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Archives Like father, like son: Carlins to be ordained together

October 6, 2021


By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing Writer

PLATTSBURGH – “It will be beautiful to be ordained with my dad,” said Leagon Carlin, seminarian for the Diocese of Ogdensburg. “My mother will be crying from beginning to end, constantly.”

On October 9, Leagon Carlin will be ordained a transitional deacon and his father, James Carlin, will be ordained as a permanent deacon. The ordination will be celebrated by Bishop Terry R. LaValley at the Carlin’s home Church of St. Peter’s in Plattsburgh.

At the suggestion of Bishop LaValley, Leagon’s ordination was delayed for a few months to allow for this opportunity.

Leagon shared that his “seeds of priestly vocation were planted very, very early.” He was baptized at St. Peter’s and, when he was in around second grade, Father Bryan Stitt, then newly ordained, arrived at the parish.

Leagon said he was “struck” by Father Stitt’s “youthful energy... Something in the way that Father Bryan celebrated Mass caused me to believe that there was something more than meets the eye.”

Leagon’s vocation was also nourished by his pastors and regular attendance at Mass, and he experienced significant growth in his faith attending Camp Guggenheim, the diocesan summer camp.

“Guggenheim [was really a] place of flowering,” Leagon continued. He first attended the camp when he was around 14. By that point, he’d been looking at the priesthood for some time, although he also had another career path in mind.

Leagon said camp was “fun, engaging,” and he was “around people (he) liked to be with,” yet “detached from noise of the world.” Leagon said he experienced God’s guidance “not in some thundercloud or presence, but in peace of the heart, that the Lord was asking me to give this vocation a try, [to have] an openness and an action to the vocation of the priesthood.”

Growing up, Leagon read a lot about the faith, the reality and teachings of the Church. Guggenheim made those teachings and his relationship with the Lord come alive. He said camp helped him to have a “greater knowledge that Christ was not just an idea but an actual person.”

“That relationship helped bring me out of legalism and into that relational reality with Christ. Without that, my vocation would have been a burden as opposed to a gift.”

“One of the most formative aspects” of his time at Guggenheim, Leagon explained, “was returning to Confession for the first time” since he made his first Confession. “That literally changed my life, the structure and the way that I saw the world. It was the reality of my sins being wiped away and myself being transformed back into the purity that I had as a child. It was a real moment of encounter; it definitely changed my outlook and worldview.”

James shared that, while they ended up in “a similar place in accepting Christ and the living person of Christ,” his “route to get there was in the poverty and poor of Nicaragua.”

It was the first time he was “ever able to see Christ in someone else, see Christ in myself, and in a relationship to Christ that I needed and wanted and was definitely searching and seeking for throughout my adult life,” he said.

James noted that his first and main vocation was as a parent and, as his children got older and their needs were fewer, he began serving in the North Country through the Lions Club, Habitat for Humanity, and as president of the local Red Cross.

While he said he saw his volunteer roles as “great opportunities to serve the public,” those roles “never filled the hole that was inside of me. Noise of world doesn’t always allow us to focus on that call.”

When James had an opportunity to go on a mission trip to Nicaragua, he worked at an orphanage in the mountains with religious sisters. He described having a “startling revelation,” while one of the sisters was talking.

“It was as though it was not her looking back at me,” he said, adding he believes Christ told him, “this is where I need you to be, where I want you to be, and this is what I want from you.”

James said he would have been skeptical of such an experience before, but he then realized that God was calling him to into His service.

Service in Church became more important to James, and he became a commissioned lay minister, and then entered the deacon formation program. Leagon’s path went from academic to service, James explained, and his went from service to theology and philosophy.

Leagon recalled that from a very early age his parents, James and Beth, especially his father, instilled in him a “real dedication to service.” Even when it wasn’t overtly religious, and he was “more trouble than help,” they let him “tag along” to volunteer. Whether “going to help Nana or a family member, dad was always working in that way for other people.”

From that example, Leagon said he learned that the “only way to live a fulfilled life is to live it for other people. The Church makes it very clear that we should live a life of sacrifice, service for others.” His experience in Nicaragua – he traveled there with his parents – also helped this to blossom, “rebuilding faith in humanity and in the Church itself . . . [especially the] adorable Nicaraguan kids and their real faith and immense joy even though their situation was so low from our perspective.”

Leagon said his time with his dad in Nicaragua further formed the way he sees the priesthood as “fundamentally a life for others, not simply for my salvation but because I believe that it is the way that God wants for me to bring others along the way.”

James joked that their family says “Leagon was born at 50 years old and has gotten older since (an old soul).”

James also noted, though, that Leagon helped to reinvigorate his parents’ life in the Church, by keeping them going to Church and seeing its point in their lives. Seeing what Leagon has gone through in his discernment and studies helped James in his diaconate studies, the father said.

