They grew up in the waves, immersed in salt water and the enormity of God’s creation, regular Catholic boys enjoying all that life on the Isle of Palms can offer.

Justin and Christian Gaeta were raised active at Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church on Sullivan’s Island with their parents and older sister, Niki, in a family of outdoors buffs.

Christian, the younger brother, recalls watching Justin and their mother, Michelle (who goes by Mimi), go out surfing. When he was old enough, he joined them.

“You are connected to God’s creation in a way that’s very powerful,” Justin says.

Through that connection, seeds planted and rooted over time in each brother, ultimately calling them to consider lives devoted to the priesthood.

It’s a calling fewer Catholic men have heeded in recent generation, yet one these brothers took very seriously, though it has led each down a very different path — so far.

“Their story keeps getting better and better,” says Father Jeff Kirby, vicar of vocations for the statewide Diocese of Charleston and a mentor to both brothers. “I constantly tell people: If you are trying to figure out God’s will, you are in for quite an adventure.”

Bishop England years

Both brothers attended Bishop England High School. Justin, now 26, graduated in 2005 and went to the College of Charleston to study business administration.

Yet, he graduated with no real job, unsure what to do with his life. He lived on a friend’s boat and earned enough to get by.

“I was floating in this weird limbo,” he recalls.

He decided to join a Catholic church trip to India.

“My faith was in there,” he says. “It just needed a good kick in the butt. So, the Lord sent me to India.”

For six months, he lived in a remote village helping others, wondering what he would do when he returned home.

A thought entered his mind. Perhaps he could go back to Bishop England, maybe work in the office or in maintenance. Three days later, in early 2010, he opened an email from his mother.

The school’s theology department chairman had emailed her about a job opening for director of campus ministry.

Would Justin be interested in applying?

“I didn’t know what to do next,” Justin says. “And here was God calling

Priesthood made real

Far back as middle school, younger brother Christian remained open to what God would call him to do.

“I never went around telling people, ‘I’m thinking about the priesthood,’” recalls Christian, now 22. “But it certainly wasn’t a secret.”

He graduated from Bishop England in 2009, then studied mechanical engineering at Clemson University, the alma mater of their father, Jerry.

With no waves around, he played Ultimate Frisbee, studied hard, dated and lived a normal college guy’s life.

He also attended discernment meetings with Kirby. Just being around the priest, knowing more about what a priest does in daily life, nourished that seed planted long before.

And in Kirby he saw a holy man, one sharing his faith and building it up in younger people.

“It made the priesthood more real. It’s not just this man you see once a week on Sundays,” Christian says.

The seed’s roots reached deeper and deeper into Christian’s thoughts. He knew the Catholic church faced a severe shortage of priests, and he imagined his home parish’s Msgr. Lawrence McInerny or any priest offering the Eucharist alone.

“The need for priests stuck with me,” Christian says. “It was like a rallying cry.”

He graduated from Clemson this spring and faced a crossroads. Should he go to graduate school? Start his career? Considering marriage?

Apply to seminary?

He and Justin, always close, often talked about what God wanted them to do with their lives. Wouldn’t it be cool to attend seminary and become priests together?

A different Challiss

When he returned from India, Justin took on the campus ministry post at Bishop England.

He loved it, loved showing students how to have fun living their faiths. His own faith grew, too, along with inklings of the priesthood.

Then in summer 2011, he and a friend embarked on a long sailing trip to Hilton Head Island. At the last minute, a young College of Charleston student joined them. Challiss Vick was a marine biology major who shared their passion for the sea.

But when the three arrived in Hilton Head, their friend had to leave. Justin and Challiss (pronounced the same as the Eucharist cup), who had just met, faced 48 hours and 34 feet of boat together — alone.

It was surprisingly not awkward. Justin still recalls at one point glancing at her, the wind in her long hair. She was beautiful and grounded.

“You’ll make some guy very happy,” he told her.

Because the priesthood still called to him.

Just do it

In 2012, Justin decided to visit Holy Trinity Seminary in Texas.

“I decided I am just going to do it,” he recalls.

He loved the seminary. But he didn’t feel a spark of God’s will for him there.

Back home, he told Kirby and McInerny what he’d felt. God was calling him elsewhere.

Several weeks later, he asked Challiss out.

Blood of Christ

While at Clemson, Christian decided to study abroad in Australia. He went for the waves.

On Easter, he headed to a small Catholic parish there for Mass. He rode his bike early that morning, arriving before most, and kneeled.

A woman tapped him on the shoulder. Would he assist as Eucharistic minister?

Taken aback, he mumbled something about not being trained but giving it a try.

Soon, he was offering the blood of Christ to a small flock of Australian faithful.

Why, he wondered, had God directed the woman to approach him, a 21-year-old stranger who arrived on a bike in the early hours?

When he returned home, Christian went to Kirby. He wanted to apply to seminary this fall.

But he had one class left at Clemson to graduate and it wouldn’t be offered until the fall, making him too late to start seminary this year.

Suddenly, for the first time ever, Clemson offered the class over the summer.

“All my other thoughts fell away,” Christian recalls.

On Aug. 25, he packed up and moved to Holy Trinity Seminary — the same seminary Justin had visited a year earlier.

Call to seminary

Christian now lives with 75 seminarians in a dorm-like setting where days begin and end with prayer. However, entering seminary doesn’t mean a man has committed firmly to the priesthood.

“God is calling me to seminary at the moment,” Christian says. “But I’m still very much discerning. There are days when I don’t know what the Lord is calling me to.”

He describes his faith and prayer life as being “on Miracle Gro.” But he also sees the joy in married life.

Meanwhile, Justin soon will bring a group of men he’s met through his new job as associate director of vocations for the South Carolina diocese.

“It is kind of ironic that I’m here in seminary and Justin is bringing a bunch of guys here who are discerning,” Christian says, laughing.

Hearing God

Today, Justin holds meetings and events to help younger Catholics deepen their faiths.

“You can’t hear God’s calling if you can’t hear God,” he says.

He recently proposed to Challiss (on a boat, of course).

He also bought a house on James Island, sold his boat, adopted a dog and set a wedding date: May 30.

Meanwhile, Christian has immersed himself in prayer and philosophy courses.

“That is what the Lord is calling him to,” Christian says. “And I need to see what the Lord is calling me to.”

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at