St. Mary's Priest talks life before priesthood
When he was in grade school in Chula Vista, California, other kids laughed at him when he told them what he wanted to do for a living.
Instead of an astronaut or engineer, Denis Heames, told his friends he wanted to become a priest.
Now at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Mount Pleasant, Heames, 42, leads Mass during the week and spends the majority of his time in the church, interacting with members of the community.
Central Michigan Life sat down with Heames to talk about acting in Hollywood, his day-to-day routine and what it's like to hear God speak to you.
CML: What was your life like before you became a priest?
HEAMES: I got into a lot of trouble in high school and basically missed a little bit of time. I ended up returning to school and needing an elective. The only one that was open was theater. I landed in this theater class and I took to it like a fish in water. I loved it. I spent the rest of high school doing all the plays. When I graduated high school, I moved to Hollywood. I started to audition and I had a pretty good first year for not knowing anybody and not having any experience. I had one large role in a TV movie of the week and a couple of smaller roles.
CML: When did you start thinking about faith again?
HEAMES: I remember a really basic experience, sitting up on the roof of my apartment building and thinking, 'If there is such a thing as truth, it probably didn’t evolve out of sludge.' Someone had to put it there, because it’s intelligible. My deepest fulfillment as a human being is to follow that. So I thought, 'Well crud, that must mean I believe in God.'
CML: After that, where did you start?
HEAMES: I ended up moving to Canada and stayed in a religious community, working with Native Americans. I got rooted back in nature. I lived on a farm and got to milk cows. I got to see the rhythms of life; to slaughter animals for food, to plant potatoes and onions and carrots, harvest them in the fall. I got to see these cycles of life and death. That to me was part of my conversion. I began seminary after I was there for nine years.
CML: What is seminary like?
HEAMES: Seminary took eight years. Seminary is where a man that feels called to the priesthood goes to study. It’s a fairly regimented study that encompasses philosophy and theology. It's lot of pastoral work; you go to cancer units, burn units, jails.
CML: What are some things people might be surprised to learn about you?
HEAMES: I rock climb. I'd rather be hiking. I love to learn about wine. I like making little movie projects. I dream of writing a script and directing a movie one day. I don’t like office work. I’m one of eight kids. I like running mud races; I find those really entertaining.
CML: On the day-to-day, what do you do?
HEAMES: Usually we begin with a holy hour, an hour of prayer. I’m over in the office from 10 a.m. onward, just doing stuff in the church, talking to people. I try to keep time set aside to climb over in Finch. Then there’s mass at 9 p.m. I usually have people to see afterwards. I normally don’t get back (home) until 11 p.m. It’s people intensive.
CML: You live with another priest. What's that like?
HEAMES: He’s great. I love sharing a place with a priest because he's been through the same thing. No one understands a priest like a priest. I get challenged by my brother priests to be more faithful. You get lazy if you have no one to challenge you. He’s a hilarious dude. We have good times.
CML: What is your favorite part of your job?
HEAMES: People—watching them grow and overcome difficulties. People, from babies to the elderly. You kind of have to love people to do this. It's not just people because they agree with us; I enjoy people.
CML: Was there a moment or situation that really solidified, "this is what I want to do with my life?"
HEAMES: I heard the Father say, “You are my beloved son.” I knew that it was now time to be a priest. This was God’s call.
CML: When you say you heard God, what do you mean?
HEAMES: It’s not like an external voice. It was an internal word. If you close your eyes and imagine a black screen and you type white words on it, you can see those words in your head, and you know you put them there. This was like words that were put there, not by my doing, that had presence. They didn’t have sound in the classic sense, but somehow they’re spoken.
CML: If someone is skeptical about religion, what would you say to them?
HEAMES: I believe in healthy skepticism and healthy doubt. By that I mean, I really want an answer. I don’t know what it is, so I’m sincerely going to seek the truth. That’s healthy. Most people don’t have healthy doubt. For somebody who wants an answer to something and wants to struggle to get there, that’s good. I see a beautiful future down that pathway. We do say certain things are wrong. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s part of believing in something.