Vocation Story: Br. Augustine DeArmond, O.P.
I grew up in Springfield, a rural town in southeast Louisiana about 45 miles from New Orleans. While people refer to most of the southern United States as ‘The Bible Belt,’ due to the large population of Sola ScripturaProtestants, my family lives in the ‘Catholic Triangle,’ a section of Louisiana in the middle of Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Morgan City. With Sicilian immigrants comprising half of my family, being Catholic was never a question for me.
At 18, I entered college seminary for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. After a very short stay, I realized I did not like being sequestered in a small college dormitory with other seminarians and a few Benedictine monks as my only neighbors. I also came to realize how little any of my faith made sense to me in light of being an adult. I think this problem had less to do with my education as a young Christian, and more to do with my lack of maturity. One afternoon, I informed the rector of my decision to leave, packed my bags and other personal items, and drove away without fanfare.
Upon leaving Seminary, I entered Southeastern Louisiana University, the nearest school to my hometown. While there, I studied liberal arts as an undergraduate. Instead of committing to one subject, I spread my studies out to include philosophy, sociology, history, literature, and some psychology, taking a few more classes than my degree program required. I sensed a deep desire to “make it all connect,” whatever “it” was. In each course, I tailored my essays to involve Catholic issues so as to see my studies in light of the Church’s involvement in the world. These exercises did not produce noteworthy scholarship, but the research always pushed me to examine why I embraced the Church’s tradition with such confidence.
While I volunteered as a catechist for my home parish, most of my work involved technical support for university offices and computer labs. However, in my final year of studies, I started working at the local Holiday Inn with my uncle and cousin. While my initial job had me in the kitchen most nights, I eventually started bartending and serving as night manager. In hindsight, I see God’s providence working through even that experience.
St. Dominic met and converted an innkeeper during one of his stays in Toulouse. He also traveled from place to place, engaging people in discussions of the faith and preaching the Gospel. Since I was not ready to follow St. Dominic, God set me at the inn, as the innkeeper, welcoming wayward travelers and engaging them in conversation. It is interesting to see how so many discussions lead to the topic of faith when one is open to the possibility. And people will often tell bartenders and innkeepers things they would otherwise only say to their confessors. Discussing the faith with so many people from different walks of life helped me synthesize much of what I learned in adulthood and discuss it in ways relevant to people’s actual situations.
Yet, being a stubborn man, I still ignored God’s call to reconsider my vocation. It would be another five years before I entered the Order. During that time, I kept in contact with my home diocese and went back to school and earned a Master of Arts in English. This course of studies gave me the opportunity to teach English at a local Catholic high school while paying down personal debts in anticipation of another attempt at seminary.
While on retreat with several students, I recall looking across the Gulf of Mexico and hearing the wind blow past my ears. At one point, I asked myself, “I wonder if I should give seminary another try.” A voice that sounded like it came on the wind said, “Why not?” God does not have to say much – especially if He points out the obvious.
At this point, I had not seriously considered religious life and planned to reenter seminary for the diocese. Although I was baptized by a Dominican and grew up in a parish close to them, the possibility of being a religious priest always seemed foreign to the many positive experiences I had with diocesan priests. While serving on yet another youth retreat with some friends, I met Fr. Paul Watkins of the Dominican Province of St. Martin de Porres. I was impressed with his style of preaching and how approachable he was throughout the weekend. He was first religious to look me straight in the eyes and say, “You know, religious life isn’t too bad…” My response was, “Oh? Do tell…” (As you can tell by this point, I like the low-key approach to personal revelation.)
That conversation started the process. Within a few months, every financial barrier, anxiety, and doubt cleared away. It took a great deal of discernment and hard work, but everything fell into place exactly as I needed it. This alone was enough to give me confidence in God’s call.
As I look forward to Ordination to the Diaconate this September, I experience a sense of gratitude for God leading me to the Order of Preachers. While it seemed like I was aimless for a so long, and really not sure where I was supposed to use my gifts, God lead me through very careful paths. I can only hope my future in Dominican Life is as surprising as my route toward it.