Aaron Williams, a fourth-year theology student at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, will be ordained on May 31, 2018, in the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi. Read how altar serving in kindergarten set him on his path to the priesthood.
Tell us about your calling.
When I was little, I was noisy at Mass and couldn’t sit still. To keep me busy, our pastor, Father Foley, decided I should serve Mass with my older brother. So when I was in kindergarten, Father Foley made an exception, and I started altar serving, way younger than normal. I loved it, so they were stuck with me.
All I wanted to do was become a priest. I hoped to attend seminary after high school, but my diocese said I was too young. My father went to the bishop, without my knowing, and asked what he could do to get me to seminary. The bishop said his own father had asked his bishop the same question. They made an exception and let me interview. I was accepted and entered St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana, in 2010.
Who were your mentors?
At the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson, we had several pastors. The one consistent presence there was Bishop William Houck. He said Mass often when I served in kindergarten. He always encouraged me to pray and consider the seminary.
One year when I was little, I asked my grandmother if she could make priest’s vestments for me. I showed her a photo of Bishop Houck and asked her to make an exact replica of his outfit. That was my Halloween costume that year. It meant a lot to Bishop Houck that I wanted to be like him.
Then he left the diocese to serve as president of Catholic Extension in Chicago from 2001 to 2007. Whenever I saw him after that, I was always reminded of how prayerful he was. For 30 minutes before saying Mass, he would pray in the corner of the church to prepare himself.
When he passed away in 2016, I had permission to go home for his funeral. Afterward a few of us helped clean out his house. I received a beautiful religious icon from his collection that now hangs in my room. To me it is a sign of his spirituality and of our connection.
What do you look forward to doing as a priest?
In addition to sharing the sacraments, I look forward to pastoral ministry. A priest can baptize someone in the morning and later that day accompany someone who is dying. We get to see every significant moment of life. A priest is always there when people need him.
What are the needs of your diocese?
Geographically, Jackson is the largest diocese on the eastern side of the Mississippi River, but we have few Catholics. Our largest parish would be considered small in other dioceses. Parishes are spread out, and our priests are spread thin. Most have two or three parishes, so not every church has a weekly Mass. We have a pressing need for more priests and for laypeople to become stronger leaders.
Why is Catholic Extension funding important?
I saw an old photo of Catholic Extension in the early days in Jackson, with a priest in a wagon. He was going from farm to farm saying Mass. From the very beginning, Catholic Extension’s support has been crucial. Today our diocese still needs help with the basics, such as seminarian education, priest salaries, church repairs and Catholic schools. For Catholics in other areas, it might be easy to take these things for granted, but here they are often out of our reach financially.