From atheists to priests, anything’s possible with God

Father Raymond J. Carlo, a native of New York, is the pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City. (Miscellany/Keith Jacobs)

Father Raymond J. Carlo, a native of New York, is the pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City. (Miscellany/Keith Jacobs)GARDEN CITY—Father Raymond J. Carlo’s path to priesthood has been paved with challenges, faith and God’s grace.

“I did not come to the priesthood in the usual way,” he said.

Father Carlo, a native of Long Island, N.Y., is the fifth of six children. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother, Janet, was both parent and bread winner.

“I came from a dysfunctional family before everybody started to do it,” he said.

It would seem that many priests come from stable families with close contact to the church, but the pastor of St. Michael Church had a different experience.

“I am the poster child for ‘anything’s possible with God,’” he said.

His mother grew up without celebrating Christmas or Easter, and did not attend Mass.

“My grandfather on my mother’s side was an atheist, but he let my grandmother baptize their three children, one being my mother,” Father Carlo said.

“When she was 16 years old, she made her first Communion, but she didn’t want her father to know because she was afraid he would make fun of her. Here it is his grandson is a priest and it just goes to show anything is possible with God. We should never lose hope,” he said.

In his junior year of high school Father Carlo spoke to his parish priest, who advised him to go to the diocesan seminary.

“So I went just out of the blue,” he said.

After he completed four years of college and one year at Immaculate Conception Seminary on Long Island, he  left for three years.

“I needed to grow up and learn more of the world,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to just run to ordination.”

The young man spent a year working in a bank, and then in social work with foster care.

“If I had it all to do over again, I would have spent those three years working for the airlines and traveling the world,” he said with a chuckle.

After ordination in 1987, Father Carlo served at St. Patrick Church in Glen Cove and Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream, both on Long Island.

In 1988, he transferred to the Diocese of St. Augustine in Jacksonville, Fla., to look after his mother, who had suffered a stroke. He then asked to come to the Diocese of Charleston so he could move his mother into Sun City, a retirement village on Hilton Head Island.

His first assignment was as parochial vicar of St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head. Father Carlo’s mother suffered a second stroke, at which time Bishop Robert J. Baker gave him permission to take care of her at the rectory.

Father Carlo’s other assignments included Sacred Heart Church in Gaffney, St. Augustine in Union, and Holy Family on Hilton Head.

He has been assigned to St. Michael for the last six years.

“People in the parish were wonderful, and I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said. “It was wonderful for me to take care of mom in the last eight years of her life when she needed me.”

Father Carlo said he can better appreciate the role of a caregiver after taking care of his mother.

“Now I know why they are so exhausted and have no time to do anything because they are so busy taking care of someone else,” he said.

His ministry has been deeply affected by his mother and his personal journey.

“The Lord uses all of our experiences of life to enrich us as in our priesthood ministry,” he said.

Father Carlo said he was drawn to the Garden City parish because it has a school.

“I didn’t jump at it right away, but I liked the fact of having a parish school and being able to encourage it to grow,” the priest said.

In addition to shepherding a flock of over 3,000 families, he has been busy completing construction on the school and running a capital campaign to build a new church. He hopes to have it completed in the next two years.

The parish will break ground soon to begin official construction of the new campus, and items have been purchased from an unusual source.

“We were able to get things from older, closed churches and give them a new lease on life,” he explained. “It will be a combination of the old and the new. That’s what I’m most thrilled about.”