From schoolboy to ‘Father’

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There is a religious object in Father Joel D. Jaffe's Chancery office that you don't usually see in a priest's workplace. On the top shelf of a bookcase stacked with Catholic and Christian texts and pushed against a wall dotted with photographs of basilicas in Rome is a leather pouch with the Star of David on the front that contains his father's yarmulke and prayer shawl from his bar mitzvah. It's a family heirloom that he keeps in his office as a sign of respect and appreciation for his father's Jewish tradition.

Father Jaffe, 37, the new director of the diocesan Office of Vocations, was born to a Catholic mother, Missy, and a Jewish father, Sidney, in Washington. He and his sister, Jennifer, were raised Catholic but showed respect and appreciation for their father's faith.

"We would celebrate the similarities and differences," he said of the two faiths.

The family moved to Annandale when he was young and became parishioners of St. Michael Church. Mother, son and daughter would go to Mass, with the father joining them occasionally but keeping his own religious traditions.

Since he was a boy, Father Jaffe liked to get to Mass early. He enjoyed the quiet of the sanctuary before others arrived. The solitude of St. Michael's perpetual adoration chapel was a similar draw and his time spent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was a major influence on his path to the priesthood.

"Vocations are grown in silence," he said.

The visits evolved into a devotion that the young man carried through St. Michael School and then to Annandale High School.

As a high school student, he even visited the St. Michael perpetual adoration chapel after evenings out with friends.

He also was active in sports, throwing shot put on the track and field team. He had many friends and was active in the Catholic Youth Organization.

His love of sports continues to this day, with the evidence of that love visible in his office, where baseball and football mementos share space with objects of faith.

It was during his junior year in high school when the possibility of a vocation surfaced.

After graduating from Annandale High School in 1994, he went on to study biology and religion at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. He began attending daily Mass and started to discern a vocation, but it didn't reach a zenith until his junior year. He went to Father James R. Gould, then diocesan director of vocations, and his decision was cemented.

Telling his family about his desire to become a priest brought some apprehension. His father was concerned about the name continuing.

"What do they call you?" his father asked when told of his son's decision to become a priest.

"Father," he answered.

His father thought for a few seconds then said, "Instead of four, five or six grandchildren, I'll have thousands."

He attended the Pontifical North American College in Rome and was ordained June 7, 2003, by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

After serving as a parochial vicar for five years at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, he was appointed chaplain of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax where he worked for four years before being assigned parochial vicar of St. Luke Church in McLean and as promoter of vocations for the Arlington Diocese. In June he was called upon by Bishop Loverde to become the new vocations director, replacing Father Brian G. Bashista.

Father Jaffe said that it's the responsibility of every priest to promote vocations. He said that the bishop is the vocation director, but "I'm running the office."

Father Jaffe plans to continue the work of his predecessor, Father Bashista, "especially in the promotion of vocations to our youth."

Fluent in Spanish, he wants to foster vocations in the Hispanic community.

Additionally, he wants to raise awareness among young adult women and high school girls about vocations to religious orders.

When asked what the essential elements of a vocation are, he answered by recalling his own experience: "Perpetual adoration, Scripture and family and friends."

The importance of family in discernment is central to Father Jaffe's approach to vocations.

"Vocations to the priesthood and religious life begin at home and are fostered by parents who encourage their child to be open to anything and everything God might be calling them to do," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013