Many miles covered on new priest’s spiritual journey
Father Charles E. Johnson Jr., prays during his ordination Mass. Father Johnson was ordained to the priesthood with his three classmates from Christ the King Seminary on June 5. Photo by Dan Cappellazzo
Charles Johnson’s spiritual journey towards the priesthood took a straight path, but had many miles on it.
Born in Westford, Massachusetts, Father Johnson came to Western New York at the age of 12. He began a career in Information technology, working in different aspects of the health care field. It was while working on his bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Economics that he began to study the effects of media.
“I looked at media and how it was shaping my life, and it was kind of the epiphany for me where I decided I wanted to turn the media off walk away from it,” he recalled. “Over the course of the next seven years of my life, I discovered Catholic radio and from Catholic radio to the rosary, from the rosary to the chaplet of the Divine Mercy. Then slowly started to discern a call to join the Catholic faith.”
After a year of RCIA at St. Stephen Parish on Grand Island, he celebrated the Eucharist, baptism and confirmation in 2012.
“I went home that night and asked God, ‘Now what?’ and I started to get involved in ministry through the ministry of the reader, eucharistic minister, serving at funerals as an adult altar server,” he said.
He found he enjoyed being around people and praying together in front of the Blessed Sacrament. When someone asked if he ever thought about becoming a priest, he started thinking.
“I had a long list of reasons why the answer was no, and that list kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller over time,” he said.
He started having discussions with Father Walter Szczesny, vocations director for the diocese at the time. Then, after a couple years serving at St. Stephen’s, he entered Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora.
A summer assignment took Father Johnson to Our Lady of Peace in Clarence. His pastoral year saw him serving in the five parishes of Southern Allegany County.
Instead of a second summer assignment, he did an international study in ecclesial Spanish while staying in a Benedictine monastery in Guatemala.
“I’ve always felt a deep appreciation for the Latino spirituality. It’s every rich and very deep. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to explore that,” he said, explaining that he wants to embrace multicultural perspectives in his ministry. He thought the best way to learn the Spanish language and culture was to start with the Mass.
His diaconal year, when he is able to baptize, officiate at weddings and preside over funeral, was spent at Annunciation in Elma with Father Eugene Ulrich.
Through these ministry experiences he has learned about people.
“People are wonderful where ever you go. People are very loving, very open,” he said. “You meet people in the course of seminary in all stages of their life. If you’re in Clinical Pastoral Experience for example, you meet a lot of people at the end of their life who want to share their stories. I learned a lot about myself, a lot of self-knowledge, especially in wanting to hear people’s stories, wanting to listen to people sharing what they want to share about their lives. And about serving others, being there for others.”
He put a few more miles on his journey by walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage hike in Spain, twice. The first time he walked with his niece after she came out of the Peace Corps. He calls the 36-day experience, “absolutely wonderful.”
“You meet a lot of people, a lot of different cultures from around the world. You get to experience life with people, life without all of the technology and news of the world, and walk and socialize and enjoy life,” he said, looking back.
Classmate Ryan Keating has always admired Father Johnson’s strong prayer life.
“He has a great love and knowledge of Scripture. He has a great spirituality and prayer life,” he said.
His first assignment will be as parochial vicar at St. Amelia Parish, Tonawanda.