they were crazy. I thought they had joined a cult. I didn’t know what it was, but one night when I was at their house, I picked up a book they had on their shelf about Marian apparitions. I didn’t know what that was, who the Virgin Mary was. I went through that book, and that book changed my life. That helped me to go talk to a Catholic priest, and after that, everything snowballed. My conversion went really fast.
How soon after your conversion did you have the inclination that you were called to be a priest?
It was within one year. I just fell so madly in love with Jesus, Our Lady and the Church that I didn’t know what to do with my life. So in prayer, I kept asking, “What do you want me do?” and I just felt that call to be a priest. To do all that, it took ten years because I had to go back to get my education and do all the studies.
Do you have any hobbies?
My favorite hobby would be surfing, but I don’t get to do it much in Ohio. I travel a lot, so I try to surf when I can. I also write a lot and lead pilgrimages all around the world to Marian shrines. Every year I lead four pilgrimages. I go to Fatima, Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe. I go to Poland just about every year. Those are really powerful pilgrimages with just so many saints and so many shrines. That culture just totally loves Our Lady.
How do you find the time to do everything?
It’s not easy. A lot of time I work in airports because I fly so much. I put in earphones, tune out everything going on around me and I’m there for hours, just writing. It works.