The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Holy Cross fathers share stories of priesthood

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, January 21, 2009

University president Father John Jenkins said that as an undergrad at Notre Dame, if someone had told him he would become president of the University, he would have had them committed.

“I couldn’t imagine anything less likely,” he said. “Life takes funny turns.”

Jenkins shared his experiences as a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross as part of the celebration of the Feast of Blessed Basil Moreau Tuesday in Washington Hall in a talk entitled “Men in Black: Holy Cross Stories.”

Jenkins attended Notre Dame as a lay student, and did not enter into the seminary until after graduation from the University.

“What led me to take priesthood seriously was not so much a sense of the role of being a priest, although that is important, it was sense that whatever I did in my life should be meaningful,” he said. “I think that desire has been fulfilled in tremendous ways.”

Jenkins said his vocation has been “satisfying work” from his first job as a parish priest to teaching at Notre Dame.

“I loved teaching. I feel that the vocation of a teacher is close to that of a priest,” he said. “You engage [students] at a deep level, and it is just a great privilege to teach people and to raise questions in their life.”

As a priest, Jenkins said he has been privileged to preside over weddings, work with people who have dedicated their lives to service and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Although many people think Confession is a challenge in the priesthood, Jenkins said at those times people are not at their worse, but at their best.

“The Sacrament of Confession is particularly powerful,” he said. “You really see the working of God’s grace in people’s lives, and to be a witness to that intimately is a privilege.”

However, priesthood does have its challenges, Jenkins said. If a layperson and loses his or her temper, they are considered a jerk, he said. But if a priest and loses his temper, people ask how a priest could do that.

“To stand for something more than yourself is a daily challenge,” he said.

Fathers Bill Lies, executive director of the University’s Center for Social Concerns, Robert Dowd, assistant professor of political science and Peter McCormick, rector of Keough Hall also shared stories at the event.

Lies said he attended Catholic school and grew up in a religious family, surrounded by relatives who were priests and nuns.

“I was doomed from the start,” he said.

His mother taught him very early on in life that life was about inviting people in and building community, Lies said.

“I realized that I had some choices to make,” he said. “I knew I loved the lord and loved the Church, and I thought, if someone like me doesn’t think about serving God as a priest, who will?”

Lies said he loved Holy Cross from the moment he met the Holy Cross priests at Notre Dame.

“We give one another a home,” he said.

Dowd said he grew up admiring his parish priest for his humility and the kind way he treated the people of the parish, and pictured a similar path for himself.

“As a small kid I used to celebrate mass quite often,” he said. “I was famous for fire and brimstone homilies, but over the years I have softened up.”

Later, as an adolescent, Dowd said he thought less about joining the priesthood, and instead dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player.

It was not until enrolling as a Notre Dame undergrad that he again considered the priesthood, Dowd said.

“I was really inspired by the priests and brothers I met here at Notre Dame,” he said. “It began to seem plausible to me, and very attractive.”

McCormick said he thought seriously about priesthood in high school, but did not pursue the vocation until after college. He said he came to Notre Dame, knowing nothing except that a friend of his was living in Old College.

“What I found when I got here though, was the beginnings of another family,” McCormick said.

Later, when serving a parish in Phoenix, McCormick said he finally truly believed that priesthood was what he was called to do.

“It was the people that taught me what it means to be a priest,” he said.

McCormick is currently the rector of Keough Hall, which he said has been a joyous experience.

“[The students] teach me a lot,” he said. “They give me a lot of laughs, and they even taught me to play guitar hero and for that I am eternally grateful.”