Culture of Life
BY Joseph Pronechen
August 24-30, 2008 Issue | Posted 8/19/08 at 5:40 PM
He Finally Had to Say Yes or No
Father Jeffrey Kirby
For some, thoughts of a vocation come early. “Probably the first time I thought of being a priest was in fourth grade,” Father Jeffrey Kirby, 33, parochial vicar of St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, S.C., distinctly remembers. “My mom was picking me and my sister up from fourth grade, and I was wondering what girl in the grade would be my girlfriend. Then I thought: ‘Well, I’ll just become a priest and I can love them all.’ Now I look back and see God was fashioning my heart for celibacy and faithful priesthood.”
More fashioning came during other childhood events in the Kirby household of dad Alan, mother Fran, and Father Kirby’s older brother and younger sister.
“When I was a kid, my dad built us a clubhouse, and I turned it into a church. I preached and kids would come — probably more for my mom’s cupcakes than my preaching,” says Father Kirby. “Obviously, I had things like a desire to share on my heart.”
Because he desired to be a good Christian and wanted his faith to be part of his education, he went to the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Studying history, he planned to go to law school and work in human rights. During his last year of graduate school at Franciscan, everything was going right in his life, and the future looked bright.
“But I felt things were going wrong,” he explains. “Spiritually, I felt so heavy and melancholy, and I couldn’t understand it.”
He visited a priest for counsel. “There’s one question, and until you answer this question and say Yes or No, your life will always be ambiguous,” he was told.
“I was lukewarm at the time and thought I had my plan — when he really put it there right in front of me,” Father Kirby says. He then realized in prayer that God was calling for that Yes or No.
“Vocations are very simple,” Father Kirby explains. “The Master turns and says to his disciple, ‘Follow me.’ And it’s just a matter of saying a generous Yes. He asks for a generous Yes — not, ‘I’ll think about it.’ The rest is history.”
After priestly formation and studies in Rome, he was ordained in July 2007 for the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., by Bishop Robert Baker, now ordinary of Birmingham, Ala. Father Kirby was one of six new priests, the largest group ordained for that diocese since the 1950s.
On his first anniversary, people asked Father Kirby several times if the priesthood was everything he thought and expected. He had the same answer for everyone: “No, not at all. It is so much more than I could ever have expected — and I had high expectations. It’s so much more than what I could have imagined in the celebration of the sacraments, pastoral ministry, preaching the Gospel. The priesthood is a beautiful gift Christ has given the Church. For some reason, God has decided to share the gift and give that vocation to me.”
European Roads Led Her Here
Sister Mary Rachel Capets
When Sister Mary Rachel Capets, 33, was a little girl, never did she dream she would spend a year in Sydney, Australia, working in the World Youth Day 2008 office to plan events like the outdoor concert series. Or even be a nun, for that matter.
As the youngest of six children growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa., she remembers that all during her grammar and high school years, her teachers, the Sisters of Charity, were always telling the children to be open to “the call.”
“We never understood what that meant,” says Sister Mary Rachel of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn. “I never took it a step further to apply that to me personally, until I went to the Franciscan University of Steubenville.”
As a freshman she found an environment of people striving for holiness and encouragement. And she met the Nashville Dominicans.
The turning point came in her junior year, when she studied in Austria for a semester. “I thought I was being called to religious life,” she recalls. “It was the first time I was away from family and friends, and I was really able to enter into a time of quiet. I believe my vocation deepened that semester.” But with a slight twist.
She hit the European highways and byways every weekend. “I realized that in the eyes of the world, traveling throughout Europe was all very glamorous,” she says. “But still, Christ was calling me. He was the one that would fulfill my life and give the fullness of life that I was looking for.”
She explains there are always struggles in answering and remaining faithful to Christ. But “trying to remain faithful to daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, daily Mass, and regular confession all were helps [to] answering my vocation.”
Right away, Sister Mary Rachel was drawn to the Nashville Dominicans’ way of life. Her father Victor and mother Kathryn were very supportive. At first they had questions, “which were okay,” affirms Sister Mary Rachel, “because the life was new to them. When they saw I was happy, they were happy.”
Happy she is in the teaching order. “There are many graces in the classroom,” she explains, “and moments when we as sisters act like John the Baptist, introducing and preparing the way for these young souls to meet Jesus. Once the children meet Jesus, it’s our role to step aside.”
That’s what she will do next in Australia. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney invited the Nashville Dominicans to open a mission house there.
As one of four going, Sister Mary Rachel will be teaching religion and working with the faculty for faith formation at Trinity Catholic College, a grades 7-12 high school in the archdiocese.
“Sometimes we think we’re doing God a favor saying Yes to him and think we’re being very generous,” she reflects, “and then he surprises us with his generosity toward us.”
Wrestling With God
Father Matthew Summe, LC
Legion of Christ Father Matthew Summe, 34, is the superior of the Legionary community in Houston, which he helped to found.
Father Summe grew up in northwestern Kentucky, the eighth of 10 children in a Catholic family “where I was influenced by both my mother and father, who are devout Catholics,” he says. He attended Catholic schools in Covington, Ky., before heading off to the University of Kentucky to study chemical engineering.
During sophomore year, he was growing in faith, yet struggling about his future. “I was asking myself, ‘How do I want to live it? What are my real aspirations?’” he says. “I started to pray the Rosary daily. By the grace of God, I was close to the sacraments, mostly by example of my parents, who always put their faith foremost in their lives.” And his godfather always gave him Catholic reading material.
At the same time, he asked what the Lord desired of him. In that college environment, he saw “a lot of people in need, soul searching and hurting. It only enhanced my need for the question of what do I want for life.”
Then, at the cathedral in the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., Father Summe began a Sacred Heart novena someone left behind. He well remembers the ninth day of the novena: The Lord was telling him to be a priest.
“That scared the life out of me,” recalls Father Summe with a chuckle. “I had other plans. I was dating a nice girl and would be glad to have a nice Catholic family following in my parents’ footsteps. But the Lord kept insisting I become a priest. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, I was wrestling with God.”
The match ended at home one night. He stopped dating, intensified his prayer life and decided on the seminary — but with no idea where. “But God took care of that very quickly,” he says.
A friend was meeting with two Legionaries to learn about their candidacy program and invited him along. Father Summe remembers that one of the priests was the publisher of the Register, Father Owen Kearns.
“At the end, I told Father Owen: ‘God is calling me to be a Legionary of Christ.’ I quickly discovered this was the family God was calling me to,” he says. “I was coming from a strong family. God is never outdone in generosity.”
While a seminarian, he studied and did mission work in places as far afield as Porto Alegre, Brazil. “My first dream was being realized,” he said, “to preach Christ to the world.”
His parents, Charles and Jane, consider his vocation a great blessing and “always have been very supportive and pillars for me,” he says.
On his way to ordination at St. Mary Major in Rome in 2007, there were unforgettable moments — like serving the 2003 Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s. He was called to cleanse Pope John Paul II’s hands of the baptismal and confirmation chrism oils.
“He had penetrating green eyes, and at the end, he smiled and distinctly gave me a little blessing,” recalls Father Summe. “For me, that was another confirmation that God was calling me to the priesthood.”
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