By NANCY SCHWERIN
At age 11 Deacon Greg Wilson’s curiosity called him to the Catholic Church. And at age 28, he is ready to be ordained to the priesthood.
As a toddler his family moved to St. Matthew’s, a small town between Columbia and Charleston that had a handful of Catholic families with no church of their own. There, his family went faithfully, he said, to the Methodist church.
One day after the school prayer, the young Wilson watched curiously as a classmate made the sign of the cross. He asked about the gesture and later looked up Catholics in the World Book Encyclopedia.
“That was enough to get me introduced,” he said. As a boy he had a great fascination with the church and the pope: “I saw him as the president of all the churches.”
Through the years, Wilson frequently returned to the Catholic Church asking questions and doing research on his own. He said that in asking questions the wrong answers would surface prompting him to find the truth. He recalled asking “What do they believe?” and receiving an anwer that puzzled him: “I think they pray through Mary.” Wilson knew that didn’t seem right, so he studied the Marian tradition
“It was a real moment of grace that I was able to accept the information that I learned,” the seminarian said.
It wasn’t until he went to college in 1990 that he had a revelation of sorts. While discussing religion with a friend, it came to light that Methodists didn’t believe in the Presence in the Eucharist. Wilson felt quite different about the matter. “It was then that the Eucharist became the center of my faith,” he said.
After a year, he transferred from Erskine College to the University of South Carolina in Columbia. There, some time passed before he took his religious interest more seriously. In 1992, with the help of a friend, he started the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults at St. Joseph Church in Columbia.
Through childhood, he said his family didn’t think much of his curiosity about the Catholic faith. And when he started attending Catholic church, he said they were just happy he was going to church.
They didn’t have too much to say, he explained, until he decided to go to the seminary.
“[My mom] knew it was a big step, and she didn’t want me to do something I’d regret,” he said. “I told her that seminary was a place of discernment. She and my dad became very supportive, spiritually and financially.”
Soon after beginning RCIA, Wilson joined the choir and took a trip to Rome with the group that became a second family to him. Reflecting on his boyhood fascination, Wilson said, “I never thought I’d be where the pope was,” and he also said regretfully, “I wish that I could have received Communion there.”
During RCIA, he tried to visualize his life’s work in his field of undergraduate studies, immunology, but could see himself helping others in a different capacity.
Wilson said, “Somewhere in the middle [of RCIA] I was at Mass and thought that could be me.”
After much prayer, he told his parents he was going to enter the seminary.
On April 2, 1994, he was brought into the church, baptized and confirmed, and received his first Eucharist.
In the fall of 1997, he entered St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa., with a warm welcome he said that the rector at the time, Benedictine Father Thomas Acklin, “grabbed” his lugguage and brought it in. Father Acklin is giving the homily at his first Mass, which is at St. Joseph’s in Columbia. After entering St. Vincent’s, Wilson discovered the seminary had a very strong eucharistic focus.
He said about halfway through the seminary his mother laughlingly asked him, “Couldn’t you just be a deacon and be married?”
Neither his parents nor his three siblings have converted to Catholicism. He said they don’t ask many questions, but have remained very supportive.
“They are doing about as much understanding as I can expect,” he said.
His parents have sent out invitations and will, of course, be there for the ordination this Saturday, June 9, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
As a deacon he’s been the official witness at a wedding and performed several baptisms, and now he’s ready to serve God’s people through the priesthood.
“Being a convert, I see so much beauty in the entire faith; it’s a gift from God,” he said, “It kind of took me and never let me go.”
He’s enjoyed teaching Scripture and fielding the difficult questions that go along with it. He intends to encourage those struggling with their faith to give the church a chance and find the answers to their questions, but to also be patient and to try to get involved.
“I like to know the truth,” he said, “so I don’t take things at face value, which is what brought me to the church in the first place.”
The parishioners at his parish assignment in Pennsylvania told him he was down to earth and in his homilies related Scripture to things they were going through in their lives.
“I want to show how things we’re doing in Mass make us want to change and be better Christians. We’re unfinished products; we’re always working and growing.”
On his impending ordination, Wilson said, “It’s the end of one thing, but it’s the begninning of what I’ve been waiting to do all my life — even when I didn’t know it.”