Ready to do the extraordinary

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For Deacon Matthew J. DeForest, who will be ordained to the priesthood Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, becoming a priest is the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Born on Jan. 13, 1982, he decided to become a priest when he was only a fifth-grader at St. Thomas More Cathedral School.

It was not a single defining moment that led him to his vocation. Instead it was a realization that came to light gradually while growing up in Catholic schools and serving as an altar boy.

"It wasn't a burning bush or falling off a horse or anything like that," Deacon DeForest said. "It was just one of those subtle attractions over time. You see these men who are out on Sundays in vestments helping people and preaching, and then you get to see that they're real men too. They eat, sleep and put pants on one leg at a time. It was just a life I was constantly attracted to."

While attending Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Deacon DeForest worked with Father James R. Gould to complete the application process for the seminary. Father Gould gave him advice that has stuck with him for years, telling him to "preach with courage, teach with clarity and serve with charity."

After graduating high school in 2000, Deacon DeForest entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He graduated in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. He spent his spirituality year at the Mary Immaculate Center in Northampton, Pa., and in 2005, was assigned to Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., where he graduated in May with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Theology.

During his time in seminary, Deacon DeForest also earned his Spanish ministry certificate, which helped him learn to minister and preach to Hispanic communities.

Over the years, Deacon DeForest says he has been floored by the kind of support he has received from family and friends, and especially the parishioners of St. Philip Church in Falls Church, where he grew up, and the Cathedral of St. Thomas More.

"I get letters and phone calls and emails and everybody wants to know how I'm doing," he said. "You just don't know how much that means, day in and day out, especially as you prepare to enter the seminary - that constant knowledge of love and prayers and support. That's what has helped keep me going and helped me to say, even when it gets tough, 'yes, yes, yes.'"

Deacon DeForest says he also has found inspiration in other priests, who have all supported and challenged him, especially Father Robert Rippy, rector of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, Father Robert DeMartino of St. Peter Church in Washington, Va., Father Kevin Walsh of St. Philip Church in Falls Church, and Msgr. Walter Rossi of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

"They are fathers in the truest sense of the word," Deacon DeForest said. "You can see the ordinariness and how our Lord has worked to make them something extraordinary for the people."

Now, nine years after he first entered the seminary, Deacon DeForest said he is thrilled to finally be able to follow in their footsteps and start his own journey as a priest.

"There's nothing I'm not looking forward to," he said. "I'm on the cusp of ordination and I am ready to do whatever the Lord wants me to do.

"People have prayed and God is answering those prayers and he's providing priests - three of us are being ordained. Now my prayer is that I will be a good father for them."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009