Even as a boy growing up during the 1980s in South Philadelphia, Jonathan Dalin felt drawn to Catholic priesthood.
Then came high school, and his sense of religious vocation was "drowned out by the noise of the world," he recalled last week.
He went off to college (Holy Family in the Northeast), majored in criminal justice, and figured he would do what most guys in his neighborhood did: Marry and get a job.
But before doing that, "it started coming up again."
"It" was the lure of priesthood - what Dalin, 34, calls "following Christ's path."
"It" proved to be a crooked path for Dalin, taking time: He is now two years away from ordination as a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
When he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary at age 23, he still had doubts.
"I started wondering if I had entered because I was afraid I couldn't make it in the world - out of cowardice. I decided I had to step back."
In 1999, after four years, he quit seminary and got a job as a teacher in a Catholic high school, and later in the archdiocesan pro-life office.
"I was struggling with the bills, I was open to getting married, and I was also open to going back" to seminary. After three years, he concluded that he was "successful in the world" and that his sense of vocation was authentic.
"I came back to seminary stronger than I left it," he said. He expects to spend his life working in parishes, but would like his superiors to know he "loves teaching high school. But I'll do whatever the cardinal wants me to do."
Like most seminarians, Dalin said, he has "concerns about loneliness," but harbors no expectation that the Catholic Church will allow married priests in his lifetime.
He figures he will always have his family - his parents and sister and "tons of cousins" - and neighborhood friends, and fellow priests for companionship.
"I love the interpersonal dimension of priesthood as well as the sacramental," Dalin said. "I really can't separate them. . . . The service I give flows from the Mass, and you find yourself journeying with people in good times and hard times."
For now, his earlier doubts are gone.
"There's this perception that as a priest you can hide inside the church," Dalin said, "but you can't. You have to go out out. The culture needs to be reevangelized. The world needs you."