Over his 11-month sabbatical, Conley stayed at a retreat house in Arizona in a residence for retired priests.
“Just outside my window was a beautiful statue of St. Joseph in front of the residence next door. Every time I would walk out my door, I would pass by this statue of St. Joseph. I would always stop for a moment and just look at the statue,” Conley wrote.
Conley’s sabbatical began only a few months before Arizona - like the rest of the United States and the world - went on lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Feelings of isolation and loneliness that I was already experiencing only got worse. It seemed like God was absent in my life. This was probably the darkest period of my life,” Conley said.
Conley said despite holding tight to the practices of the Mass, the Rosary, and Liturgy of the Hours during this time, it was the first time in his life as a Catholic that he found it difficult to pray.
“There were many days when I could not see, hear, feel or sense the presence of God. But somehow and some way, I knew that he was there, and that he had not completely abandoned me.”
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On March 19, 2020, Conley met with his spiritual director, a diocesan hermit who lives in the mountainous high desert north of Phoenix, who introduced Conley to a consecration to St. Joseph based on the book “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.”
Conley said learning about St. Joseph and making the consecration helped him gain a new appreciation for the saint.
“St. Joseph truly is our spiritual father. His strong masculine virtues as protector and guide, model for us men as to what it means to be man of God. His deep faith and trust in divine providence, particularly when the path ahead seems difficult, unclear and arduous, provided hope for me.”