The Catholic Defender: Presents Father Calloway Conversion syory Medjugorje assistance
Father Donald Calloway and Our Lady of Medjugorje !
Thanks to Daniel Klimek for his powerful story! I Donald T. Hartley was a leading Catechist in Bagdhad Iraq serving in the United States Army. I served under the Archdiocese of the Military helping our Division Catholic priest and community providing Catholic Bible Studies, Communion Services in the apsence of a priest, leading RCIA preparing Soldiers for the Easter Vigil. I would have Soldiers reach out to me at all times when they returned from missions outside the wire. Father Calloway's powerful story I would share in this process. Many were recieved in the Catholic Faith.
Father Donald Calloway’s Conversion Story – From Drug Addicted Pagan To A Priest Of Mercy
Heroine, cocaine, opium, marijuana, excessive alcohol, not to mention hallucinogenic drugs like mushrooms (psilocybin) and LSD – he consumed most of these before the age of 18, many before he turned 14, the addictions growing stronger as the existential emptiness deepened. What sounds like an introduction to a Hunter S. Thompson novel actually constitutes the autobiography of a Catholic priest. Fr. Donald Calloway of the Virgin Marians of the Immaculate Conception retells his dramatic and heart-wrenching life story in No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy.
As a destructive youth, Calloway spent his adolescence succumbing to temptations large and small, from sins of the flesh with constant promiscuity, to crimes against the law with thousands of dollars of grand theft in stolen merchandise, as well as nightly partying with friends consuming all forms of drugs and addictives while listening to heavy-metal music.
At one point, Calloway became a follower of the rock band the Grateful Dead, inspiring entrance into a psychedelic culture which—among other things—left him with a big Grateful Dead tattoo on his arm. To this day he has it, as a remembrance of the past he lived. The past he left. To this day he doesn’t have a clue how that tattoo got there, being stoned to oblivion during the night of its implementation.
During his youth, Calloway was such an angry and rebellious kid that he names a chapter in his book “Animal” in describing himself, his early mentality, his vicious ways. His family (especially his parents) suffered great emotional trauma as a result of their son’s behavior. For a while, they lived on a military base in Japan, for Calloway’s stepfather was an officer. This didn’t last too long. Running around with Japanese gangs, stealing tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise—from electric guitars to cars—got young Donald Calloway arrested and deported from the country. He was escorted through the airport by military guards with chains and shackles around his hands and feet, while he spat at his captors and threw out verbal obscenities to surrounding pedestrians, angrily cursing his way onto the plane.
Although, like any angst-filled adolescent, Calloway developed a strong hatred for his parents—notwithstanding their efforts to help their struggling son, praying for him and checking him into rehabilitation facilities numerous times—a guilt-stricken consciousness still haunted him about his younger brother, where a stronger bond existed. Fr. Calloway describes his feelings poignantly:
“The only bond that I had left with my family was with my little brother, Matthew. When it came to him, I felt terribly, almost inexplicably conflicted. Ten years younger than I, he would often plead, ‘Brother, play with me.’ A part of me wanted to stay home and be the big brother I wanted to be and thought he needed. But I was so preoccupied with my girlfriends and drug buddies that I didn’t want to commit to anything domestic.”
After returning from Japan and checking into an ineffective rehabilitation clinic inPennsylvania, things did not get any better. For years the drugs continued, so did the promiscuity, the theft, and another arrest. In terms of his growing addictions, Calloway describes vividly what a poisonous rabbit hole he fell into, hitting rock bottom in what reads like a distant and dreary space.
“On one occasion, I even found myself in a crack house, crawling around on the rug on my hands and knees looking for any cocaine that might have fallen on the floor. There were cockroaches running around and maggots in the sink from all the unwashed dishes. A crying baby could be heard, unattended in a back room. Yet there I was on the floor, right along with the baby’s mother, searching frantically for white specs on the floor. If we found anything white, we’d put it in the bowl and smoke it, even if we didn’t know what it was.”
So, what on earth could have turned this rebellious youth, this struggling addict, this “animal” (as he later described himself), into a devout Catholic priest, not to mention into an eloquent author of books on theology and Mariology?
It all began one night in March 1992 when, to the surprise of his friends, Donald decided not to go out partying, as was the usual routine, but to stay at home for the night. He felt immensely depressed, a longing and emptiness occupied his very being. “I found myself sitting there alone in my room with nothing to do and no one to turn to. My existence was laughable.
Then I heard a voice, the most pure feminine voice I have ever heard and ever will hear. It was within me, it was outside of me, it was like liquid love being poured over me. It was pure maternal love.
It said, ‘Donnie, I’m so happy.’ That’s all I heard, but I knew who it was. Nobody called me Donnie but my mother. Nobody. I knew this was the voice of Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In fact, I started crying so hard that I could hardly breathe. “In fact, I started crying so hard that I could hardly breathe. I had to literally gasp for air because I was crying so uncontrollably. There were torrents of liquid coming out of my eyes. Before long, the clothes I was wearing were soaking wet.”
