jellis

Primary tabs

jellis's picture
Name: 
Jeffrey Ellis
Type of Vocation: 
Seminarian
Which Seminary are you attending?: 
Mount St. Mary - Emmitsburg, MD
Anticipated Year of Ordination?: 
2016
What Year are you in of your studies?: 
3rd Theology

About Jeff

Where and when were you born?: 
I was born on May 31, 1977 in Denton, TX.
Describe your family: 
Growing up, my family consisted of me, my parents, my brother Derrick (two years younger than me), and my sister Caroline (eleven years younger than me). We had many aunts, uncles, and cousins around. In 2003, my brother's wife Carrie joined our family, and the last few years has seen the birth of my nephews and niece.
Where did you grow up?: 
I grew up in the Willimantic area.
What schools did you attend?: 
I attended K-8 at St. Mary-St. Joseph School in Willimantic, and I went to St. Bernard High School in Uncasville from 1991-1995. I attended UConn for college, receiving degrees in 1999 and 2002.
What parishes have you attended?: 
I have been a parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Willimantic throughout my life. While living in Virginia, I attended St. Thomas a Becket in Reston, and St. Anthony of Padua in Falls Church.
What was your career or background before entering the seminary?: 
I worked as a software developer at IBM in Southbury, CT after graduation from college. After graduate school, and the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, I worked as a software engineer at the CIA for about eight years.
What were major Catholic activities you participated in prior to attending the seminary?: 
As a child, I participated in youth activities at St. Mary, serving as an altar boy, singing in the youth choir, and participating in our youth groups. In Virginia, I served as a lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and choir member.
Who are your heroes?: 
Certainly my parents first provided my siblings and me with a great example of morality, charity, and Christian values. I had very many excellent teachers throughout the years, both at St. Mary-St. Joseph, and at St. Bernard, who inspired me to pursue excellence. I have also admired John Adams, our second president, another New Englander who always strived to do the right thing, despite public perception (if only he wasn't quite so anti-Catholic!).
What is your favorite sport?: 
Growing up in eastern Connecticut, the answer is obviously basketball! I'm not a good player, but my winter schedule is often arranged around the television appearances of the Huskies.
What is your favorite book?: 
My favorite fiction book is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Too often the jacket blurbs for books talk about how funny they are; Catch-22 is truly the only book I have read to keep me laughing from cover-to-cover. For nonfiction, I really like Frank Sheed's Theology for Beginners, which is an amazingly clear and simple introduction to several key components of the faith. Frank Sheed used to preach on a soapbox at Hyde Park in London; the experience obviously taught him how to lucidly and candidly explain very complex doctrines to everyday people.
Who is your favorite team?: 
UConn men and UConn women. Also, UConn football. OK, anything UConn.
Who is your favorite Saint?: 
St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi; St. Dominic Savio; Blessed Francisco Marto. As a child, I identified with St. Dominic Savio, and I somewhat “adopted” St. Dominic as I grew older.
What are your favorite hobbies?: 
I love to read, and lately I have been devouring as many books on the Faith as I can. I enjoy cooking very much, having spent years learning at the feet of Sara Moulton, Rachael Ray, Giada DeLaurentiis, and the other chefs of the Food Network. I like to kayak, and my ideal summer trip would be to choose a river down which to kayak-by-day and camp-by-night.
When did you first think that God was calling you to be a priest?: 
June 23, 2008. Examining my life after a particularly trying day at work, I was filled with a very certain invitation to consider the priesthood. It took me quite a long time to consider and to pray about it before I was willing to talk to anyone else about it, but from that day forward, the thought of the priesthood was never far from my mind.
Who influenced/inspired you to consider diocesan priesthood?: 
Honestly, it was the parishioners of St. Mary and the other parishes in the Willimantic deanery who influenced me to explore priesthood in the Diocese of Norwich. The real turning point came in October of 2008, when St. Mary hosted a visit by the U.N. International Statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The Church was packed to the brim with the faithful, and the Rosary and subsequent Mass were so full of life. Unbeknownst to my family and friends, I was at that time discerning whether to approach a religious order or a diocese to begin my investigations into the priesthood. Getting to experience the faith shared by so many local Catholics in this way really convinced me to seek out diocesan priesthood through Norwich.
How did your family and friends respond when you started discerning your vocation?: 
Unfortunately for them, I did most of my initial discernment very privately, because it was such a radical change for me. I say “unfortunately”, because when I finally talked to them about it, it was kind of like, “well, I think I'm gonna be a priest.” So I think most everyone was pretty shocked. I found, however, that there were lots of people who had known me in my younger days were less surprised, often commenting “I always kind of thought you might make a good priest.” That surprised me.
How did you begin the discernment process with the Diocese of Norwich?: 
After I finally got up the nerve, I called the Vocations Office in Norwich to speak with Father Galvin. I filled out some paperwork, and I finally met him a few weeks later.
What did you do to foster your discernment?: 
While I do not necessarily recommend it, I personally felt strongly that I needed to investigate the priesthood thoroughly before talking about discernment with anyone, both from the Diocese and from my family and friends. So I mostly used the internet, scouring vocations websites and reading stories of men who had gone through the process before. By-and-large, they all recommended going to daily Mass, which I then tried to adopt into my normal daily routine. I also began to read loads of books, both on discernment, and on the Faith itself. And I kept asking God over and over again, “Are you sure this is what you want for me?”
