The entire student body at Catholic High School in Little Rock rose to their feet cheering as senior Joseph Friend signed a letter of intent May 10.
Friend is not an athlete signing to play for a certain college, rather he's committing to study for the diocesan priesthood at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas.
Friend signed his letter of intent while Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, his parents, brother and uncle looked on. The gym was also filled with his pastor Msgr. Francis I. Malone, diocesan seminarians, priests, classmates, family friends and supporters.
When he addressed his fellow students, they rose to their feet again -- this time to support him when he became choked up talking about his mother's battle with cancer.
Betty Friend's faith in the face of the debilitating disease taught him about persevering in the face of adversity.
"My mom," he paused, "she's just been the greatest inspiration in my life. She continues to be a woman of faith and love. Even when given every opportunity to turn away from that. I can't thank her enough for that."
After principal Steve Straessle dismissed the students, his fellow seniors mobbed Friend, gathering around him and one by one giving him a congratulatory hug.
They support him, Friend said, and never questioned his choice as different.
"I've had fantastic friends. They pat me on the back and say 'You're the man that can do it, Joe. We know you're strong enough and we're going to be here for you. We still want to be friends. We still want you to be Joe. You're not going to change.' That speaks to our senior class, a group of great guys," he said. "I wouldn't trade my friends for the world. They gave me full support."
Friend is the youngest of three children. His brother, Patrick Friend, teaches chemistry and English at Catholic High School and is also applying to enter the seminary for the diocese. His sister, Katherine Friend, is studying at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.
Priesthood is not uncommon to the Friend family. His uncle, Msgr. Scott Friend, is the vocations director for the Diocese of Little Rock.
The idea for a signing day for seminarians three years ago actually came from a suggestion by his brother, Dr. Jerry Friend, Msgr. Friend said.
"I have to admit this is my big brother's idea to do this. I don't think he realized he'd be sitting here at some point doing this," he said.
Now this year, Msgr. Friend sees both his brother's sons entering the seminary.
"I do not want my nephews or anyone else for that matter becoming priests and they are not called to. That is something very sacred. I want them to do what God is asking them," Msgr. Friend said. "I do think God is calling both of them. They both have very profound relationships with the Lord."
Joseph Friend jokes he is the older brother in the seminary, as he made the decision first.
"I'm getting ordained first," Patrick Friend chided in response to his younger brother.
He looks up to his brother, Friend said, and is looking forward to sharing the priesthood with him if that is the final result of their discernment. They will, of course, continue to "beat each other up as brothers do," he said.
Their parents are equally proud of their sons, Betty Friend said at the signing day.
"I told my husband that the coolest thing about it is that I've had the privilege to watch them grow up. I've had the privilege of watching them be called in two different ways. They're two totally different men. I feel like it's been my privilege to watch them grow and witness their calling," she said.
Many things in his life came together -- his family, faith and the influence of Catholic High and teachers like Brother Richard Sanker, Friend said, to make it possible for him to realize his calling. Msgr. Friend said he would also give credit to Joseph's parish and grade school, Christ the King. "It's a testament to Christ the King," said Msgr. Friend, adding the parish currently has five seminarians.
"It's been a calling I felt throughout my life," Joseph Friend said, "Just little events here and there. Growing up in my family that I've grown up in led me to a faithful life. I had a conversion moment in the seventh grade in the Catholic chapel, so it was cool that was also here. I feel 100 percent peace when I pray about it. And I can't reject that. I have to just accept it and go in with courage and believe in God and that's what he wants me to do. I finally had make the decision and finally say yes."
It's a decision often made harder, Friend said, as society does not seem to value religious vocations as much as other things.
"God is really the peace the earth can't give. If anyone feels the call, don't be afraid. I know this world is going to material things. The materialistic lifestyle is kind of the way our society is geared toward," Friend said. "It's very important to keep God number one in your life, to keep that faith and to keep living in peace. I think that's the moral of the story and why I went to the priesthood."
Please read our Comments Policy before posting.Article comments powered by Disqus