Clifford Chance Billmeyer, a seminarian for the Diocese of Colorado Springs, is the older middle of four sons born to Robert Edward and Carole Anne Billmeyer. He is midway through his fourth year of theology studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and was ordained a transitional deacon Dec. 21 by Bishop Michael Sheridan.
CCH: Who are some of the priests who were instrumental in fostering your priestly vocation?
CB: There have been many excellent priests in my life, all of whom I owe a great deal of gratitude for their devotion, piety and kindness. Two priests however stand out.
The first is Father Joe Carroll, an Irish priest from the Bronx for whom I worked more than 10 years in San Diego. He was extraordinary because of his work ethic. He was at the office by 6 a.m. each morning and often working past 8 at night. He walked all over the city, talking to social workers, politicians, and donors, and yet he never complained about his debilitating condition that eventually claimed both his lower legs. He worked hard because there is a great and overwhelming need for a strong homeless advocate and provider that could take care of the thousands of people living without housing and food. His goal in life was to make sure that every person had a place to sleep, a hot meal, healthcare, a path towards employment and a way to reintegrate back into society. We spent many mornings talking in his office as he gave assignments, came up with fundraising ideas, and shared his passion for the poor and needy. I value his honesty, his grace and his ability to make a real difference in tens of thousands of people’s lives. He taught me the true meaning of charity.
Now, literally 20 years later, I am working with another extraordinary priest, a Benedictine monk named Father Paschal Morlino (an Archimandrite of the Eastern Catholic Church and Roman Rite priest) in a parish close to downtown Baltimore. The parish is located in a neighborhood of burned-out and boarded-up apartments, street walkers, drug users, locally-owned bars and long-time devout parishioners.
Father Paschal, although in his eighties, still gets up each morning at 5 a.m., says his prayers, and begins making his rounds around the parish grounds, aptly named St. Benedict’s. Every day, in fact each moment, is different for Father Paschal, and yet he applies the same Christian love to everything he does. He picks up bags of trash which have accumulated around the property, shakes the hands of the over 200 men, women and children who come for food and basic supplies at the food pantry, gives advice and a few dollars to those who are desperately in need, and then preaches to his parishioners of 36 years during Mass. He is an amazing testimony to Christian zealous energy mixed with joyful compassion.
Both of these men have run social organizations which required many millions of dollars and hundreds of people to operate successfully, and yet they were always motivated by Christ’s message, “Whatever you do for the least . . .” They have shown me what it is to find Christ in others and how to be a holy servant.
What role did your parents play in helping you to discern the priesthood?
Both of my parents have very strong beliefs about God, and because of this, they have lived modestly simple and honest lives. Their personal struggles and accomplishments have shown me a great deal about perseverance, petition and the presence of a loving God in our lives.
My mother was just commenting the other day — she turned 82 — that she was really celebrating a special birthday and gave thanks to God for a miracle. She explained that she was told on her 41st birthday that it would be her last due to a brain aneurysm. So this year, to celebrate twice the number of years than what was expected was truly a gift, miraculous even. It is her faith, her life, and her constant prayer that has helped me to discern the presence of God, our life as gift, and the need to return this gift by giving thanks and praise to the one who sustains us.
Where did you attend college for your undergraduate degree? What did you study?
I attended San Diego State University and studied art with an emphasis in graphic design. This program provided an excellent foundation for visual communication and for solving common and complex problems in expressing the truth, getting the word out and forming meaningful relationships. My education was an excellent way to begin understanding how to proclaim the Kerygma and therefore evangelize others.
What have you found to be most challenging about your seminary studies? What have you enjoyed the most?
The most challenging is always the time during midterms and finals. I want to do well and find that I am always challenged by the immensity of information that I am required to distill and memorize. I love the learning and am always very encouraged by the excellent teachers and mentors here at the seminary. The thing I enjoy the most is that this is the Truth. My studies don’t just make sense, they are beautifully logical and necessary. There is a profound peace in my heart and in my mind that comes with the realization that the height of faith and reason is most excellent in the Church. I have no doubt as to God’s all wise and mighty hand in this revelation and am extremely grateful for his gift.
How have you changed or grown since you started out as a seminarian?
I have grown a great deal since I started as a seminarian, which was in 1988. Yes, I was in the seminary once before and it made a very deep and lasting impression on me. I realized that there was an interior life, a spiritual life that needed nourishment and tending all those years ago, and my desire to know him better just continued to grow stronger. The seminary has been an excellent vineyard, a cultivated field for many “trees” to grow. Our formation is divided into academic, spiritual, pastoral and human. I feel that each of these is now like the Oak, the Olive, the Almond, and the Mustard tree waiting to bear their “fruit.”
What parish will you be assigned to during your diaconate year?
My diaconate year has already begun as a pre-deacon at St. Benedict’s Parish. In addition to my current responsibilities, I will be adding: serving as deacon during Mass, proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, baptizing infants, and preparing couples for the sacrament of matrimony.
What advice would you have for someone who might feel called to the priesthood?
I have always told those men who feel a call that it is first and foremost to pray the rosary and ask Our Lady to prepare a place for Christ to enter into your heart in a significant way. The call, the message, and confirmation will come from her. You will know it when you feel it in your heart. Your will will be moved and your intellect will put all the pieces in order. It will just make sense. Our Mother Mary is the great intercessor and leads all men to her Son.
I would say that if you think God is calling you, he is calling you. It is simple like this. The problem is usually that we don’t want to believe or we don’t have the courage to respond. We also need to spend more time with him, in front of the Blessed Eucharist to hear his message. If you sense a calling at all, talk to a priest, or call the Vocations Office. They will help guide you in the right direction and help you to know God’s plan of action in your life. For me there is nothing more worthy, more fulfilling than answering this call.