By the time he finished his freshman year at Thomas Aquinas College, Rev. Joseph Bolin (’01) had contemplated careers in farming, mathematics, computer science, and philosophy. The only possibility he had not considered, it seems, was the priesthood or religious life. “Somehow I had gotten the impression that a vocation to the religious life or the priesthood essentially came by way of a voice from God,” Fr. Bolin says. “Since I hadn’t experienced any such thing, I hadn’t really pursued the idea much.”
His thinking began to change during his sophomore year, when a visiting Norbertine priest delivered a vocations talk on campus. The priest spoke of how the vocation to the religious life was a higher calling, one worthy of praying for and pursuing. “This idea of actually praying for a vocation was new to me,” Fr. Bolin recalls. “It was one concrete step along the way of developing a different view of what vocation is.”
So he began praying for a vocation, and through his studies, his devotional life, and serving Mass in the chapel, he developed a deeper love for the Faith, Scripture, and liturgy. Still, he doubted that he possessed the qualities necessary for the priesthood, until an e-mail exchange with one of his brothers, Rev. Thomas Bolin, O.S.B. (’96), set his mind at ease. “You don’t need to think a lot about whether you have the ability,” he recalls his brother saying, citing St. Thomas. “The presumption should rather be that you can have the ability, because it is something you would ask God to give you as a gift.”
It was another reminder to put his trust in God. Shortly after graduating from the College in 2001, Fr. Bolin went to Austria to pursue a master’s degree and then a licentiate in theology at the International Theological Institute (ITI). He also spent time investigating and visiting various religious communities, but was frustrated by his inability to find one that seemed the right fit.
On a pilgrimage to Lisieux, he shared this concern with a priest who offered a fresh perspective. “Maybe not being able to find a community could be seen as a providential sign,” the priest said. Perhaps, he recommended, Fr. Bolin should consider becoming a priest in the diocese where he was then residing — Vienna. “That suggestion clicked,” Fr. Bolin says. He took the priest’s advice and, on June 15, 2012 — the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus — received the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The experience of actively pursuing his vocation and trusting God to work out the details — as opposed to remaining idle until presented with explicit, divine direction — was a radical shift from how Fr. Bolin had conceived of discernment in his youth. Thus inspired, he wrote and published a book in 2008 about his vocational insights. Paths of Love presents a practical, theologically rigorous account of three distinct traditions of vocation, those of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and Bl. John Paul II.
Paths of Love eventually found its way into the hands of the director of the National Office for Vocation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Rt. Rev. Christopher Jamison, O.S.B., who saw it as providing a much-needed addition to recent efforts to increase the number of vocations in the West. This summer Fr. Jamison organized an international seminar in England about the theology of vocation, with Fr. Bolin serving as one of the invited speakers.
Meanwhile Fr. Bolin serves as an assistant professor of dogmatic theology at the ITI and — more importantly, he would note — a shepherd of souls. As the lone priest at one of three churches that comprise a single, large parish 30 miles south of Vienna, he is primarily responsible for tending to the spiritual needs of the thousands of families in his pastoral care. Bountifully, his prayers for a vocation have been answered.