Vocations Director for Promotion & Development
ONE MAN'S JOURNEY TO THE PRIESTHOOD
I have looked back in reflection many times always amazed at how my life's journey has brought me to the blessing of working side by side with our Lord as one of his priests on a daily basis. I think back often about the many times I denied the presence of such a special call, always wondering deeply, "how could God be asking me to be a priest?" Many times different people would bring up the possibility with me and I always firmly said, "no way, that's not for me, never". I always had much grander plans. What were my plans? Coming out of high school I thought I wanted to eventually study radio broadcasting so I could someday be the voice of the Boston Red Sox. As I began to go through college I eliminated that idea and others and ultimately decided that through working in real estate I would be able to reach two very important goals. First, I could make my millions which would allow me to someday buy the Red Sox and also hopefully find the right lady, settle down and have a large family. Just how large? I very much wanted to have a family of ten! That's right. Being just a little on the competitive side, I thought it would be great to have one more child than my parents. Well as you will read, God's plan was much different than my plan.
As I wrote above, during my years growing up many different people brought up the idea of the priest hood to me. Who exactly would bring up such a thought in a young mans life? Here are some examples. My best friend's father often in a friendly way would call me Father Greg - even at times asking me when their family would take me deep sea fishing to bless the ocean so we could catch lots of fish. My friends as we grew and got older, even through high school would say once in a while, "we know you're gonna be a priest some day". I always thought their view was that because I was one of nine kids, because my mother went to mass every day, and because our family was committed to going to mass every Sunday, even before playing any sports, I was part of a serious Catholic family and therefore I would be a priest. Even the assistant hockey coach on the varsity high school team, especially during my senior year when I chose not to play, would often ask me to remember to keep praying for us.
The same thing continued in college and beyond. In college one of the secretaries came and ate lunch with me one day early in my freshman year after I had visited her office for something earlier that day. As we spoke at lunch she said to me, "When you walked in my office this morning I thought to myself, that young man is going to be a priest some day". I laughed when she told me and I asked her what ever would give her that idea? She responded quickly saying, "Oh I know, because I have a brother who is a priest." I shook that idea off quickly and disagreed that one could make such a deduction.
Then after graduation it continued. When I began interviewing offices for a real estate position after graduation I ran into two obviously very wise women. One was the manager of the first office I interviewed with, the other was manager of the last office I interviewed with. In total I had interview with about twenty different offices. In both interviews with the ladies as manager, each asked me if I had ever thought of the priesthood! My reaction was "what does that have to do with selling real estate.
I ended up working for Carlson Real Estate in Needham Massachusetts for one of the women who had asked me in my interview if I had ever considered being a priest. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the business office environment but a couple of times during the two years I worked my manager would get upset with me and would say, "your just to nice to be in this business, you should be a priest".
During the second year of selling real estate, I began to consider a career change. Though I enjoyed working with couples looking to make one of the biggest purchases of their lives, I did not really feel completely happy doing what I was doing. There were some variables that certainly began to play on my decision making process. Interest rates were up around 11.5% , the market was slow, and on a couple of Sunday afternoons while running "open houses" I would find myself mumbling that I really shouldn't be working on Sundays and the only legitimate reason to do so would be working as a priest. Any way I did decide to leave real estate behind and move forward looking for something I thought would be much for enjoyable for me.
I called a friend of mine, Jeff, who at that time was vice president of Magdalen College in Bedford New Hampshire, and had mentioned to me the possibility of working in the admissions office at the college. I was very interested in this possibility. I agreed to take the job and planned to start later that summer. Two days later things started to change quickly, for what seemed at the time no apparent reason. Jeff called me two days later with a change of plans. The priest from the parish he grew up in Wisconsin had called him looking for teacher help in his small parish school. Jeff called me to see if I would be willing to go west to help out his former pastor, a good friend, for a year by teaching in the parish. I agreed to go visit and find out if it would be a good situation for me. Jeff offered to hold the position in the admissions office for me for the year if I went to help. Ultimately I decided to go for what I thought would be a one year hiatus, doing something I really had never desired to do, teaching, and then return to assist at the college. I also considered it a great opportunity to get away from an area where people had so often suggested the priesthood to me, thinking I could get a fresh start on looking for what it was I should do with the rest of my life.
Dane Wisconsin, a small Midwestern farm town with one intersection, one gas station a Catholic Church with an attached grade school. I drove in to St. Michael's during mid-summer 1988, eager to be as helpful as I could to the pastor, Fr. Alfred Kunz.
It was a very interesting first year of teaching. I was the 5th and 6th grade teacher in one room, and switched to 7th and 8th grade during the day for certain subjects. I was appointed to teach religion, reading comprehension, science and geography. I was asked to be the gym teacher as well as the choir director for the older children and later the parish as well. I also became recess monitor and ended up playing a great deal of kick ball.
I enjoyed teaching in the class room but found the paper work tiresome. I became fast friends with Fr. Kunz. He was one of the hardest working priests I had ever come across. He knew much about cars having worked for general motors as a test inspector when cars came off the assembly line. He worked for the Diocese in the marriage tribunal as a canon lawyer, ran the parish and school and was quite the outdoorsmen.
Every first Friday throughout the school year the parish had a fish fry, which was the sole subsidy for the financial running of the school. It was a very well known, well run fish fry that people came to from all over the Dane County area. This allowed the parish children to attend the school at no cost.
