By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

Once a reluctant seminarian, Robert Lee is now a deacon in the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

“As I came to my own ordination and as I came to the promises that I made, I found that it was a fulfillment of God’s plan for me, it was a fulfillment of what God’s joy is: To be in service, to be in obedience, and to be loving,” said Lee, who was ordained at St. Joseph’s Basilica on June 16.

“And so my vocation is no longer about rejecting things, but about accepting love and about offering that love to others.”

Lee’s aim is to eventually enter the priesthood.

He was first drawn to St. Joseph’s Seminary by Rev. Paul Terrio — then a priest, now Bishop of the Diocese of St. Paul —  who invited Lee to join him on a hospital visit after Sunday Mass. Lee had recently graduated from high school in Spruce Grove.

“What I saw there was that the people loved the priest and the priest loved the people,” Lee said.

Lee watched as Father Paul prayed with patients in the hospital and brought them Holy Communion.

“It was a kind of joy I saw in the eyes of the people that made me think that I want to give that too, not just a joy but a transformation — from a kind of solemnness, a kind of loneliness that really takes place in the hospital — into a real joy that would last for days, the kind that people remember and want to have again and again and again, and I wanted to be a part of that ministry of Christ.”

Lee said Father Paul saw something in him.

“I wouldn’t say that (Terrio) was relentless, but he was insistent on me asking God if this was for me and I knew that God was good and I knew that he would have a plan for me so I thought, I’ll try this thing for four months,” said Lee.

“When I entered seminary what I found was a fraternity, a healthy community and a place of prayer that really gave context to what God wanted for me in my life and here I am … seven years later.”

Lee joked that deciding between floor hockey or basketball are among the most important things to figure out in seminary, but the reality is far from fun and games. 

“In the early years of seminary I struggled with celibacy. I struggled with obedience. I struggled with not having my dream job, not being able to camp when I want, to fish when I want — so it was a lot of rejection I felt of the world and of the things that I enjoyed,” said Lee.

“One of the most difficult parts of discerning the call is realizing that priesthood isn’t primarily about rejecting yourself. Priesthood is about living out the call that God has for you,” Lee said.

The seminary has been integral in the development of his own relationship with Christ.

“When I think of St. Joseph’s Seminary, the first thing I think of is the chapel, the corpus on the crucifix that resonates a sacrificial Christ,” said Lee. “It reminds me every time of what it means to be in the world, but not of the world and what it means to have a seminary that’s right in the heart of the city kind of showing to the world that we’re here, we love you, and that we want to minister to you.”

To those who may feel like there is a tug toward priesthood, Lee’s advice is that seminary — a time when candidates immerse themselves in a life of prayer, service, and discipline — is worth a shot.

“I don’t know of anyone who would say that learning some discipline, some prayer and some study would be bad for you,” he said.

In his homily at Lee’s ordination, Auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman asked for the community to rally around him.

“As Robert comes before the Lord to begin his sacred ministry as a deacon, we give him our prayers and support, and join his family and friends in thanksgiving to God for him and for giving sacred ministers to His Church.”

Video recap of his ordination on June 16, 2017.