Rev. John Marie Bingham, O.P. (’00)
Rev. John Marie Bingham, O.P. (’00)

In Loyola Hall on the California campus of Thomas Aquinas College, a smiling friar and two of his brothers were speaking to students about the religious life. “If you’ve ever thought about how you’d give a homily, give me a call,” he joked.

The Western Dominican Province’s director of vocations, Rev. John Marie Bingham, O.P. (’00), had returned to campus with two fellow alumni to lead a vocations talk. The three shared about how the College had prepared them for priesthood and the religious life, as well as how students can know if God is likewise calling them.

Describing his 10 years in the priesthood, Fr. John Marie likened the process of discerning a vocation to the story of Zacchaeus. “He hid himself in a sycamore tree, and Christ called him out of it; out of himself,” said Fr. John, noting that sycamores “are dense,” and Zacchaeus was “likely obscured … covered by the branches.” The discernment of vocations “can be frightening” as we place ourselves in God’s hands. “He calls us from our darkness.”

Fr. John Marie continued by describing his own discernment. “When I came to TAC, I had just converted from the Episcopal Church to Catholicism with my dad,” he recalled, noting that he didn’t consider the priesthood until some time later. “I was a banker after I graduated, but I was invited to be the vocations director in my parish in Savannah, Georgia.” Sharing the gift of faith with others led him to consider the religious life for himself.

“I left my home to come to the Dominican Order’s Western Province out here in 2011,” said Fr. John Marie. “I love it … it’s beautiful geographically, but I truly love it for how messed up things are on the West Coast. In His example, Christ showed how it is not the righteous who need His help, but the broken.” He smiles, “Here I get to run out to the battlefield in my preaching.”

Rev. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04), preaches in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel
Rev. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04), preaches in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel

Next to speak was Rev. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04), newly ordained in June, and who offered Mass that morning in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. “I grew up in Montana as a Protestant,” Fr. John began. “When I turned 19, I prayed to God, saying ‘I want to love you the best I can,’ and I began reading every holy book I could get my hands on.” He worked his way through a myriad of religious traditions, Christian and otherwise, before “arriving at Catholicism.”

“My conversion came down to the heart and mind,” Fr. John shared. “With my heart I was compelled to love God, and I sought that with my mind.” When he shared his decision with his parents, “they didn’t understand,” even though he spoke to them often about the Faith. “That’s when I realized I need to live as a saint for them. I was motivated even more by my heart to chase the beauty of holiness and to share it.”

Shortly thereafter, Fr. John made his way to Thomas Aquinas College, where he was baptized freshman year. After graduating he taught high school for three years before obtaining a doctoral degree. “It was then that I reflected on a prayer I offered after my baptism for unity in the Church. I had realized it’s through baptism, the Eucharist, and confession that saints are made — the Sacraments!” he said. “And I realized I wanted to be a priest. I want to give the Sacraments to others.”

Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18) visit swith students
Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18) visit swith students

Following Fr. John came Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18), who entered the order just two years ago. “After my freshman year I struggled with intense scrupulosity,” Br. Michael reflected. “But at the advice of a wise chaplain,” he continued, grinning at the College’s head chaplain., Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., standing in the back of the room, “I began attending Mass every day, receiving Christ. At first it was one of the hardest parts of my day, but it quickly became my highlight. And it changed my life.”

It was in this advice that Br. Michael began to consider seriously the priesthood. After graduation, he spent some time backpacking around Europe and chatting with residents as he walked through their towns. “Every time we would talk, the conversation would turn to my plans once I finished my trip, and I’d share my plans to pursue the priesthood. That always surprised them,” he observed. “They didn’t expect a young guy like me to be making a plan like that. It almost always led to a great dialogue about religion.” Those conversations were his “first experiences with preaching,” which would help bring him to the Order of Preachers.

“Preaching is our spirituality; it’s more than a thing we ‘do,’” said Fr. John Marie in his concluding remarks. “When you preach, you think not only of your spiritual life, but the spiritual life of others.” He recalled St. Dominic — “He was known for preaching with joy. Following his example, we strive to emulate him” — and concluded with an invitation: “Give it some thought,” said Fr. John. “It’s a beautiful calling.”