The ‘hardest, easiest decision’

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As the old expression says, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."

Those words certainly ring true for Deacon Brendan Bartlett, who spent years pursuing a career in federal law enforcement before discerning a call to the priesthood in his late 20s.

"Everybody was surprised, but nobody was more surprised than I was," he said of his choice to enter the seminary.

Though becoming a priest was never something he envisioned, Bartlett is eagerly awaiting his ordination June 8 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington and his new role ministering to local Catholics.

The son of Dennis and Denise, Deacon Bartlett was born in San Francisco in 1975. He has two younger brothers, two siblings who passed away at birth, three nephews and one niece.

After his family moved to Virginia in 1987, Bartlett attended seventh and eighth grade at Holy Spirit School in Annandale and graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington in 1993. From there, he studied psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, graduating in 1997.

Though the faith was always a big part of Deacon Bartlett's life - his uncle was a Jesuit priest and his father had spent years as a Jesuit seminarian before getting married - he had never considered the priesthood and instead pursued a career as a federal agent.

"I had my own idea of what I wanted to do," Bartlett said. "My career track was everything I had been hoping for and things were moving along well for me, but as it goes, I felt like something was missing and I knew what it was."

After college, Deacon Bartlett became an "on-again, off-again Catholic" who didn't attend Mass or practice the faith regularly. In his mid-20s, he decided to make weekly Mass a priority and recommit to his faith.

"Then this idea of a vocation started to blow up, so I went with it," Deacon Bartlett said. "It was one of those things where I had these plans and God had a different plan and He was drawing me closer and closer. (Going to seminary) was the hardest, easiest decision I ever had to make. I knew it was something I had to do, but taking that step was the hardest thing to do."

After spending three years in a religious order in Chicago, Deacon Bartlett decided that was not for him, although he still wanted to be a priest. He was accepted to be a diocesan seminarian in early 2008 and spent the next year at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., before being asked to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

During his years in seminary, Deacon Bartlett said he's received intense spiritual formation and developed close friendships with people from all over the country. He has enjoyed living in Rome, where he was witnessed the universality of the church and developed a real affinity for the Holy Father. This year, especially, has been exciting, as Deacon Bartlett witnessed Pope Benedict XVI's retirement and Pope Francis' election and served as a deacon during Pope Francis' Mass on Easter Sunday.

"I consider it a real grace to have been able to do that in my last few months in Rome," Bartlett said. "It was a great way to cap off the four years."

As his ordination date draws near, Deacon Bartlett said he is most excited about the sacramental ministries of celebrating Mass and hearing confessions and being able to spend time with the people of the diocese.

For other men thinking about the priesthood, Deacon Bartlett suggests they keep an open mind and seek priestly role models. Though becoming a priest never was something he envisioned, the process has been incredibly fulfilling.
"I honestly can't imagine doing anything else or any other lifestyle at this point," he said. "It's not so much what I'm doing as what I am."

Bahr can be reached on Twitter@KBahrACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013