Hours of such excruciating crying led to inexplicable tears of joy and, all of the sudden, Donald felt an immense peace in his heart, a tranquility that surpassed understanding. “I started to feel almost bubbly and giddy, almost like a child being tickled by his father. Suddenly, I was animated. I had life again and felt so much different. My body tingled all over. I was so wrapped up in Jesus that I became aware of how much I was loved.”
This purifying peace led to something inexplicable, a mystical—if not downright supernatural—experience. Like thousands of patients who have reported undergoing near-death experiences, Donald left his body.
“But all of a sudden something below me and within me – this is very difficult to explain – knocked me out of my body. I literally felt as if I had left my body. My physical form remained on the couch, but my soul or spirit had left.” The experience paralyzed him, as he gradually saw his body farther and farther away from him, his spiritual presence being slowly removed from the physical. Out of desperation, he led out a penetrating, spiritual cry to that person who had just touched his soul. “Mary!” What happened next was phenomenal. Donald was “violently slammed back” into his body.
I was so at peace that I felt like a little boy snuggled close to his mother’s breast. I was so at peace, so loved, and so at rest that I went into a deep sleep. I hadn’t slept like that since I was a young boy.
The phenomenon that Donald experienced, in addition to leaving his body, is called an interior locution (locution cordis), the mystical grace of hearing a spiritual presence – in this case, Our Lady – in an interior way through the depths of the soul.
After his profound spiritual experiences, an official conversion to Roman Catholicism followed. What also followed was the desire for the priesthood. Not just any priesthood. Donald wanted to become a Marian priest, both for Our Lady and for the reason that the Marians of the Immaculate Conception are the official promoters of the Divine Mercy devotions of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun and mystic who experienced visions of Christ in the 1930s. Donald saw himself, through his past, as the poster-boy for Divine Mercy. For, through the grace of God, he received the greatest mercy after a life of sin.
Becoming a priest meant going back to school. For this high school dropout, this wasn’t the easiest task. Notwithstanding, through his subsequent education and efforts, Donald was able to encounter some of the most eminent Catholic intellectuals and scholars in the world. After earning his GED and spending some time in community college, the Marians sent Donald to study at the Franciscan University inSteubenville, Ohio, where he earned his B.A. in theology and philosophy. It was at Franciscan that he encountered some of his favorite professors, including the prominent Catholic intellectuals Scott Hahn and Mark Miravalle. Donald admits that Professor Hahn had an influential impact on his studies, implementing a deeper love of God in his mind.
Professor Miravalle, a theologian and Mariologist, is a leading figure in the Marian movement, and also played a great influence on Donald.
Miravalle is the president ofVox Populi Mariae Mediatrici, a movement within the Catholic Church that hopes to gain papal approval to deem Mary as the Co-Redemptrix, becoming the fifth Marian dogma. Interestingly, Miravalle’s own connections to Medjugorje are not small. He has written numerous books on the subject and, when he was a doctoral student in Rome, his dissertation was called, The Message of Medjugorje: A Postconcilar Formulation of Lourdes and Fatima. The dissertation showed how the messages of Medjugorje align with Chruch tradition, ranging from the Gospels to the teachings of the early Church Fathers in their foundational elements and, of course, to Vatican II and other approved apparitions. The thesis was successfully defended in the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome in 1984.
Beyond inspirations like Professors Hahn and Miravalle at Franciscan, Donald went on to study with other greats. He received both his M.Div and S.T.B. at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., and then earned an S.T.L. at the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio. At the Institue, Donald studied with such prominent theologians and Mariologists as Fr. Luigi Gambero and Fr. Eamon Carroll. Most remarkably, Donald took the last class that the great French theologian and Mariologist Rene Laurentin taught at the Institute. Laurentin himself has been one of Medjugorje’s greatest supporters for years, with countless of books on the apparitions.
Donald’s S.T.L. dissertation concentrated on the Mariology in the diaries of St. Faustina Kowalska, combining his love for Our Lady with his love for the Divine Mercy devotions. The dissertation was over 200 pages long, contained over 700 footnotes – in Latin, French, Polish, Italian, and Spanish – and, years later, was published into a book called, Purest of All Lilies: The Virgin Mary in the Spirituality of St. Faustina. He even graduated summa cum laude with his S.T.L.
The former drug addict, convicted criminal, and high school dropout graduated summa cum laude with an advanced degree, studying with some of the most renowned theologians in the world, and publishing his work into a book about the Mother of God. Today, Father Calloway is the House Superior for the Marians of the Immacluate Conception and their vocations director. He preaches his story throughout the world, reaching countless of hearts. His life story is an example of grace and divine mercy in motion, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and particularly her continuing work in Medjugorje. No Turning Back constitues a powerful and poignant testimony about one man’s journey, being led out of a tunnel of darkness and despair into the radiance of hope and belief in something purer, truer, and warmer than the temptations of contemporary culture – what the human soul longs for, spiritual sublimity and meaning in one’s existence.