Have You Ever Thought of Being a Priest
Meet Father Ray Ball
By Simcha Fisher | Photo courtesy of Father Ray Ball
Pictured above: Shortly after witnessing the marriage of Sean and Hannah McCauley at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Concord in 2016, Father Ray Ball chauffeurs the newlyweds to their reception in his 1958 Plymouth.
In this series, Parable travels the Diocese of Manchester to profile a priest from each region. Father Ray Ball is dean of the Capital deanery that serves greater Concord. In the next issue, Parable will shift from profiling diocesan priests to meet with a priest from a religious order.
You might see Father Raymond A. Ball cruising around Concord in his 1958 red-and white-Plymouth – or, more likely, taking a parish family for “Dinner and a Drive with Fr. Ray” as a raffle prize. He might even act as chauffeur to a newly-married couple, after officiating at their wedding and DJ’ing the reception.
“I always try meeting people on their own turf, like [St.] John Bosco,” he says. “You have to find the place where people find enjoyment, and then you're able to share what you have to share.”
Father Ray, the soft-spoken pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Concord and “Weird Al” Yankovic fan, is also chaplain and diocesan director of scouting, and until recently he was chaplain for Camp Bernadette and Camp Fatima. Since his ordination in 1987, he's coached numerous sports teams.
But the thing he's most proud of, he says, was winning the New Hampshire Public School Volunteer of the Year Award in 2005 after his stint as coach, substitute teacher and crisis counselor in Lancaster.
“It was the first time a Catholic priest ever won it,” he says. “I always felt that, wherever I am, I'm not just assigned to that parish. I'm assigned to all the people of that community.”
When did you first hear the call to become a priest?
In fifth grade. I was an altar server. I always felt like I could be a priest and a professional baseball player and hockey player.
Growing up during the Vietnam War, there was chaos. But going to church, you would hear how life should be – how it is, at a certain level. I wanted to give my life to that. I wanted to facilitate the experience of being a beloved child of God. I felt it was the most meaningful thing I could do with my life.
What is the most helpful thing someone said or did that made you realize you were called to the priesthood?
My senior year in high school, I asked my parish priest [in Syracuse, N.Y.], “What should I do next?” He recommended a great books college in New Hampshire, Magdalen College. I was just following the next steps. I went to St. John's Seminary in Brighton. I thought, “If it turns out this isn't it, at least I tried it, and it's not going to be a waste of time. I'll grow as a Christian and find out how I am called to serve the Church.”
What advice do you have for those contemplating the priesthood today?
Have conversations with a priest or a seminarian. Go to a Quo Vadis Days camp. The vocations department has dinners for prospective candidates to talk with other guys who are also discerning. Just continue to have an openness.
What are the greatest challenges of being a priest? What is most rewarding?
In every parish I've been in, people have been very affirming and encouraging. That support and love is wonderful. [But] you can get caught up in the image, the persona. Don't believe the press clippings! You're flawed; you're fallible; you're imperfect. You need people who know you, who can keep you grounded and honest and humble.
Peter was the one who fell, who denied Christ three times. Three times, Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” Out of the experience of imperfection, that's the place where you find compassion, sympathy and empathy, being with people who are also wounded, hurting and struggling.