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Steps to the Priesthood on a Path through Time

Marianist Brother Walks 9th Century Route to Discern His Vocation

It is a 9th century route hundreds of thousands of Catholics are discovering again.  The “Camino de Santiago,” known in English as “The Way of St. James,” is believed to lead to the burial site of St. James the Greater in Santiago de Compostella, Spain.  It traverses farms, hills, and cities from France through the Iberian Peninsula – and, hundreds of years after the first Catholic pilgrims began to walk it, the Camino is still used as a prayer to grow closer to Christ.


Brother Peter Heiskell, S.M., 49, a Chaminade High School teacher and religious brother of the Marianist Province of Meribah actively discerning a vocation to the priesthood, made the Camino his own prayer this summer.  Bro. Peter completed a five-day, 100-kilometer section of the Camino from Sarria, Spain to Santiago.


The connection between Spain and St. James developed well before the discovery of his relics and the Camino taken to reach them.  Written evidence supports the tradition that St. James, one of Jesus’ first disciples and one of the 12 apostles, evangelized present-day Spain.  Various pathways lead to Santiago; young Catholics are primarily among those who undertake the Camino today.


Bro. Peter noted, “Our group of pilgrims included 53 university-age students from Spain, Italy, France and Poland who went to Marianist schools or knew them in some other way.”  According to the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago, more than 275,000 pilgrims completed the Camino in 2016.  The number of recipients of the “Compostella,” official recognition Camino completion, has increased year-to-year since 1986, with occasionally higher totals during Holy Years.  52% of last year’s pilgrims are men, while 48% are women.  27% are under 30 years old, and 55% are 30-60 years old. 


All of the walkers in Bro. Peter’s group began their days walking silently for one hour – what he called “a special time of prayer.  All of us came with a ‘package of intentions;’ among mine was the discernment of my call to the priesthood within the Society of Mary, and I found that call affirmed.”


Each day’s trip usually began before sunrise.  Walkers stayed in hostels and usually prepared their own simple meals.  The walk is not for the faint of heart; it can be done in stages, but pilgrims spend hours at a time on their feet and exposed to the elements.  “You learn exactly how 100 kilometers feels,” Bro. Peter said.


Pilgrims are reminded that the Camino is, indeed, a spiritual undertaking – a method for personal reflection, penance, and togetherness with the Lord, St. James, and the Church.  Each step draws them closer to the purpose of their prayer.


The journey held a uniquely personal importance to Bro. Peter.  Catholic tradition holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. James on a pillar in Zaragoza, Spain.  He was discouraged, having converted only a small number of non-believers.  Mary assured St. James that the faith would be as strong as the pillar upon which she stood.  It became the shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar, and it was where Blessed William Joseph Chaminade received his inspiration to found the Society of Mary under exile from the French Revolution.  The order is celebrating its bicentennial on Oct. 2.


“To meditate on the stories of St. James, our order’s founder, and the Gospels, and to do so as ‘the older guy’ right alongside younger people going through transitional times in their lives, proved to be a powerful experience.  It reaffirmed why I set out on this journey, and everything that I believe about the call God has issued to me.”


Raised in Garden City, Bro. Peter graduated from Chaminade in 1986.  He has served as the school’s Director of Apostolic Activities and teaches Spanish and Latin.


Another Long Island Marianist, Brother Daniel Griffin, S.M., is also studying for the priesthood.  Bro. Daniel is a graduate of Kellenberg Memorial High School’s Class of 2002, and has taught at both Kellenberg and Chaminade.  Both brothers have also been a presence at St. Martin de Porres Marianist School in Uniondale, a K-8 school founded by the order in 2004.

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