God has strange ways

By Brother Alan Parham, FSC

I am passionate about two things: my vocation and my Latino heritage. When people say to me that I am not Latino because I was born in Brooklyn and my last name is Parham, I remind them that many Latinos are born in this country, and my last name is derived from my father, who was part Mayan and half British, having come from Belize. Besides, my mom is Chilean.

It is true there are not many brothers of Latino descent in this country, but I am definitely one of them. After I first joined the Christian Brothers, someone advised me to “tone down the Latino stuff.” Not a chance! Besides, I was always encouraged by superiors and formation personnel to explore my Latino heritage even more. I speak Spanish (albeit poorly), and I have found much opportunity in ministry to use it.

God has strange ways. By the time I was 15, there were two things I didn’t want in life: to be a teacher and to join a religious order. Now I am an assistant principal at a Catholic school, and I am a Brother of the Christian Schools (Christian Brothers). It all started when I joined the Catholic Youth Organization in my sophomore year in high school. That led to my return to the sacraments, for I had been a rather lax Catholic until then.

As I deepened in my faith, I began to think about religious life. When I was 26, I entered Holy Spirit Abbey in Conyers, Georgia (a Trappist monastery). I wasn’t a very good monk, but I did learn to pray and love it. Oddly enough, I had read about St. John Baptist De La Salle, and I was attracted to the Christian Brothers, but I didn’t want to leave the monastery. I hung on until just before final vows, and then it was obvious I couldn’t continue as a monk.

I left the monastery after six years, and it was hard to do so, although it had also become hard to remain. I was, in a word, confused. Believe it or not, I left and pursued an acting career for a while. It was only when I was cast as the friar in Romeo and Juliet that I realized I could never be as passionate about acting as I was about religious life. When I met the Christian Brothers, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. (I was already 40 years old!)

So, at the age of 42, I was received into the Christian Brothers. Despite challenges and some mistakes, I persevered and happily made final vows on September 15, 2001, only four days after 9/11. It was a bright spot in a very sad week.

I cannot recommend such a circuitous vocation journey to anyone. But I am living proof that God writes straight with crooked lines. It is still magic to me when anyone calls me “Brother,” or, as the Latino people do, “Hermano.” To that 15-year-old who didn’t want to be a teacher or a religious, I can only say: “God can take our fears and doubts and transform them into acts of faith.”

Your Turn
Have you looked for your vocation but have not found your place? What might help you?


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