CHARLESTON — Four men will move one step closer to becoming priests for the Diocese of Charleston when they are ordained to the transitional diaconate in the next few weeks.
Philip Gillespie, Richard Jackson and Artur Przywara will be ordained at 10 a.m. May 23 in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Richard Tomlinson will be ordained on June 19 in Rome.
The seminarians have completed their fourth year of theology studies and will begin a year of work before they receive the sacrament of orders in 2010, according to Father Richard Harris, diocesan administrator for vocations.
“May 23 will be an occasion of joy and thanksgiving for the priests and faithful of the diocese, knowing that by the grace of God we will have four men to ordain to the priesthood next year,” Father Harris said. “Even though we would like to have ordinations every year, the blessing of having four ordinations in one year for our diocese is a witness that we are doing well with vocations.”
The diocese has eight additional seminarians in formation. Father Harris said the four to be ordained have a wide variety of gifts and talents because of their varied life experiences.
“The most distinct gifts they offer are their love of the church, particularly the church of Charleston, their desire to pray the Mass, and their commitment to serve our Lord as a deacon and priest,” he said.
Upon ordination, a deacon may proclaim the Gospel, preach, baptize, assist at the liturgy and witness a marriage outside of Mass. Father Harris said the deacons will work in other capacities at parishes around the diocese to gain as much knowledge and practical experience as possible. Their supervising pastors will delegate their specific duties. Gillespie will be assigned to St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, Jackson to St. James in Conway and Przywara to St. Theresa the Little Flower in Summerville. Tomlinson has not been assigned yet.
The four men are:
Philip Gillespie, 51, was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He is a 1983 graduate of Pennsylvania State University who worked in sales and consulting for 17 years before entering the seminary in 2003.
He studied at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, for four years before being reassigned to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., in 2008.
Gillespie said his vocation developed over seven years, from 1995-2002, when he retired for a short period of time.
“I was fascinated with being retired and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom to do as I wished, when I wished,” he said. “Nevertheless, Jesus and the church remained. The church called. Jesus called … I challenged Jesus to make things happen, to open doors and give me a willing spirit.”
Gillespie feels a sense of awe and anticipation about his upcoming ordination.
“I am curious to see how the Holy Spirit will continue to bless me and guide me according to his will,” he said.
Richard Jackson, 63, started his studies at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla., after working for many years as a public defender for Scotland and Polk counties in North Carolina. A native of Colorado, his parents were Methodist missionaries.
Jackson spent five years living in Rhodesia, now South Africa, during his childhood.
He joined the U.S. Army shortly after high school and spent 10 years on active duty, including two years with the Special Forces in Vietnam. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. He then earned a law degree from what is now Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C.
While he was in the Army, Jackson married and had a son and daughter. His marriage was later annulled, and he now has two grandchildren.
He converted to Catholicism in 1986 while living in North Carolina after leaving the Army, and his vocation grew over the years as he studied church history and learned more about the faith.
“I felt God has given me all this experience obviously for a purpose and 60 is too young to go watch the grass grow. It’s time to give back,” he said. “The reality is that since I’ve started seminary I’ve never enjoyed myself so much in my entire life. There have been so many different experiences that gave me affirmation.”
Artur Przywara, 28, is the youngest member of the current ordination class. He was born and raised in Mielec, a city in southeastern Poland. His father died when he was 16, but his mother still lives in his hometown. He has one sister, Ilone.
Przywara thought about going into politics or journalism, but realized after high school that he wanted to be a priest.
“I’d had the call since elementary school, when I was about 7 or 8,” he said. “In high school my desire to become a priest intensified. My family was very supportive.”
He studied for three years at the seminary in the Diocese of Tarnow in Poland before coming to the United States in 2004 to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lakes, Mich. He learned about the Diocese of Charleston from two other Polish seminarians who were studying to be priests here, Fathers Marcin Zahuta and Jeremi Wodecki.
“It was always my dream to serve in the United States. This country always fascinated me even when I was a small child,” he said. “And then I got the opportunity to combine my vocation with my dream.”
Richard Tomlinson, 59, was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Trenton, N.J., in a large and supportive family, with two brothers, a sister and three stepsisters. He was raised Episcopalian but converted to Catholicism soon after college. He studied Greek and Latin at the post-graduate level, worked in the investment business, raised money for educational facilities and charities, and did mission work in Haiti.
“It was in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, that I discovered my vocation,” he said. He had considered the priesthood shortly after college but felt he was too young.
Tomlinson joined the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales as a postulant in 1997 and studied theology at the Washington Theological Union. He left the Oblates and worked with homeless people and AIDS patients with the Missionaries of Charity. He obtained two degrees from the Dominican House of Studies, and spent some time in Byzantine and Benedictine monasteries before being accepted as a seminarian in the Diocese of Charleston.
After his pastoral year in 2006-07, Bishop Robert J. Baker, now of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., sent Tomlinson to Rome to complete his formation at the Pontifical Beda College and to work on a doctorate in Biblical Theology at the Angelicum, which is the Dominican University in Rome.
“I hope to spend my time as deacon gaining practical skills and experience in the ministries of the word, the altar and of service,” he said. “I also hope to gain a deeper knowledge of the mystery of the love of God in my life and to share that love with others.”