For Deacon Gill, guideposts along the way marked his journey to priesthood
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 7:20 AM
For Deacon Kenneth Gill, the journey of his vocation to the priesthood throughout the decades is one of signs - like guideposts along the way, pointing him toward the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
On Saturday, June 21, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Deacon Gill will be one of seven men ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington.
At age 19, while a student at Florida State University, he initially heard the call to the priesthood, but decided first to enter the professional world. He worked for many years in the medical, computer/information systems and business fields, and as a senior technical advisor for the U.S. Department of Justice after 9/11.
"I was happy with my life and career. I loved D.C. and had lots of friends," Deacon Gill recalled. "(In 2005) My mother gave me my (late) grandfather's rosary. I started praying it before going to work every morning. I also started going to daily Mass. This jump-started my spiritual life and started me thinking where I was on a spiritual journey, asking myself, 'Is God calling me to this or something more?' "
Two years later, Deacon Gill - now seriously discerning a priestly vocation - went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He said praying and walking in the footsteps of Christ and the Apostles also helped to make his path clearer. "In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I had a tremendous sense of the Lord speaking to me, saying 'Come Follow Me,' " he said. "I prayed, 'Lord, if You are truly calling me, continue to show me the signs.' "
However, he remained fearful of how his life would change, but soon found solace in a scripture passage, Proverbs chapter 3, verses 5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; in all your ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths."
"It leapt off the page...It was so profound. It's all about trust in the Lord, so I said, 'Okay.' " During this time, he joined the Affiliates Program, an archdiocesan discernment group for men considering the priesthood. With the group, he volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity sisters in Washington. "To be with (the sisters), to serve those in need - I had tremendous joy coming into my heart," Deacon Gill said.
The last sign, he remembered, was during another pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi in 2008. Upon leaving the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, he noticed a plaque that commemorated the date and place where now Pope Saint John XXIII prayed in preparation of the opening the Second Vatican Council. That date, Oct. 4, 1962, Deacon Gill said, was the exact day and year of his birth. "That was the final sign," he said, entering the seminary in the fall of 2009.
That special connection to Pope John XXIII grew even deeper as Deacon Gill was sent to the seminary in Weston, Ma., founded 50 years ago in honor of the recent papal saint, the newly renamed Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary. Deacon Gill said it was the vision of the (late) Cardinal Richard Cushing (the former archbishop of Boston) who went to Pope John XXIII for permission to open a seminary for men with later in life vocations to the priesthood. "We have to remember that the first disciples all had jobs and careers," he said.
The seminarians there range in age from 30 to 70, from every walk of life, and experiences, with about a third of them having been married and are now widowers, he said. "The Lord is calling together a diverse group of men who because of their life experiences bring a knowledge of challenges of everyday families and individuals on how to live the faith here...That vision of Cardinal Cushing and Pope John XXIII has borne tremendous fruit and will continue to do so," Deacon Gill said.
During his seminary formation, Deacon Gill spent one Christmas working in an orphanage in Argentina. He describes it as "profound experience," where in helping those most in need, he said he realized more fully, "that being present to others who are suffering is at the root of the Gospel message."
Deacon Gill's summer assignments have included: Jesus the Divine Word Parish, Huntingtown; St. Joseph Parish, Largo; and St. Bernadette Parish, Silver Spring. He also accompanied parishioners of St. Patrick Church, Rockville, last year on a mission to Haiti.
A native of Melbourne, Fla., Deacon Gill, 51, grew up one of five children. His father worked for Patrick Air Force Base during the early days of the U.S. space program. Deacon Gill said he spent his childhood watching the moon shots from his front yard. "I wanted to be an astronaut, but then again all the kids did back then," he said.
He also recalls the priests his family knew as wonderful role models of the priesthood, which he also credits as a source of inspiration for his own vocation. "I remembering seeing happy, joyful priests and the positive effect they had of bringing the joy of Christ to people," he said.
Deacon Gill said it is his greatest hope to bring that same joy to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington in his priesthood, especially to people in their happiest moments, such as baptisms and weddings, but also in their sorrows. "There is something about being present to people in the moment of grief and suffering," he said. "Being present and available is so much of what people treasure in their priests."