Years after he joined a Bible study group in college but years before the prayer that changed his life, Derek Ho was walking toward his train in downtown Chicago and saw a motionless, half-dressed homeless man.
Ho did not decide to become a priest that day — he went back to work — but a subsequent thought that eventually led him to the seminary entered his mind.
“Work really wasn’t all that fulfilling,” Ho said. “I was intrigued by my faith at that time.”
The Rev. Derek Ho, 31, was ordained in May by Cardinal Francis George and on July 1 began his first assignment, at St. Celestine Catholic Church in Elmwood Park.
The 2001 Buffalo Grove High School graduate, who attended St. Edna Catholic Church, once aspired to marry and raise children. He graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with dual degrees in accounting and finance, but has disavowed both family life and corporate life for serving God.
“Year after year, I asked God, ‘Is this what you want from me?’” he said. “Sometimes, I didn’t hear anything. But, at some point, I had to get off the fence. That point, for me, came about two years ago.”
Two years ago, Ho was a seminary intern, assigned to St. Michael Parish in Orland Park and playing basketball with a group of kids in an after-school program. Dripping sweat from that day’s game, Ho was taken by surprise when a kindergarten-age girl walked up to him, napkin in hand, and wiped his brow.
Five minutes later, as Ho recalls, the girl walked up to him from behind and hugged him. In that moment, Ho got a glimpse of the impact he could have through the ministry.
“That was the strongest feeling I’d ever had,” he said.
Stronger, even, than the encounter with the homeless man — the encounter that got him moving toward the seminary.
Q: Lots of young people are raised in a church, but essentially outgrow it in high school or college. What made this not only an enduring interest but a career for you?
A: It was something that was always present in my life, I was just not really aware of what it meant and how to go about it. I grew up Catholic; I was baptized as a baby. I guess what made me more interested in it: The more I would learn about it, the more it fascinated me. My grandmother was a really devout Catholic. What she gave me, mostly, was a witness of somebody who was faithful. Over time, in college, going to Bible study and learning about the Catholic tradition, it led me to ask more questions. And the more questions I asked, the more answers I got — the mystery of God and all of it.
Q: You wanted to get married and raise a family. You’ve chosen a profession in which you can’t have that. Do you worry that, years from now, old character traits will resurface and you’ll meet a nice young lady and begin to question the path you’re on?
A: I don’t want to say that the question is irrelevant, but in some ways it is. The whole premise of my vocation is that I believe that God is calling me to this. He’s not calling me to this because I’m better, but because this is where I’d be happiest. The question is, do I trust that? When I prayed about marriage and kids, I felt God asking me to be a priest. I surrendered my desire for marriage. This is an invitation to something very unique. I felt very comfortable at that point. He wasn’t forcing my hand to do it.
Q: You were interested in and educated in the use of money. The Bible teaches that money is the root of many evils, but it also teaches that a church cannot exist without wise overseers keeping a treasury. Do you ever worry that money will become a temptation for you, or do you aspire to use your education in church finance?
A: I for sure don’t see myself working in the Vatican bank or anything, if that’s what you’re asking. What you said, about money being the root of many evils, I disagree. I think it is the love of money that is a root of many evils. I think money is a good thing. It’s always got to be in context. There’s always going to be that tension with how I spend my money. I don’t spend it the way a married man does, because I’m not providing for a family. I’m providing for a spiritual family. I don’t think there’s a strict dichotomy between money and God. I am very attuned to that culture, because of my education. I’m very prudent in the way I spend my money. I feel that personal responsibility to be prudent.
Q: The greater Chicago area has plenty of problems: People are looking for jobs, organized crime has been entrenched for decades, and we’ve gained the reputation as the nation’s murder capital. Spiritually speaking, what does the Chicago area need?
A: Give me a minute. I never thought about what it needed.
OK, so, when I used to work in the city, there was one moment where I was walking from my office building to the train station. All you want to do is make the train, because it’s an express train. You’re trying to time all those lights at the intersections so you can walk as fast as you possibly can. I saw this figure ahead, and it wasn’t moving. It was a person. His pants were down. I thought “Oh my gosh, this is kind of crazy.” But I kept walking, because I needed to make my train. I went on a ways, but then I stopped. Is anybody going to do anything about this? I called 911, but I’m still, slowly, walking toward my train. The 911 operator asked me, “Is he breathing, is he OK?” I’m like a block and a half away by now; I don’t know. She said “OK, we’re going to send somebody.” I thought “Look at me. I’m so into myself, I’m trying to get on my train so I can make it home at a decent hour.” I’m thinking, “Something is seriously wrong with our society.” But then, I’m thinking, “There’s something seriously wrong with me.”
So, bringing God into your life. Is he real or not? What are the consequences of his love for us?Tags: Buffalo Grove High School