Path to priesthood: Isaac McCracken speaks on the power of saints, Scripture, and community in his discernment

North Texas Catholic
(Mar 8, 2024) Feature

Isaac McCracken assists Bishop Olson during a groundbreaking ceremony on Jan. 21, 2023, at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

During the challenging days that come with discerning a call to the priesthood, Isaac McCracken turns to his confirmation saint for inspiration and guidance.

St. Sebastian was martyred for being a Christian by Emperor Diocletian in 288. Executioners riddled the Praetorium Guard’s body with arrows, but he survived the attack and returned to publicly condemn the Roman ruler he once served for persecuting followers of Christ. The patron saint of soldiers and athletes did not survive his second death sentence.

“He’s a good example of perseverance,” the 26-year-old seminarian explained. “St. Sebastian interceded for Christians. I admire his sense of mission and purpose to keep doing that despite the difficulties.”

Maintaining an ardent prayer life is one of the ways the Arlington native is preparing for the next step in his vocation journey. Bishop Michael Olson will confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders on McCracken, making him a transitional deacon, during an ordination Mass set for Tuesday, March 19 at 6 p.m. in St. Maria Goretti Church in Arlington.

“I’m praying about the promises I’m willing to make and the ministry of service that’s emphasized in the diaconate,” said the St. Vincent de Paul parishioner who entered St. Joseph Seminary in 2018. “Sometimes I wonder, how did I make it this far? The journey is long, but you take it one day at a time and one year at a time.”

As a transitional deacon, McCracken will continue his pastoral, liturgical, and educational preparation for the priesthood at Theological College in Washington, D.C., where he is earning a Master of Divinity degree and Baccalaureate of Sacred Theology. His studies include a special interest in learning Latin.

Seminarian Isaac McCracken assists Bishop Michael Olson by carrying the Holy Water at an open house and blessing of a new addition to St. Andrew Catholic School on Jan. 29, 2023. (NTC/Rodger Mallison)

“I took a beginner course in the language for theology and thought, I want more of this,” he recalled.

McCracken’s enthusiasm for Latin goes beyond understanding the structure and meaning of vocabulary words. The theology student wanted to read the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine the way they were originally written.

“A translation just can’t capture what they wrote,” the seminarian reasoned. “There’s a big difference when you’re able to read the Church Fathers in Latin.”

McCracken credits time spent at his first college’s Catholic center for sparking a vocation to the priesthood. A high school girlfriend awakened his faith, “but it wasn’t until I went to the University of Texas at Arlington for two years that I started thinking about becoming a priest,” he admitted. “Jeff Hedglen [UTA campus minister] and friends I made at the Catholic Center are a big part of my story.”

Recently ordained priests who celebrated Mass at the Center encouraged him.

“Growing up, I knew older priests who were good but more reserved,” said the Martin High School graduate who once considered becoming an economics professor. “Seeing the witness of the younger priests is something that really helped me discern.”

As he prepares to become a transitional deacon, the son of Joann and Gary McCracken gives thanks to God for his calling and offers the same words of advice he once heard.

“Pray about it, read Scripture, and talk to a priest,” he urges others discerning a religious vocation. “Be thankful for the gifts of faith God gives each one of us.”

Isaac McCracken, discerning a call to the priesthood, confirmation saint, UCC at UTA, Jeff Hedglen, Maria Goretti Church in Arlington, transitional diaconate, trending-english