The Diocese of Charleston is once again breaking new ground in the world of vocations.
By promoting Justin Gaeta to director of Vocational Activities and Promotions, the program became the only one in the country with a lay person in that role, serving under the direct guidance of Father Mark Good, vicar of vocations, Gaeta said.
He explained that while it’s common to have a lay person working in the vocations department, it’s extremely uncommon to have a lay person as a director who meets with inquirers.
Father Good said Gaeta is uniquely qualified for the role because of his past experience as an assistant to Father Jeffrey Kirby, former vocations vicar, and his own discernment process.
Gaeta tells the story of growing up in the surf and sea of Sullivan’s Island, where he developed a deep love of God and family. He applies this connection with God in nature through his role in an upcoming Catholic surf camp.
He first felt the call to priesthood when he was on a working mission in India, where he lived and served with two priests. He describes them as just two normal guys who made a huge impact on other people’s lives. It was something he wanted, too.
Seminary in New Delhi wasn’t his path though, and he returned to Charleston and got to know Father Kirby. When Drexel House, formerly a discernment home for men, opened in 2011, Gaeta split his time between it and his sailboat.
The many influences on his life at that time led him to apply for a spot as a seminarian and visit Holy Trinity Seminary in Texas. It was during this visit that he felt the Lord say “not yet.”
If not seminary, then what? Gaeta said he decided to open himself to dating, and a year later committed to the vocation of marriage with his wife, Challis.
During this time, he was also the vocations assistant and traveled extensively with Father Kirby to schools, college campuses and parishes. He also participated in the inquiry process. Gaeta said they discovered that having him in the room served as a calming presence, and that sharing his discernment story opened the way for candid discussions about dating and deciphering God’s call.
He said it’s essential that people find their true calling, so in the inquiry session he asks many questions about all aspects of life. Then, he either passes candidates along to Father Good or offers advice on how they can further discern and provides tangible goals for them to accomplish before the next meeting.
Gaeta is tentatively scheduled to give a talk on his unique role — developed because of the many duties of priests and how thinly they are spread — at the upcoming National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.
“I really am trying to help guys find their vocation in life, and that’s not just priesthood,” Gaeta said.