I assisted Fr. Kunz on weekends as well. I either served Holy Mass or was the lector. Then at one point after the parish choir director decided to call it a career, Father asked me to take over the choir. It was both challenging and great fun.
One Saturday when I was watching college football in the rectory, Fr. Kunz came barreling in the kitchen door while calling out my name and asking; "Greg, what are you doing next Saturday?" I had nothing planned at the moment. Fr. than said, "good, you're going to sing a wedding here next Saturday" to which I replied, "I'm what?" Well, I did and every year since then I have received a family photo from the Dean family, watching them grow to a family of nine kids!
As the end of the year approached I began thinking about returning to New Hampshire to take on the roll of admissions director at Magdalen College. The principal, Miss O'Leary, and Fr. Kunz had other plans. The three of us went out for dinner on the last Monday of April that spring. I only remember that when the evening ended, I had agreed to spend the night and the next few days thinking and praying about if I would return for another year of teaching. I had enjoyed the year but had agreed initially to help for only the year. I very much wanted to return to New England.
On the evening of Monday, May 1, 1989, Father Kunz, Miss O'Leary and I went for dinner. Upon our return to St. Michael Church, I remember feeling rather confused. I had been given wonderful compliments by two very dedicated and sincere adults. They both had made clear to me the important role I had filled not only at the school as a teacher and male role model, but also for the parish. I still had a strong desire to head back to New England and start my future by working in admissions at Magdalen College. I had promised that I would pray about it, and I did.
That night I prayed to God and asked Him for the right thing to do. When I felt tired, I walked over to the school office and tried to rest on the couch. I did get some rest that night but I remember going back and forth between the church and the office several times.
The following morning I attended Holy Mass with the school children as usual. While I was kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, things instantly changed for me. As I was looking toward the altar, in what seemed a very long, drawn out minute (which was probably more like a nanosecond), I saw the word "PRIESTHOOD!"
I have explained many times to students and others that it seemed like the word extended across the sanctuary as though I was looking at a message board. As soon as I saw it, my immediate reaction was - "that's what You want of me, God?" Suddenly the decision I needed to make had become much more complicated. It was now time to consider what God wanted of me versus what I wanted for myself and what others were also asking of me.
I hemmed and hawed all week about what to do. On Friday morning, I stubbornly decided to go back to New England to work at the college. I would speak with Father Kunz and Miss O'Leary at some point during the weekend. I left a notice at the apartment office before as I left for school that day. That evening, God's grace started working.
Since it was First Friday, I was helping to prepare the monthly fish fry. Members of the parish and parents of school children stopped me at different points throughout the evening to briefly comment about how thankful they were for the help I had given in the school or in the parish. I had no idea really that what I had done either as a teacher or as Father Kunz's friend and unofficial assistant had influenced so many. By the end of the night, I was feeling great until I realized on the way home that maybe I had made the wrong decision earlier that morning. I decided to sleep on it.
On Saturday, May 6, 1989, I awoke and immediately decided I should stay and teach one more year and really think hard about the priesthood. I told Father Kunz my decision as we drove to pick up flowers for First Holy Communion for the next day.
From that moment forward, I began to feel at great peace. For the first time in my life I was not afraid to think about being a priest. During the following months, Father Kunz answered many questions I had and we had some wonderful discussions both about the Church and about life as a Catholic priest. By Christmas, 1989, I was sure someday I would serve God's Church as one of his priests.
I enjoyed teaching the second year at St. Michaelís in Dane but throughout the year a great yearning grew within me to begin the special journey God had invited me to take. I looked forward with great anticipation to starting the seminary and the process of studying for the priesthood. Everything has moved so fast over the years. Itís hard to believe that part of the journey started almost eighteen years ago.
I had always been afraid when anyone would bring up the idea of the priesthood to me. Why? I guess because it is natural and right to realize that no one really is worthy of such a special invitation. It is very humbling to receive such an invitation from God and recognize the importance of the choice you must make.
Responding positively was absolutely the right choice. I have never regretted this decision once. I entered the seminary in the fall of 1990 at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell Connecticut. During the spring of my second year studying theology, Bishop Reilly accepted my request to join the Diocese of Norwich. I was ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 2004 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Norwich Connecticut by now retired Bishop Daniel P. Reilly. I have had four different assignments and now am working on the fifth assignment. It has been a magnificent journey with Christ. It has included many difficult hours, days, and moments and many more very joyous moments, days and experiences.
St. Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter twelve verse four, that, ďthere are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord,Ē and then in verse seven; ďTo each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common goodĒ. In other words, the gifts and talents God has blessed each of us with He has done so in order that we may serve others in unique ways. It is important for each of us to consider what gifts and talents we have, to realize they are given to us for a purpose and cooperating with God to discern how best those gifts and talents can be used according to His will is of great importance.
The following question is important. Are we willing to accept Godís Will for our own lives, imitating how Christ embraced the Fatherís will even unto death? If someone in your family, maybe a teacher or coach, a friend or fellow parishioner has suggested you have a particular skill or talent, itís important to ask in your personal prayer with God why He has given that gift to you. Do not be afraid to ask God what He wants you to do with it. He has a very good reason He gave you that gift.
I hope that reading about one manís journey to the priesthood has been a helpful insight. I ask all who have read this during the past few months to do our diocese a favor. Please join in building up a culture of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our diocese; in families among young people, in our parishes, catholic schools, among teachers, students, pastors, associates, deacons, daily mass attendees and members of all different parish groups. It is the responsibility of us all. Thank you and God bless you all.