JAMES ISLAND—For Father S. Thomas Kingsley, being a priest all boils down to a matter of trust, both for the man of the cloth and the people he serves.
Parishioners trust God, the Catholic Church, and by extension, their priests, Father Kingsley said. But to become that priest, a man has to trust that he is hearing God’s call correctly.
This was a tough decision for Father Kingsley, who is administrator at Church of the Nativity. He had served in the U.S. Air Force as a helicopter pilot and electrical engineer for 22 years, and did not expect a second career as a priest.
“There are a lot easier ways to spend the rest of your life,” he said with a smile.
But as his retirement from the Air Force approached, he started feeling the strong tug from the Lord. He said he felt God was calling him to the priesthood, but struggled with that belief because of his age.
“I was in my 40s, so I thought that maybe it was too late,” he said.
A sign from God
When he tells children the story of his discernment, he admits that he was so torn by indecision he did something people are not supposed to do: He asked God to please give him a sign.
That sign arrived in the form of two ladies who attended the same church he did in Waikiki, Hawaii, where he was stationed.
At the time, he was a lieutenant colonel and had devoted himself to becoming a daily communicant, and at every Mass he sat in front of an elderly lady and her daughter.
Although they saw each other daily and exchanged the sign of peace, they did not engage in conversation.
One day, the daughter approached him. She said she could tell he was struggling with something and she felt compelled to speak to him and share their story.
The two women had come to Hawaii because her mother had terminal cancer and that is where she wanted to die. But suddenly her cancer had miraculously disappeared.
“My knees went weak,” Father Kingsley said. “It was one of those feel God, see God at work moments when you just know.”
He entered Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts and was ordained in 2003 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston; the same Cathedral where he was baptized as a child.
Another full-circle moment was when the priest celebrated his first Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston, the same place he also received his first communion.
Father Kingsley said he saw the world during his first career and is content where he is now.
As a parish priest, he has served both ends of the spectrum. He was parochial vicar at the large, fairly affluent Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant. Then he was assigned to two parishes with four churches: St. Mary in Summerton, St. Ann in Santee, Our Lady of Hope Mission in Manning, and St. Ann Chapel in Holly Hill.
It was a lot of traveling, he said, and Mass was celebrated for a while in some makeshift conditions, such as a storage shed and an empty store.
Father Kingsley said his time there was beautiful because he was able to be part of building two new churches and renovating a third.
He gives complete credit to the parishioners, who volunteered for every job imaginable in order to have a church.
“The people are the big thing,” he said. “To see how much the people wanted a church; it really spoke of their love.”
In 2007, he came to Nativity, and said he particularly enjoys it because of the school, where he is able to witness the excitement youth have for their faith.
“The variety is nice,” he said. “You don’t get bored. You meet people who invite you into their lives.”
He said being there for people and listening as they share their burdens is an important aspect of being a priest.
Serving at his hometown church has its perks, such as having family around, including his mother, a brother and sister, and all the people he knows from his school days. He said he always has a place to go for a meal or to unwind.
One way he likes to relax is to be outside.
Father Kingsley said he loves walking, but sticks to neighborhoods after being mugged on a greenway. He said he does not know the mind of God so does not question why the crime happened.
“God loves us and ultimately everything that happens to us is for our benefit,” he said.