Often it takes a while to build up the courage to make an important phone call. Especially when this call could send your life in a radically new trajectory. When in college, and discerning his vocation, Br. Joe Roccasalva received from his father a business card of the Augustinian Vocations Director along with a suggestion to call him. “I held onto that card for two years before I finally called that number,” recalled Br. Joe.
That simple act, two years in the making, of picking up the phone and calling the number, changed his life and led Br. Joe to his vocation with the Augustinians.
This Director of Augustinian Vocations, one Fr. Tom McCarthy, was no stranger to Br. Joe. For years, Fr. Tom had served as a visiting priest at Br. Joe’s home parish and grammar school, St. Cajetan. The parish of St. Cajetan, located in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago’s southwest side, was a spiritual and literal home for Br. Joe while growing up, as his father—also named Joe Roccasalva—served as deacon to the parish. For his part, Br. Joe put his talents to use from an early age as a choir member and altar server, and later, a cantor.
The seeds that mature into our most significant life decisions are often planted many years in advance. When preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, Br. Joe’s 8th grade class went on a contemplative and educational retreat led by the Augustinian friar, Fr. Tom. Within this retreat, Br. Joe first encountered the teachings and life of Saint Augustine. While many of the Augustinian friars cite a deep personal connection with the story of St. Augustine as the decisive turning point in their call to the Order, Br. Joe would not return again to the saint until years later when he had begun his initial formation.
“I think if you are a young man at a Catholic grade school,” said Br. Joe, “you will feel a call to the priesthood at some point. But, that usually fades away, or you actively push it away. For me, in grade school, I pushed it away.” Following St. Cajetan, Br. Joe went to Marian Catholic High School, in Chicago Heights, where he encountered the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois. It was here that Br. Joe came to know what religious life looked like.
After Marian Catholic, Br. Joe entered into Saint Xavier University as Mathematics/Secondary Education major in 2008, and he became deeply involved in the campus ministry program. A pivotal moment came in his freshman year when Br. Joe’s name was given to the Archdiocese of Chicago for dinner with Cardinal Francis George and men from various colleges in the area.
Through this, he had the opportunity to speak with the Cardinal and his own peers regarding the discernment of their vocations. On a visit back to his high school, Br. Joe was talking with one of the campus ministers, Sr. Teresa Marron, about his discernment, and she told him “Look at orders, too.” Br. Joe continued looking at the Archdiocese remembering what Sr. Teresa had told him. It wasn’t until his senior year that he realized that the Archdiocesan life was not his call. So, Br. Joe began his search of various orders, and like a good millennial, he went to the internet and was inundated with various orders sending him information on their orders. One struck him, the Midwest Augustinians. He remembered the card his father had given him two years prior and he decided to finally call Fr. Tom McCarthy.
When Br. Joe finally reached out to Fr. Tom, the two arranged a meeting at St. Rita High School to discuss the questions Br. Joe had about formation, religious life, or any other questions. “The time just flew by. Two hours felt like nothing.” From that point forward, Br. Joe began to attend various events that the Midwest Augustinians held. He even began to attend the monthly novenas at the Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia Chapel. In the Spring of 2012, Br. Joe attended the Augustinian discernment weekend led by Fr. Tom on the east coast to introduce men to the life and spirituality of an Augustinian friar. Here he was, eight years later, attending another retreat by Fr. Tom, hearing with new ears, and seeing with new eyes. At this retreat were seven men, four of which would eventually enter the Midwest Augustinians.
During his senior year, Br. Joe was given more help in his discernment when the Augustinians began to assist Saint Xavier with weekend masses in the wake of the departure of the chaplain. Among the priests were Fr. Bernie Scianna, Fr. Rich Young, and Fr. Tom McCarthy.
When Br. Joe graduated, he took some time to work and truly discern God’s call. So, Br. Joe worked as a substitute at Mother McAuley High School and as a tutor at Huntington Learning Center. After a few years, Joe realized that God truly was calling him to the Augustinians, so he asked Fr. Tom for the application and moved forward in his vocational journey. Many of us quite understandably speak of entering religious life in terms of giving up anything in the pursuit of his vocation. “If you are truly called,” he said, “it’s not hard to give up anything.”