By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Deacon Ryan Hallford readily admits, like so many other clergy members, he heard God’s calling at any early age, specifically after his freshman year at LSU.

RyanKneeling2572.tif

Bishop Muench performs the laying on of hands to Deacon Hallford as part of the rite of ordination. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

Only in Deacon Hallford’s case, God had to call back.

Deacon Hallford, who was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Robert W. Muench on May 28 at St. Joseph Cathedral, originally entered St. Joseph Seminary in 2003.

“At the time I wanted to serve the church, and I love my faith, so why not the seminary?” he said. “I went in very enthusiastic but I knew very little about the church.”

A little more than two years later, the semester after Hurricane Katrina forever changed the landscape and psyche of southeast Louisiana, Deacon Hallford, who is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in May 2017, left, saying “I did not desire to be a priest anymore and left with the intention of never returning.”

RyanKneelingHands2543.tif

Deacon Hallford kneels before Bishop Muench and promises obedience to the bishop as part of the rite of ordination. Deacon Hallford places his joined hands between those of Bishop Muench.

 

He returned to LSU and after graduating with a degree in philosophy spent a year teaching in San Jose, California with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Deacon Hallford, a Slidell native who graduated from Northshore High School in 2002, returned to Baton Rouge in 2008 and spent the next several years teaching theology at St. Joseph’s Academy and St. Michael High School, with the intention of eventually becoming a college professor.

But as is so often the case, the seeds God planted may have been temporarily dormant but never died.

“When I left (the seminary) I devised all of these reasons in my mind to leave,” Deacon Hallford said. “Tangible things where I justified it to myself.

“The further I got away the less sense those reasons made.”

A series of life-changing events, including Deacon Hallford’s suddenly becoming legal guardian of his younger sister while she was a sophomore in high school, along with completing the final 200 miles of the grueling Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, provided the impetus to reconsider the priesthood. He admitted assuming responsibility for his sister, including him being forced to take on two extra jobs to help pay for her tuition at St. Michael, was “quite a transition” for both he and his sibling.

Ryan Vesting2581.tif

Deacon Pat Broussard, left, assists Deacon Ryan Hallford with vesting after Deacon Hallford was ordained by Bishop Robert W. Muench on May 28 at St. Joseph Cathedral. Deacon Broussard and Deacon Hallford are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in May 2017.

 

“It was difficult but very fulfilling,” said Deacon Hallford.

He said his life plans had become simplified and admitted to himself he was never going to pursue a lucrative financial career. But he yearned to spend his life serving others, serving the church and growing in his ability to love God.

During that process, Deacon Hallford spent 11 days in Spain, praying for his sister, praying that she would be well and would be able to find a female role model. His prayers were answered when a local family allowed Deacon Hallford’s sister to move in with them for her senior year.

But it was also during that walk he experienced a defining, albeit painful moment, one that cemented his trust in God and would ultimately have him answering God’s call a second time. After his traveling companion was forced to leave because of a family emergency, Deacon Hallford marched in solitude, cocooned in thought and prayers. At one point he began to experience pain in the back of his foot, to the point where he could feel “vibrating and creaking,” and he said he had torn his Achilles’ heel.

 

After one particularly painful day that saw him only able to walk for one hour at a time, he asked God later that night at Mass, “Do you want me to continue?”

“I remember experiencing at Mass that trust and God telling me, ‘You are going to do this. I am going to give you the grace to do this,’ ” Deacon Hallford said. “When I woke up the next morning (the pain) was gone.

“It was one of the most joyful experiences of my life.”

Page 8 RyanPS2654.tif

Bishop Robert W. Muench, left, exchanges a sign of peace with Deacon Ryan Hallford during the Ordination Mass on May 28 at St. Joseph Cathedral. 

 

Deacon Hallford believed a healing took place that night, and upon reflection as to why, he considered it not only a message from God but also a second calling to the priesthood. He reached out to Father Matt Lorrain, then vocations director, about entering the seminary for the Diocese of Baton Rouge (he had initially entered for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.). By the fall of 2013, he was back in formation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

“No second thoughts this time,” said Deacon Hallford, who comes from a broken home. “One of the things that really attracts me to the life of a priest is the way a priest is called to live out in the family of God.”

“If you think about the sacramental life of a priest he gets to experience the family of the church,” he added. “He gets to experience some of the most intimate moments of their lives. When there is new life, he is there. Blessings during pregnancy after birth, baptism, a priest gets to be there when people are getting reconciled to the church, express God’s mercy, gets to be there for new families sacraments of marriage, families grieving the loss of their loved ones

and praying for their journeys to heaven.”

Deacon Hallford will be spending the next five months serving at St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany in preparation for his priestly ordination. He is eager to learn the various ministries of the parish, the dynamics of how a church parish operates getting to know parishioners and performing the sacraments

Above all, Deacon Hallford is looking forward to preparing for what he will be doing the rest of his life. The uncertainly is gone, and no further calls will be necessary.

“I know what I exist for,” he said.

 RyanBishop2485.tif

Deacon Hallford and Bishop Muench pose for a photo at the cathedral. A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 800 gathered for the ordination of Deacon Hallford and Father Martin.