|Fr. Kevin McKenzie, LC.|
My story begins in a pew in the back of
my parish church in Saint Louis, Missouri. I was five
years old, and the Legos I was playing with during
mass seemed a lot more interesting than everything that was
going on up towards the front of Church.
I remember thinking
as I played, «What will I be when I grow
up?» The usual ideas flashed through my head. «I’ll be
a policeman or a firefighter. Or I’ll be a fighter
jet pilot. Maybe an astronaut. Or I could be President
of the United States…».
Then I lifted my eyes from
my toys and looked at the sanctuary. Behind the altar
stood Father Burns. It was the offertory, and he was
inviting the people to unite their sacrifice with his. Just
then, another thought flashed through my head: “He just stands
behind the altar and talks to the people. I could
do what he does too!”
That’s all I remember, but it
was the beginning of a much longer story. It’s the
story of my call, a call which began before my
creation, and wasn’t all that easy to figure out.
didn’t ever stop me and say, «I want you to
become a priest». I don’t think he’s done that to
anyone. For some reason, he seems to want us to
work out his will for us in the midst of
much mystery and second-guessing.
Mystery. Yes. That’s my story. It
all just doesn’t make sense. Human sense, that is. I
guess it only makes «God-sense».
I remember my first holy communion.
My friends and cousins had told me about all the
loads of money I’d be given. I was thrilled to
be able to receive our Lord, but I was also
very excited to receive all that money!
When the day of
my first communion rolled around, everything went fine, until the
time for presents came. My first present was a large
gold crucifix. It was also my only present.
Only twenty years
later did things start to make sense. God had been
preparing me. I wanted earthly gold, but he was thinking
about gold of another sort.
When I was ten years
old, my parents enrolled me and my brothers and sisters
(there are nine of us!) in a newly-founded Catholic school
called Gateway Academy. Gateway was special. For one, unlike public
school, there weren’t any bullies. Even more important, I came
into contact with all kinds of people who loved their
Catholic Faith and were enthusiastic about it.
I remember getting
to serve mass on Fridays and what a huge privilege
it was. Just kneeling there in adoration of our Lord
during the consecration was one of my favorite parts of
the week. I also remember doing the Stations of the
Cross one Friday during Lent with my whole class. Our
teacher had us do the whole thing on our knees
– something that we all thought very funny. But by
the end, nobody was laughing as we began to feel
just a little of what Jesus went through to save
I remember going to confession with one of
the priests who would visit, and the advice he gave
me filled with joy and good humor. I left the
confessional bouncing along the clouds. How different it all was
to meet people like him who were so filled with
I remember a seminarian visiting our classroom and
telling us the story of a little Mexican boy who
gave his life for his faith during a war for
religious freedom. Walking out afterwards, I felt a fire inside
me. I wanted to do something big with my life
It was then that I heard about Immaculate Conception
Apostolic School in Center Harbor, New Hampshire. It’s a school
for boys who want to be priests. Every August they
have a month long «summer program» for boys who are
interested in the school. New Hampshire sounded pretty wild, and
the idea of a school like this intrigued me. «I’ll
only stay for a week», I remember telling my parents.
The Apostolic School was well – you have to see
it to believe it. It’s like entering another universe, a
universe where everyone loves their faith and is excited about
it, where everyone is serious about living virtue and getting
closer to God, where bad language is never heard and
where everybody has one sublime goal – and it’s not
power or money.
We played soccer, basketball, and baseball; went
hiking, swimming, and canoing, and basically had more clean fun
than I had ever thought possible. The apostolic boys called
their own fouls in soccer games and taught me things
like how to shine my shoes and where to find
the best blueberries on the mountain sides.
I was particularly
impressed by the priests who served as our chaplains. Not
only did they love being priests, but they could also
tell great bear stories, go hiking, canoeing, and play sports
with us. I began to realize how full a life
a priest could live.
We began every day of the program
with a short directed meditation followed by the mass. We
also prayed the rosary in the evening and ended our
day with night prayers and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.
the end of each week my parents would call and
ask how things were going. «Well, I think I’ll stay
for just one more week», was always my reply.
month finally did come to an end, my heart was
torn in two. Spending a month away from home was
one thing, but spending a whole year – or a
lifetime – was totally different. Was God calling me to
You see, you don’t get sent to the Apostolic
School. You either choose to go there freely, or you
don’t. I prayed and thought and waffled back and forth.
God had sent me no sign, or at least no
sign as far as I could tell.
I remember these
thoughts passing through my head as I sat in the
dining room one September night doing my homework. (I had
already started school at a local Catholic all boys’ High
School) It was all just so mysterious. I couldn’t get
my head around it. But I did realize one thing:
«I don’t know if God is calling me», I thought,
«but it can’t hurt if I give him a chance».
later would I learn of how hard it had been
for my mom and dad to allow me to go
once I had made my decision. Never before had they
let one of their children leave home like this. But
my parents were the ones who had nurtured my vocation
for the last 12 years. They were filled with faith.
They loved the Church. The one who finally convinced them
to let me go was the Holy Father. He didn’t
come in person, but in one of his letters he
encouraged families to be open to the possibility of their
children following vocations, even if very young. If the Holy
Father was for it then my parents were for it
and they gave their full support for whatever I would
decide to do. I am forever grateful to them for
having the courage and faith to let me go.
the Apostolic School in September of 1994. What began as
mystery has continued just the same. God hasn’t ever appeared
and told me His will. What he does do, though,
is work deep within my heart. There he gives me
a little light at a time, just enough to take
another step, live another day in his service. I guess
that’s how he likes it; otherwise, if we knew exactly
what he wanted of us, we might get conceited and
complacent. But this way he keeps us on our toes.
mom and dad love to tell a story about when
I was two or three. It was Sunday mass. Legend
has it that I stood up during the offertory and
yelled at the top of my lungs, «Don’t sing! Don’t
pray!». The congregation burst out laughing.
The truly funny thing is
that God has taken that and done a full 360
with it. «Sing! Pray!» are the cries that now rise
from my heart. Sing the glory of God, sing his
praises every day! Pray to him, let your life become
My heart is full of gratitude to God for the
tremendous gift of His priesthood. It’s not something I chose,
it’s not something I deserve. It doesn’t make me any
better than anyone else.
But for some reason, God still
gives it to me! May He be praised! May I
do His will, be His minister, be His hands and
His feet in this world that needs Him so badly.
May all who come to me seeking Him, find only
Please pray for me, as I pray for all
you who read this story. God has done great things
in your life, just as he has done in mine.
Magnificat! Let us unite our prayer to His Blessed Mother’s,
and begin here on earth our hymn of praise to
our one true High Priest.
Fr. Kevin McKenzie, L.C., was
born on January 24, 1982, in St. Louis, Missouri, United
States of America. He entered the Legionaries of Christ as
a novice in Cheshire, Connecticut, U.S.A., on September 15, 1999.
He studied Classical Humanities in Cheshire. Has a degree in
philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Ateneum Regina Apostolorum. He
collaborated in youth ministry in Ohio, Lexington and Indianapolis (U.S.A).
He currently serves in youth ministry in Ohio.