Why I Answered My Call to Priesthood

Posted: 3/6/2015

Father Tom Kirkendoll, Novitiate CodirectorI grew up in the inner city in a non-Catholic family, although my grandmother was Catholic. My grandfather was not, but my great-grandmother was: her reason was that if you were Catholic, the Catholics would help you.

My family sent my brothers and sisters and I to a nearby Catholic school for the good education we would receive. In the second grade, I saw that all my friends got out of class in order to prepare for their first Communion. I thought to myself, How can I do that too? I wanted to join in, not because I knew what Communion was, but because I wanted to get out of classes. I asked one of the nuns how I could make my first Communion. She told me I had to receive permission from my parents. That night, I asked my mom and she said yes.

At that time there were many nuns and priests in the schools. Teaching the children in the inner city was one of their missions. I was impressed with the nuns who taught us, because they didn't do it for money but for the good of the kids. We always believed that they worked for a dollar a year, and the nuns' dedication to us inner-city kids was one important factor that got me thinking about the priesthood. Besides that, I have to admit it was the mystery of the Mass—the Latin the priest spoke, the book from which he was reading, and the way his back was turned toward us during the liturgy—that always piqued my interest.

As a fourth grader, I saw the priest as having a lot of power. Even the sisters showed him respect. Being a bit of an outspoken student, I had felt every nun's ruler, and as a fourth grader I thought that becoming a priest meant I could get back at the nuns for all the times I had been punished.

Then Vatican II came along and the Church changed. No longer did the priest go up to the altar—but instead to what appeared to be a table in the middle of the sanctuary, where the communion rail had been removed. Then about a year later, the priest was speaking to us in English. The changes did not deter me but instead gave me more focus. All I ever thought about was BEING A PRIEST!

In my freshman year of high school, the priest in the guidance department questioned us about what we were interested in doing once we left high school. By that time, one idea I had given up on was becoming a missionary. My concept of a missionary was one who learned other languages and went overseas. Not being able to speak a foreign language, I figured that job wasn't possible for me. However, the guidance counselor pulled a Glenmary Challenge magazine out of his desk drawer and told me to read it. If I liked what I saw, he said, I should write a letter to Glenmary and bring it to him and he would mail it for me.

Two months had gone by when he asked me if I had written that letter yet. I told him that I had left it on my desk and would bring it to him tomorrow. Right then it dawned on me that I was lying to a priest, so that night I wrote the letter and the rest is history.

I continued my correspondence with Glenmary all through high school, and two years after I graduated I joined the formation program. Formation meant four years of philosophy, four of theology, and a novitiate year. I was ordained in 1987. My understanding of what it means to be a Catholic priest has obviously changed and developed since the fourth grade. But I have never wished that I was not a Glenmary priest.