Finding the ‘write’ vocation

COLUMBIA — Deacon Jeffrey Kirby has a way with words.

He has been interested in writing since elementary school, according to family members. During his time in seminary, he has written columns on spiritual subjects that have appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier, the Charlotte Observer and other publications. Plus, his mother Frances Kirby said his homilies have been a hit on his visits to  St. Joseph Church, which is also his home parish.

“Jeffrey writes his homily just like he speaks — he makes people laugh at the same time as he teaches them something,” she said. “After he spoke at one of the children’s Masses, the teachers at St. Joseph School said the kids could really relate to what he was saying.”

Deacon Kirby, 32, will be ordained with five other seminarians for the Diocese of Charleston in Columbia on July 27.

Kirby, a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, studied for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College at the Vatican. After ordination, he will return to Rome for one more year of study before receiving his first assignment in the diocese. When he’s not studying or doing the work of a seminarian, Deacon Kirby enjoys running. He recently completed a marathon in Rome.
The Kirbys moved to Columbia in 1989 after living in Massachusetts, Germany and Texas while Alan Kirby served in the U.S. Army.

They have two other grown children, Alan Kirby III, who is serving with the Army in Texas, and Melanie Kirby, who lives near her parents in Columbia and also attends St. Joseph.

Deacon Kirby attended Columbia area public schools and St. Joseph Church with his family. It was there, he said, that his vocation emerged and was nurtured.

“The Holy Spirit worked through my parents, my pastor, the many young priests who passed through St. Joseph,” he said. “They taught me to seek more from God and to give back to him.”

At his ordination, Deacon Kirby will be vested by Msgr. Charles Rowland, who is currently pastor at Holy Spirit Church, Johns Island. Msgr. Rowland was Kirby’s home pastor during his youth and also during his time of discernment and formation for the priesthood.

Msgr. Rowland said it is a “tremendous honor” to be asked to vest a priest at his ordination, and he remembers worshipping with Jeff and getting to know him during his 16-year tenure as pastor of St. Joseph.

“I knew Jeff throughout my entire time in Columbia, and I know he’s a very sound individual with a tremendous prayer life,” he said. “He’s very dedicated to the church and he’s going to be a tremendous asset to the Diocese of Charleston.”

Frances said her son’s decision to pursue a  vocation was not a surprise to her.

“He was drawn to it since middle school,” she said. “His decision to become a priest really wasn’t a surprise to anybody who knew him because he’s always been very involved in his faith. Probably at his ordination, the reality is really going to hit me that I actually have a son who is a priest.”

“The reality will filter in,” said Alan. “I know Jeffrey as my son. He’s a good kid, and he’s done a lot of good for others and for himself.”

Frances also has made a special contribution to her son’s upcoming life as a priest. With help from a friend, she sewed the chasuble he will wear at his ordination, along with several other chasubles in all the standard liturgical colors.

She said it was a moving experience to make the vestments her son will wear while celebrating the Mass. It is also gratifying, she said, to hear from others in Columbia about  the impact Deacon Kirby’s vocation has had on them.

“It seems like everybody knows Jeff — we tell him he has a fan club,” she said. “Everyone is excited for him because he grew up here, and it’s really exciting to know someone from your own parish who is becoming a priest. We’re very proud of the fact that he took himself this far.”