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By The Californian
By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
Years ago, when he'd been away from the Catholic Church and worked in Los Angeles, the now-Rev. Monsignor Craig Harrison went on a business call.
The only parking space he could find was in front of a Catholic church, a find that led to so much more. A priest Harrison met there "planted that seed" for him becoming a Catholic priest.
Harrison, now pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in downtown Bakersfield, recalled his unexpected journey to the priesthood, the impact of his father's recent death and his mother's life with cancer in a wide-ranging and deeply personal interview Tuesday with Californian President and CEO Richard Beene on "First Look with Scott Cox."
Beene asked Harrison what his parents said about his interest in the priesthood years ago. The monsignor remembered that he called his mother one day to say he planned to quit his job in Los Angeles and would move to his parents' Bakersfield home. Harrison said he'd even been working for another church at the time.
But when he discovered that parking place in front of a Catholic church, he ventured in and went to the area where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. He recalled that he began talking to God and saying he wasn't sure where his life stood. Harrison recalled a priest saw him talking out loud, placed a hand on his shoulder and told him he really needed to go to confession.
Harrison said he had been away from the church. Yet the priest asked him if he'd thought about the priesthood.
Harrison returned to Bakersfield, got a job teaching math at Chipman Junior High and worked for the probation department on the weekends. He saved money and paid his bills. His mother, Dorothy, he said, asked him if he realized what he was doing as he considered the priesthood.
He went for an interview at the seminary, laid out his life, he said -- and last year marked his 25th anniversary as a Catholic priest.
At his ordination, Harrison recalled, "I remember crying, thinking, "Oh my God, can I do this?'" He remembers his mother telling him that if a parent ever loses a child, that parent needs his pastoral support right away.
His mother, he said, wondered along the way if he'd stick with it. But his parents have also been his strongest supporters.
Beene led Harrison to reminisce about his dad, who died July 29 of cancer. Harrison said that as he was growing up, his dad had one voice: that of coach. Don Harrison was a longtime coach at Bakersfield High School, and an administrator for the Kern High School District and the Cental Section of the California Interscholastic Federation.
Harrison said that while his dad included the children in everything he did, he was afraid of his dad growing up, and came to know and love his father in his 20s.
He recalled that at Christmastime his dad would take his own saved-up lunch money and buy and deliver shoes to kids in the Cottonwood area of Bakersfield who played for him at BHS. Harrison said he'd see kids cry because they were so thankful. He grew to appreciate this. In his later years, Harrison said, his dad visited old coaches who were sick, and he grew to have tremendous respect for his father.
"How many people today can say they loved and respected their fathers?" Harrison said.
The monsignor said his dad died at home. Harrison and his mom were with his dad. "Talk about a beautiful death," Harrison said.
He awakened his mother at about 2:30 p.m. because he knew his dad was looking different. Mom was there to give him a kiss and told his dad to say hello to their loved ones who had previously died.
"I was so blessed to be there and watch that," Harrison said.
And he was moved when, at the funeral, so many people came up to him and said his dad had bought them shoes or cleats.
Harrison shared that the lessons he's learned from his father's death and that of his sister at age 41 have taught him much about helping others.
"I have tremendous respect for people who care for the sick and the homebound," Harrison said.
His mother, the monsignor said, is a fighter, and reminds him that you never know when you will die.
Beene and Harrison also talked about Pope Francis.
"I really like this guy," Harrison said, explaining that while former Pope Benedict is brilliant, "Pope Francis kind of speaks my language."
To Harrison, that means speaking a language of tolerance, inclusion and concern, and challenging him in his personal life.
Said Harrison: "You have to keep humbling yourself."