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Vocation Stories


Gerard McKeon, SJGerard McKeon, SJ

Parochial vicar and campus minister at the University of Connecticut

I grew up in a faith-filled Catholic home in northern New Jersey. Both of my parents were actively involved in the Church. As a family, we were close the pastor and priests of the parish. They would come to our home for a visit from time to time. I felt accepted and loved at my home parish. I also felt that God was close to me and caring for me. I never experienced God to be harsh and punishing. I remember kneeling at my bed and asking God to show me what I should do with my life. Again and again, I sensed that God was present in a mysterious way, and He would let me know in due time where He wanted me, and how He wanted me to serve.

It was during my early years at Catholic grammar school that I first felt an attraction to the priesthood. As an altar boy, I came to know one of the priests who came over from Ireland. He was an inspiration to me -- someone who I wanted to emulate. I was also blessed by a Sister of St. Joseph who taught me from grade six through eight. She was a blessing from God in my early years. I believe her own witness, integrity and commitment to the religious life was tremendous influence on my own vocation discernment process.

When I attended a Benedictine High School in Newark, New Jersey, I went through some turbulent years. It was difficult for me as a country boy to adjust to the inner city life, but this was also a time when I could call on God for help. I felt great peace and consolation at the Eucharist which was celebrated daily by Benedictine Monks. I experienced a sense of purpose and meaning in my service to children at a nearby grammar school. And I also was inspired by the commitment of some of the Monks at Newark Abbey. I was not sure if I wanted to be a priest, but I surely felt that God had to be central in my life if was to experience peace and calm.

My undergraduate years at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA were filled with joy and blessings. I felt acceptance from my peers, and I formed good friendships at Holy Cross. My vocation to the priesthood became more and more evident to me as I went through my college years.

I found contentment and peace at the celebration of Eucharist on campus. I experienced great fulfillment in my service work as a big brother to an inner city Worcester youth and in my visits to the Westboro State Mental Hospital. I enjoyed taking courses in theology and philosophy. And I was truly impressed by and inspired by some of the Jesuits I met on campus.

My clearest sense of call to the priesthood happened at the end of my junior year at Holy Cross. During a five-day silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I felt God's closeness in a tangible way. It was a profound spiritual experience. I could no longer doubt the call. I knew deep in my heart that God was calling me to priesthood. This filled me with joy and also some anxiety. During the next year, I spent time talking with Jesuits and visiting the Paulists as well. By the second half of my senior year, it became more and more clear that the Jesuits were for me. I felt more myself with Jesuits, and I was attracted to the Spiritual Exercises. By April or May, the decision was made. I applied to the Jesuits and entered the Novitiate in the fall after graduating from Holy Cross.

I do not regret my decision. I believe that God has called me to live in the Society of Jesus. I believe that this is where I can best give glory to God. Yes, there are some hard times. Yes, there were times when I wondered if I made the right decision. But again and again, I come back to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This is my reason for remaining a Jesuit to this day. God has called me and continues to call through the medium of the Spiritual Exercises. I am a loved sinner called by Christ to be a companion on the mission under the banner of the Cross. This spirit of Jesus and the Father sustain me one day at a time, and my brother Jesuits offer companionship and challenge along the way. And the people who I serve and collaborate with help to strengthen my call, as together we seek to give glory to God.

With you always

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