Dalton, 31, has been in Rome the last two years. On Dec. 15, he was ordained as one of 44 new priests who are part of the Legionaries of Christ, a Catholic congregation. Instead of being sent to work as parish priests, the Legionaries, part of the apostolic Regnum Christi movement, are assigned to help in parishes in various parts of the world, currently in 22 countries.
“A lot of us work in boys groups or camps, then come back into the parish and become a support for the parish,” Dalton said in a phone interview from Rome, where he will remain for three years as part of post-graduate studies.
Dalton won’t know where is he going until he finishes his work in Rome, but many are sent to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico or to teach at universities.
Dalton entered the Legion program in 2001 and his studies took him all over the world, from Connecticut to France to New York, as well as Rome.
He said it is important to have some training near the Vatican in order to be close to the Holy Father. On Oct. 7, Dalton got to meet Pope Benedict XVI when he presented the pontiff with a lectionary at the Papal Mass.
“I not only got to meet him, I got to be with him at the Eucharist,” Dalton said.
Dalton, who was valedictorian and National Honor Society president when he was at Lassiter, grew up in a Catholic home, the youngest of Dana and Mary Dalton’s three children. He became interested in the Legionary vocation when he was a sophomore at Georgia Tech.
Dalton said he worked with teens as part of a program at Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta, putting on retreats and “Life Nights,” but he feared that he was going to end up as a “spiritual dud.”
“I was worried about their perseverance in the faith,” he said. “I don’t know if what I’m doing on the weekend program is really going to be effective in helping the kids persevere in their college years because they sure have some tough years ahead.”
Nicholas Azar, a man Dalton met at Christ the King, recommended that Dalton attend a half-day retreat led by Father Scott Reilly. Reilly’s presentation on Regnum Christi moved Dalton, leading him to believe in the structured movement.
Dalton fell in love with Rome on a Legionaries of Christ pilgrimage he took in 2000. While he said he mainly went because of the low $250 price tag, it ended up making him want to become a priest.
Dalton said the toughest part of leaving Georgia Tech for seminary after two years was giving up his role as Buzz, the Yellow Jacket mascot.
“Every other mascot is 6-4 and muscular, but Buzz is 5-9 and awkward and zany,” he said.
The part allowed Dalton to show off his athletic ability, with crowd surfing antics, and even flips in front of the football crowds, in which Dalton would intentionally land on his back.
“That was part of his personality, he was clumsy, but you’re wearing a skateboarding helmet so it’s OK,” he said.