When my twelve-year-old son, Donnie became involved with drugs and alcohol, as far as I could tell, he was still the same obedient and kindhearted son he had always been. We had been close during his childhood but I failed to recognize the changes he was going through.
In many ways, Donnie and I grew up together. I was only eighteen when I had him, so I went from being a teenager to a mother. We always had a strong love and bond between us. When Donnie was ten-years old, I married Don Calloway, an officer in the Navy. The two Dons in my life took to each other with great affection. Don soon adopted my son as his own.
A year after our marriage, our son Matthew was born. Donnie was ecstatic. He helped me decorate the baby’s room and could not wait to hold his little brother shortly after the birth. As Matthew grew, the boys spent hours together playing, bike riding, reading, and laughing. They rarely used one another’s name, instead preferring to always call one another “brother.”
Because Donnie seemed to be his same old self while we lived in California, I never saw the dangerous changes taking place. But shortly after our family transferred to Japan, the problem became obvious. Donnie lost no time getting acquainted with the local criminal element. He grew distant from us and became defiant and hostile. His grades at school dropped, and his friends were all that mattered to him. Donnie refused to talk with me about anything. My heart broke and I often cried out in anguish. We were at a loss for what to do.
During this time of conflict, some friends in the Navy invited us to attend the Catholic church on base with them. Religion had been largely absent during my childhood. I lived back and forth between divorced parents with only sporadic church attendance of various denominations. I had fond childhood memories of my beloved Catholic grandmother taking me to Mass. I had hoped that Don would go with me, but my mind was made up to go whether he came or not.
The moment I walked into that church, peace filled me. I knew that I had found a home. Don felt it too. We were where we needed to be. The Catholic Church became our comfort and grace to get us through what awaited us.
After we had been in Japan for two-and-a-half years, Donnie ran away one night. We did not search alone for our wayward son, however; the Japanese government also wanted him. It did not take long for them to figure out that the white boy frequently witnessed at crime scenes was responsible for them. The military transferred our family to Pennsylvania to get us out of there. Although I felt incomplete leaving Japan with just one son, my newfound faith gave me the strength to trust that my prayers for help would be heard.
As I boarded the plane in tears, Don looked at me and promised: “I will not leave Japan without Donnie.” He was true to his word, but it took a pair of handcuffs and a police escort to get Donnie on the plane.
Donnie agreed to be admitted to a drug and rehabilitation center in exchange for the Japanese government not pressing charges,. He did not like us any better than before he had run away, but my heart rested in the faith that God would take care of Donnie. At least we were together as a family again. And Don and I were determined to do everything possible to help him.
In Pennsylvania we officially became Catholic and gained assurance from an arsenal of spiritual resources: Mass, the Eucharist, prayers, the Bible and the intercession of Our Blessed Mother. “Dear God,” I often prayed. “Please help my son. And hear the prayers of your Mother, the Mother Of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She gave us the gift of your son. Now I plead to you that my own son be saved.”
Upon completion of Donnie’s rehabilitation program, we rejoiced. Our son seemed better, and our new membership in the Catholic Church brought us much comfort. But before long, Donnie was back to his old ways. During his junior year, his school performance both academically and behaviorally was so poor that he finally just gave up altogether and dropped out. Waist-length hair, an earring, and a Grateful Dead tattoo gave the world an impression of my seventeen-year-old son that I refused to accept. I knew that underneath the rough exterior was still my kind and loving son.
Even though Donnie offered no outward sign of it, I believed it with all my heart that Donnie was going to be something very special when he finally came out of this. God would give him the grace to turn his life around. I loved him so much and knew that this child was a child of God and that all the destruction was from the devil.
We had often tried to encourage Donnie to turn to God, but he would have none of it. “I will never set foot in your church,” he once announced. Another time, he had been embarrassingly rude over the phone when our pastor called.
After he dropped out of school, his life continued on a downward spiral. On his own, he chose to enter drug treatment for a second time. It did not take, although at the time I was hopeful. Shortly after completing the treatment program, Donnie left for Louisiana to bum around with a friend. He had another brush with the law and continued down the wrong path. Donnie called only sporadically. My heart broke that he was so far from us both physically and spiritually.
My prayers were unceasing now. Not a half an hour went by that I did not talk to God about my son and ask His Blessed Mother to keep praying for Donnie. He returned home at nineteen. If nothing else, at least he was home with us, I thought. Shortly thereafter, my husband was transferred to Virginia. Donnie came with us.
Matthew settled into fourth grade at a Catholic school, Don was sent out to sea on a six-month tour, I kept up my never-ending conversations with God and the Blessed Mother, and Donnie returned to his destructive lifestyle. Then, suddenly everything changed overnight. “Mom,” Donnie said as I passed by his bedroom early one morning. “I want to talk to a priest.”
I stopped in my tracks. This was the moment I had waited for so long, but when it finally happened I was shocked. “What did you say?” I asked, afraid to believe my own ears. Donnie repeated his request. There was a light in his eyes and his face was radiant.
Dumbfounded, I just stared at him. “Mom, I read this book last night,” he said, holding up a book of mine on apparitions of the Blessed Mother.
“You read that book?” I asked, amazed.
“Mom, I consumed this book,” Donnie said. He did not understand it all, but somehow, through the beauty and love of the Blessed Mother, Donnie was overcome with the reality that her God was his God.
I made arrangements for him to talk to a priest on base. Donnie flew out the door and ran the half mile all the way to the chapel. Something miraculous had happened to him that night. My spirits soared in wonderment as I thanked God. Words cannot describe my joy--it was so complete. Now I prayed that what had begun was for real and would continue without distractions.
Later, I learned that all the pain, the sadness, the desire for any alcohol, cigarettes or drugs had evaporated overnight. Donnie was left only with a craving for The Almighty. The Blessed Mother had come to him with her son Jesus, Who washed him and healed him. Tears of joy dripped onto the letter I wrote to my husband. “You will be coming home to a very different Donnie.” I wrote. After that, everything happened very quickly. Donnie immersed himself in Catholic books and began practicing the faith. It would be another six months before he could be fully received into the Church, but during that time, his all consuming zeal never let up. Donnie told us early on that he had a great desire to serve God for the rest of His life and that would be his life.
On May 31, 2003, ten years after he became Catholic, I again cried tears of joy as I hugged my son, the priest. “I love you, Father Donnie,” I told him after the bishop had congratulated him and introduced him as Fr. Donald Calloway. My son had become a priest for life with the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception. He went from being a high school drop out to earning a bachelor’s degree with majors in philosophy and theology, a Masters in Divinity and Doctorate in Mariology.
So many people prayed for Donnie on his journey to the priesthood, especially from our church, Immaculate Conception Parish, Clarksburg, West Virginia. We are immensely blessed by them all.
And of course our Blessed Mother Mary has interceded every step of the way on this journey of faith for our entire family. She understood a mother’s pain and now she celebrates with us the conversion won by her Son.
_______________________________________For more inspiration, check out Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families. Your children will laugh while learning big spiritual lessons with Dear God, I Don't Get It! and Dear God, You Can't Be Serious.