January 11, 2008

Religious Vocations Supplement

Community, service mark seminarian’s vocation

Seminarian Chris Wadelton holds a boy who is a resident of the Pedro Atala orphanage in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, during a mission trip he took in the summer of 2006. (Submitted photo)

Seminarian Chris Wadelton holds a boy who is a resident of the Pedro Atala orphanage in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, during a mission trip he took in the summer of 2006. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Whether they are near or far away, seminarian Chris Wadelton loves to give of himself to help people in need.

His family has known that for a long time through his regular phone calls to check in with them, and the one-on-one time he makes for dozens of nieces and nephews.

The children of Pedro Atala orphanage in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, have also experienced Wadelton’s love firsthand in his mission trips there to improve their living conditions and show them Christ’s love.

This heartfelt dedication to family, faith and serving others was instilled in Wadelton in a dramatic way in 1974 when he was only 8.

That was when his father Tom died suddenly at the age of 47 of a heart attack.

“My father’s death definitely brought our family together,” said Wadelton, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis. “Everybody kind of pulled together after that.”

He also learned that his parish, which was across the street from his home, was there for him, too.

“Kind of like the family being a very secure place, the Church probably was too,” Wadelton said. “It was comfortable to go to school and to church over there. We were well-known in the parish. It was just part of the family.”

His mother also helped him learn the connection between faith and service.

Ann Wadelton spent many years serving on the parish’s peace and justice committee. For 11 years, she was the communications director for the Indiana Catholic Conference, which serves as an advocate for the Church and Church-related causes in state government.

Volunteering in the Church to build a better community has been important to Ann Wadelton for a long time.

“Once you see the poverty and the hurting that’s going on, it just kind of comes naturally,” she said. “I always have been involved in that kind of thing.”

It was that love of community that first led Chris Wadelton to consider a call to the priesthood when he was a student at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) and was active in its close-knit Newman Center community.

Wadelton majored in electrical engineering technology and graduated in 1990. For the next 12 years, he worked in research and for companies related to the computer industry.

But through it all, faith and service was a constant. As exciting as the computer industry was during its rapid growth in the 1990s, Ann Wadelton recalled that her son wasn’t satisfied.

“Chris had interesting jobs and traveled a lot,” Ann Wadelton said. “But he always said, ‘It’s just a job.’ ”

This perspective on his career had an impact on Wadelton’s prayer life.

“My prayer was generally, ‘Give me clarity on what direction you want my life to go in,’ ” he said.

Wadelton eventually worked through exercises common in the business world that help people determine what career would best suit their talents and desires.

“The priesthood was always there on the short list,” he said.

In 2002, Wadelton went on a vocations retreat sponsored by the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., where he lived at the time.

At first, he was anxious because he thought he would soon have to make a decision that would change his life forever. He learned, however, that the choice to enter the seminary wasn’t as looming as he had once thought.

“I kept waiting for some huge decision where I would have to make this lifetime commitment,” he said, “and what it’s actually been has been a bunch of little bitty decisions here and there, opening little doors.

“Eventually, I was in the seminary. That retreat would have been one of those small doors.”

A few years into his priestly formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Wadelton felt that he was being called to the religious life as a Franciscan.

Wadelton had come to admire many Franciscans, including his uncle, Franciscan Father Jeremy Harrington.

Wadelton entered the novitiate of a Franciscan province based in California that does mission work in Central America and ministers to Hispanic Catholics in the United States, two forms of ministry that attracted him.

But after nearly two years with the Franciscans, Wadelton knew that God was calling him to serve where he grew up. He also realized that mission work was always right around the corner.

“There are missionary opportunities right here in central and southern Indiana,” he said.

Wadelton’s ordination as a diocesan priest is about a year and a half away. He said remaining close to his nieces and nephews will continue to be important to him once his priestly ministry begins.

“Hopefully, I will model for people good family relations in that they’ll see that my family is very important to me,” Wadelton said.

Wadelton is also trying to shape the consciences of his nieces and nephews. At his suggestion, his family put aside their usual gift exchange this past Christmas.

The family’s children and teenagers instead bought gifts for the children living at Pedro Atala. Wadelton and five family members then went to Honduras to deliver the gifts and do mission work.

His niece, Kellie Moore, a member of St. Pius X Parish and a senior at North Central High School, both in Indianapolis, traveled to Honduras with him in 2006.

She sees a connection between his love for her and her family and the love he gives to those in need in Central America.

“With our family, he’ll call and go out to dinner with one cousin and then the next cousin. He makes a lot of personal time for every single person,” she said. “And then when he’s down there, it’s the same thing. He’s always the first to help. He’s just really generous with everything he has, and in reaching out and taking the extra step.”

Father Todd Goodson had a chance to observe Wadelton last summer when the seminarian ministered at St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour and Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown, where Father Goodson serves as pastor.

He thinks Wadelton will be a “tremendous asset” to the archdiocese in large part because of the way that he approaches caring for people, an approach whose roots go back to the early years of his childhood.

“Chris wants to minister to people, and the more the better,” Father Goodson said. “It’s a part of who he is. Chris likes to bring the Gospel to people. He likes to be the presence of Christ to people.” †

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