Light Shines Through Darkness

Posted by on January 18, 2013


Brother Devin Watkins is a student at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He reflects on how a family tragedy played a key role in his calling to religious life: 

Much of my conversion story centers on an event that occurred when I was 14 years old. On February 5, 1999 my mother (Sue Ann), her parents and two of my little sisters (Julie and Kristin) died tragically as the small airplane in which they were flying crashed. This left my father (Richard), my sister (Allison) and I to carry on and grieve our loss.

Prior to that event we had been a happy, Catholic family living on a cotton farm in West Texas. But after that day it seemed any semblance of a normal life was shattered forever.

Shock reigned the days after the crash. As we knelt praying the rosary at the wake service, I stared at the five caskets in front of me and almost wished that I was in one of them. Suddenly, I felt a ray of God’s peace burst through the mist. I vaguely perceived that Jesus had given me His own Mother, Mary, to be with me as my new Mother, and I knew that some day this gaping hole in my heart would be filled.

As my life began to resume its normal pace, I forgot that sense of peace and hope. In high school I filled that hole in my heart with partying, drinking and dating. College was even wilder; I had nothing and no one to limit my excesses and I drifted from one hazy night to the next.

Sundays were the worst. I would go to Mass but afterwards I would feel the depression, loneliness and emptiness that inevitably crept up when no one was around to distract me from who I was becoming. Occasionally when I was feeling very low I would reach for the rosary that hung on my doorknob and say a couple decades. Solace and comfort would envelop me for a moment, but I would then go on my way like a man who looks in a mirror and promptly forgets what he looks like.

During the spring of my junior year I attended a weekend retreat called Aggie Awakening. A month after this I was invited to a conference given by a prominent Catholic preacher. Then, my sister Allison gave me a book called True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. As I read I felt inspired to go through the process of consecration to Jesus through Mary by renewing my baptismal promises and dedicating the whole of my life to God.

On the day of my consecration, December 8, 2006, I went to confession and Mass and recited my prayer of consecration. From that moment I perceived that a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I went to a chapel and spent nearly three hours praying with great fervor. As I knelt and prayed my rosary, just as I had so many years before, I knew with every fiber of my being that Mom, Julie and Kristin were right beside me praying with me.

At that moment I felt the same ray of peaceful, penetrating light from God that I had experienced the night of the wake service. Joy infiltrated my senses, and I knew that I would never again walk alone. I knew then that I was truly called to be a priest.

Eventually I decided to join the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. I was drawn to the Oblates because of their founder, St. Eugene

De Mazenod. This man’s fiery temper reminded me of my own and his time in exile took me back to the years I had spent as an outcast from true happiness. But it was his love for the poor and most abandoned that truly opened my heart.

With time I have found that the peace I once felt only occasionally has now taken up a permanent residence in the depths of my being. Now I understand that Jesus allowed me to feel all those years the crushing weight of darkness in order to be able to sympathize with those who have lost their last strand of hope.