Please describe the importance of prayer in your life: 
Like so many people, prayer has been a struggle for me. During my early discernment, I was much more feeding the intellect than feeding the soul. I knew that I should be improving my prayer life, but it seemed like it was slow in coming, and I was not feeling that I was very successful. I felt that I was often “forcing” the issue, and I did not really feel that I was getting much out of prayer. Fortunately, I kept plugging away. As time went on, I noticed that I really began to depend on prayer time. When I was rushed and did not have the appropriate time to devote to contemplative prayer or go to Mass, I noticed that I became really anxious and harried. I started to look forward to spending quiet time with our Lord. Instructors at two seminaries that I visited confirmed that spritual formation is a big part of the seminary experience, and that they would help to ensure that I continued to make prayer the centerpiece of my life. While I feel very grateful that I have made a good start in this regard, I am excited to continue to deepen my prayer-life with the guidance of these experienced instructors.
Where do you study?: 
Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland
What is your typical day like?: 
Wow, BUSY! I usually get up at 5:30 and have morning coffee/tea with my buddies Jonathan and Sam for half an hour. Then I head back to my room and hit the books for a half-hour or so, before getting ready for the day. We have Mass and Morning Prayer at 7:00. After Mass, if I don't have class right away, I'll try to head over to the gym for an hour or so (if I don't work out first thing in the morning, I'm not likely to get over there!). I'll have classes throughout the day, and squeeze in some homework and lunch at some point. I try to do a Holy Hour from 4-5 (although this gets shifted around on certain days), followed by Evening Prayer with the community at 5:00. After dinner, it is more homework, and then either study sessions with my classmates, attending a meeting or activity of one of the various seminarian groups, going to an on-campus presentation, or simply praying the Rosary with other seminarians. And of course, more homework. I try very hard to go to bed by 10 or 10:30, to varying degrees of success. This hectic schedule pretty much occurs every day, and it is amazing how quickly the semesters have flown by!
What would you say to a young man who thinks he may have a priestly vocation?: 
Make a point to attend daily Mass. This was the single best piece of advice I found in my early discernment. Even if it is a chore at times, and you do not think that you are progressing intellectually or emotionally, daily reception of the Eucharist will bring you into regular contact with our Lord, and will help clarify your desire to be united with Him. Learn about other mens' vocation stories. If you can, start a dialog with priests and seminarians to compare experiences and learn what other men have gone through. If you cannnot directly experience other mens' stories, scour the internet and books to find other these stories. As human beings, we have a need for shared experiences; nothing can be more affirming than to realize that other men have gone through the same questions and anxieties as you are going through. Feed your intellect and emotions via Catholic radio, television, and books. Before my discernment, I had heard of Mother Angellica, but I was completely unaware of the plethora of vibrant Catholic media sources. EWTN television is an amazing gift, and is filled with a large variety of intelligent and orthodox programs that reaffirm and explain the Faith. Catholic radio programs, such as Catholic Answers, highlight the excitement and enthusiasm of our fellow brothers and sisters regarding the Church and Christ. And the staggering number of avaialable books on all aspects of the Faith can be overwhelming at times, but can equally assure you that you will never run out of interesting material to devour. Ask people to pray for you. This can be the most awkward and humbling experience, but it is very powerful. After I started to tell people of my discernment journey, my confidence and enthusiasm seemed to grow by leaps and bounds. After a year of this, a friend told me that she and her boyfriend were praying for me everyday, similar to what others had said over time. It suddenly dawned on me that I was benefitting from these prayers, and my growing confidence was directly related to the number of people offering up prayers to encourage and strengthen me. Duh! It felt a little unfair, that all these people were praying to help me, but it highlighted both the power of prayer, and the deep desire of the Church for holy and dedicated priests. Use that power!
What activities would you recommend in order to help foster a culture of vocations to priesthood or religious life?: 
I often wonder if my call to vocation may have manifested sooner if people had talked about it more as I was a child. I do not recall many people suggesting the priesthood as an option for me, but after I started talking about my discernment, a large number of people that I had known as a child said, “I always thought you might have made a good priest.” I do not know if more people suggesting that I consider the priesthood might have made an impact on a young mind, but it certainly would have given me more confidence during the early days of my discernment if I had remembered many people suggesting it as a youth. So I recommend that the faithful share this information with young men and boys if they are so inspired. I also recommend that parishioners pray everyday that men will recognize and respond to God's call. It might sound trite and a no-brainer, but obviously prayer works. God has not stopped calling laborers to assist in His work, but the noise and confusion of the modern age makes it nearly impossible for a 21st century American to have enough time for private mediatation and reflection to consider God's call. We should all pray that those who God is calling will be able to hear that call, and will have the grace to be open to its ramifications.