MEMPHIS, Tennessee — When Father Joseph Hastings, 33, was growing up, he had dreams like most young boys. He wanted to be a basketball player. He thought about being an actor.
He came from a devout Catholic family that spent family time together in adoration and distributing food at the Missionaries of Charity shelter in North Memphis.
His grandfather Edward Cooke worked for the Diocese of Memphis in his retirement and coordinated St. Teresa of Kolkata’s visit to Memphis in 1989.
Father Hastings’ father, Jay Hastings, runs the St. Faustina Shrine at St. Ann Catholic Church in Bartlett, Tennessee. When he was a child, the priest’s family got up at 3 a.m. for first Friday adoration and they prayed in that chapel together.
His sister would tease him that someday he was going to be a priest, but he didn’t see it.
After graduating from St. Benedict at Auburndale High School in the Memphis suburb of Cordova, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He went to the University of Memphis, but even after graduating from college, he was still searching for his path in life. He thought about getting a master’s degree in creative writing. He worked in insurance for a while. He just had no idea what he wanted to do.
“I had no idea what God wanted me to do” he said in an interview as a newly ordained priest. “I had hit a wall. I was struggling with some sin in my past.”
So he brought it to prayer in the very chapel he spent hours in as a child. He sat alone, quietly in the Real Presence, before the Eucharist, listening for Gods voice.
It was there and then that he had a transforming experience of God. “God helped me realize how much he loves me. I was able to see the world through his eyes. The world was clothed in beauty.”
He attributes his sudden clarity to the Divine Mercy, a devotion to Christ associated with the apparitions of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska. While praying with St. Faustina’s diary, he recalled, “God led me though the words in that diary. He stepped in to guide me. Not knowing what I was meant to do, he helped me see the world through his eyes.”
It was then that he knew. “I wanted to share that love and mercy with other people,” he said. “There was a warmth in everything. I cried on the way back to the house. It remains with you over time and you could never deny God again.”
“God interacts with you in a profound way,” he mused.
He entered the seminary where he would spend the next six years, four of them in Rome. He said it was wonderful being in the heart of Catholicism. He loved being surrounded by all that history, being with Pope Francis in the Vatican, and being near all of the saints that are buried there. As a plus, the food was good.
While growing and learning to trust in God, he studied philosophy and theology. As he was in the home stretch, the coronavirus hit Italy and it was time to come home and be ordained.
“From the time I first met him, he has always sought God’s will in his life first and foremost,” said Father Patrick Gallagher, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Memphis. “In my opinion, it was this desire that led him to grow closer to our merciful Lord, it is what led him to and upheld him in his years of seminary, and it will be this love and desire that will make him a great priest.”
He added, “His love of Christ and the church is wonderful. You can see it in his ministry with people and it shines in his life. I am so grateful that God has led him to be a priest for our diocese.”
On June 13 at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, Memphis got a new, homegrown priest. In front of a crowd, with congregants sitting 6 feet apart and wearing masks, local priests and bishops filed past, bowing to the newly ordained Father Hastings, offering their blessings.
He is thankful to be home. “I have always wanted to be here in Memphis.”
He admitted he is shy and that he gets nervous being in front of people. “God has called me,” he said and he trusts that God will be with him. “Through me he can bring people to him. I want people to come and to know Christ.”
Jay Hastings said his son is a warmhearted, kind and holy person. “The church has done an excellent job in his priestly formation. Through his humility and holiness he will be a blessing to all of us.”
When he is not serving the flock, he said he might be found tending to Bonsai trees, running, cooking and baking, writing and watching basketball.
He is assigned to St. Francis Church in Cordova.
Pulfer Focht writes for Faith West Tennessee, the magazine of the Diocese of Memphis.