From Atheism to Seminary: Meet the Diocese’s Newest Seminarian

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by Jessica Rinaudo

When you think of candidates for the Catholic priesthood, the word “atheist” likely never crosses your mind, but the Diocese of Shreveport’s newest seminarian, Francis Genusa, used that term to describe his life during many of his high school years.

“I was an atheist, or at least agnostic, and I didn’t really put much stock into Catholicism or anything at that time. I never really thought about my faith in a deep way, and so I pulled away from it… I got into looking into Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss and other great thinkers who I still respect,” Francis said. “But I got into them and just thought it was reasonable not to be faithful, that God didn’t exist, and that all that was something that made people feel good and, not that I didn’t want to feel good or fulfilled as a person, I just thought that you didn’t have to have God to feel good… and that’s partly where my search picked up, I was trying to find fulfillment.”

“I was always that kid who argued so much in class, but our youth minister was a pretty smart guy. He argued with me and I met my match. So I had to do investigation and I had to do digging, and that led me to the seminary because of all those questions.”

And when Francis says it led him to the seminary, he means that quite literally. While in high school, he attended a “Come and See” event at St. Joseph seminary in south Louisiana.

“I had gone to seminary with the mind set that I wanted to talk to these people and figure out those arguments; throw those arguments at them and see what bounced off. But really what bounced off was faith,” Francis said.

During the weekend-long event, he was encouraged by a friend to go and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament.

“As I prayed, I said, ‘If you’re real and you’re not just a piece of bread on a stick, then nothing’s really more important than that.’ And it was a weird kind of epiphany. I started saying things in my mind that were incredulous … Like, ‘If you are the center of the universe, God of everything, the Creator … there really isn’t anything more important.’ And that’s really where the light kind of turned back on.”

Francis attended the Come and See events three times. And what began as a faith life full of incredulity, quickly grew into what Francis describes as a “mountain of faith.” He investigated St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for God, and it just, as he says, “clicked into my mind. ”

But even finding his faith again, the leap from atheism to discerning priesthood is a large one.

While at St. Frederick High School, Francis was critical of the Mass and he and former youth director, Mark Loyet, often talked about it and all aspects of the faith. “And one day he just asked me ‘Why do you care so much? Why do you come in here and keep trying to berate me about it?’ And I said ‘I don’t know.’”

Several weeks later, Fr. Keith Garvin, chaplain at St. Frederick’s at the time, talked to Francis after Mass and asked him if he had ever thought about a vocation. Francis’ immediate response was not positive.

“What a vocation?! Priesthood?! No… But then it started to settle in, and I started to think about it, and I thought, ‘Well, gee, this is important for some reason. Why?’ So I just started to feel it and it got a lot more real. … Mark Loyet had been in touch over the summer and he called Father Jerry [Diocesan Vocations Director] and we had a conversation. That’s when I knew.”

His discernment process has bloomed since then. Francis began attending St. Matthew Parish in Monroe, and has become very involved with the church, so much so that he was eventually hired on as their administrative assistant.

“I think the most impact on my vocation is being in the presence of the church and being in the presence of the priest,” said Francis. “And I’ve been with Fr. Mark [Franklin] so much, not only at the church, but we’ve also gone to eat and spent a lot of time together. That time has enriched me because a lot of what people think about the priesthood or religious life, in general, they don’t see it, and they can’t feel it. … I didn’t know what seminary was like, I thought they just went into a cave and prayed, but, no, they’re people. They live and they live even better than us.”

Francis began attending seminary at St. Joseph Seminary on August 10.

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