Sometimes Leagon read his dad’s papers and answered his questions, even in the middle of the night! Leagon helped bring him along “gently and gracefully,” and it is a blessing that – although their roads were different – they will be ordained to the diaconate at “the exact same place at exact same time. To be there and to have God and the Holy Spirit bring us to that point on that same day is a blessing that I will not be able to appreciate or understand,” James said.

Leagon highlighted the fact that he and his father are experiencing the approach to their ordinations differently.
“Coming up to the diaconate ordination I am reflecting on the permanence of this choice,” Leagon said. “It’s a little different for dad, who is married and has made a lot of decisions in life that are irreversible; nothing I’ve done up to this point is irreversible. I could go somewhere else, do something else, start an entirely new path. It is the first thing that I have ever done which is permanent. It is terrifying and inspiring, wonderful in the traditional sense of that word. Every one of us encounters difficulty and bends and obstacles, and all of us come to the Lord with wounds – some that are older or newer than others – but all of us have those wounds. Life is not a straight path; the Lord offers a parable of the workers in the vineyard. The call looks different, our path or time in our life. The end is for each of us is to attain heaven. No matter the length and breadth of our path, the Lord desires for us to know Him, accept His love for us in return, and to be with Him in heaven. Although he and his father “both come from very different paths,” Leagon concluded, they are “coming to this point of permanent decision. The same thing is being asked of us in that moment. This is what we desire and for the Church to accept us as we come. We have the same end: the salvation of souls.”

The elder of the two Carlins noted that his initial “yes” to God’s call came with conditions.

“When I told God ‘I don’t want to speak, I just want to serve as I want to serve,’ [He said] ‘I will take you and I will do with you what I want,’” remembered James. “Slowly He works with us on our vocations on a path where we are going to be walking with Him – if you continue to say yes and walk with an open mind and an open heart. I look back and wonder how I got to where I am now. Hopefully to be able to serve Him. God takes us on a journey.”

James said the Diocese of Ogdensburg faith community also nurtured him. The family’s parish, St. Peter’s, brought “comfort, friendship, and faith, along this journey.”

James said wouldn’t be where he is without their pastors and associate priests.

“They have all given beautiful testimony for a life lived in Christ, the parishioners are a wonderful welcoming group,” he said. “And [we are blessed with] the witness of our bishop. Seeing Christ and Holy Spirit allows them to do positive things. It’s beautiful.”

James said he is grateful for the diaconate program. His classmates were ordained Oct. 2 in a separate Mass held in St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“Those men and classes have taken time and basically shown us how to live a Christian life,” he said. “Those are my brothers. They strengthen each other through their shared experience and bond together. Without that community of men, I wouldn’t have made it through. I love each and every one. Those men, the quiet times after class, the struggles, them helping you understand things that you didn’t quite grasp, and you helping them understand. We will all be ordained individual deacons, but we are one.”

President of the North Country Mission of Hope, James said he is thankful for his family’s “help throughout this whole process.” His duties require him to be away frequently on weekends, and he said his wife, Beth, “picks up the slack.”

“She made it possible for me to follow this path and vocation,” James said. “She never hesitated and carries the brunt of home life. She never complains and always supports anything that I want or am called to do in pursuit of that vocation (or for Leagon).”

Leagon concurred.

“My mother has always been there in her steadfastness in positivity, kindness, and sacrifice,” he said. “She is someone to call and share difficulties with.”

James’ advice to those seeking God’s will is “Always open yourself to saying yes.” It’s “not easy, never a perfect time. But there’s never a time to say no. Allow yourself to say yes and see where it will take you. At least entertain it and give yourself the opportunity to say yes and to see where Christ is taking you: ‘This is what I want with you and how to pursue service in My name.’ Saying yes to God and working on our relationship with Christ will inform and improve every relationship you have in your life: wife, kids, coworkers, [it will have a] positive impact on you and all of your other relationships in life.”

His preparation for the priesthood has also shown Leagon an enriching “Friendship with men that is fruitful and an actual sharing of life, not gushy, but a sharing of the depth of your heart with other men on the same journey as you. It’s not a friendship that is found in many other areas of society between men.” Leagon said that his relationship with the priests of our diocese is a “real source of consolation, friendship and fraternity . . . [one of the] gifts in my life.”

“Saying yes to God, giving Him the yes that He asks of you will never leave you wanting in reward,” Leagon concluded. “A yes to God’s invitation is always going to make us happier, more fulfilled, more completely ourselves. Don’t be afraid. Human persons are called to relationship with each other. That relationship is a reflection of the relationship we’re called to with God the Father and His Son, Christ incarnate.” Entering into that personal relationship with God will “have only positive benefits.”

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