June 26, 2009

Deacon Christopher Wadelton’s vocation came with God’s help, in God’s time

Deacon Christopher Wadelton incenses the congregation during the Chrism Mass on April 7 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon Christopher Wadelton incenses the congregation during the Chrism Mass on April 7 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By John Shaughnessy

Listen to the stories shared by his close friends and family members, and it soon becomes clear that Deacon Christopher Wadelton has a sense of adventure that leads him to follow his heart, travel different paths and be open to surprises.

Consider the story that Kim Moore shares about her Uncle Chris, who is preparing to be ordained a priest on June 27 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

He’s really been good at including all of his nieces and his nephews in his adventures,” says Moore, 22. “In 2003, he was moving back to Indianapolis from California. I was 16, and I had just gotten my driver’s license. I flew out there, and we drove back in his truck. We took 10 days, and we didn’t have a set agenda. We would just see signs and say, ‘Hey, that looks cool, and then we’d go.’

“We went to a ghost town, through a bunch of little towns, and we tried not to eat at any chain restaurants. We always tried to eat at places that were unique to where we were. It was the coolest trip.”

The same words could describe Deacon Wadelton’s journey to the priesthood.

“I gave a talk on vocations a while ago that I called ‘God Likes Surprises,’ ” Deacon Wadelton says, smiling. “God has always surprised me with the things I’ve been led to. Oftentimes, when I would enter into something with some trepidation, I was surprised by the hidden grace that was in there.”

As someone who loves to take hikes in the mountains of Colorado and lead canoe trips through the pristine, rugged landscape of the Boundary Waters in Canada, Deacon Wadelton knows that the path of life can be similar to a trek through the wilderness.

There are twists and turns along the way, and even heartbreaking setbacks that stay with you throughout the journey. There are also the breathtaking scenes and eye-opening vistas that draw you closer to God and to a deeper sense of who you are.

All those touches have marked the 43 years of Deacon Wadelton’s life.

He was 8 when his father, Tom, died of a heart attack at 47—a heartbreaking time that has shaped him as a person.

“It was tough for all of our five kids,” says Ann Wadelton, the mother of Deacon Wadelton. “Chris was so sad. It’s made him more sensitive to people.”

He was 12 when his neighbor, Don Beckerich, mentioned the priesthood to him—a possibility he kept considering through the years.

When he was a student at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, he went on a service trip to Appalachia one spring—an experience that cemented his commitment to help the poor.

“I would like to be a priest for the underserved and the marginalized,” says Deacon Wadelton, who has made 10 trips in the past six years to help the residents of a poor community in Honduras. “I want to be a priest for people who don’t feel they’re a major part of the Church. It’s because of my desire to serve the people who need the most. It reflects the life of Christ and also the life of St. Francis. That’s a strong influence for me.”

For 12 years, he worked in the computer industry—and he has since used that knowledge to collect old computers in Indianapolis and create a computer learning center in the Honduran community he has embraced.

“I come with a lot more life experience that will serve me well in parish life,” says Deacon Wadelton, who on July 1 will become the associate pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, a parish with a strong Hispanic presence.

“I don’t think I’ll get so upset at the small things. I’ve had experience that the small things will work themselves out.”

He’s also had experience that the big questions in life will be answered—with God’s help, and in God’s time.

As he seriously examined his future in the early 2000s, he returned to the thought of becoming a priest.

First, he went on a vocations retreat. Later, pulled by his commitment to service and his interest in missionary work, he was in formation for nearly two years in California as a Franciscan. Then he decided to come home to Indianapolis to be a seminarian in the archdiocese.

“Chris has a great heart, a pastor’s heart,” says Father Jeffrey Godecker, who has known Deacon Wadelton as a mentor, a friend and a fellow outdoorsman for more than 20 years. “He has a lot of faith and he’s very human, very warm. He also has a rare combination of intelligence and passion for the ministry and the Gospel. He has a passion for working with the poor, working with the stranger, working with the Hispanic population.”

Father Godecker then shares a favorite humorous story about Deacon Wadelton, recalling a moment that was frightening when it happened but the two friends can laugh about now.

“He’s the one who introduced me to canoe trips and the Boundary Waters,” Father Godecker recalls. “One time, he and his brother, Tom, shot a rapids without looking, went over a small waterfall and the canoe tipped over.”

Reminded of the moment, Deacon Wadelton shakes his head and smiles—another surprise from another adventure. Yet even that one doesn’t compare to the surprise that God had for him.

“I’m in awe of what the priesthood involves,” says Deacon Wadelton, a 1984 graduate of Bishop Chatard High School who grew up in Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, both in Indianapolis.

“The priesthood is much more than a profession that people can leave at the office or when they’re on vacation. A priest is embracing an entire lifestyle—as a public person and as a public witness of something that’s truly beyond him. Maybe that’s part of the realization for me that becoming a priest isn’t something I’ve achieved. This is something that God has called me to do.” †

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