August 24, 2018
A world of opportunity lay before the young man. Wrapping up a stint in the U.S. Air Force with a master’s degree from Auburn, he was accepted to two prestigious universities to pursue a doctorate in public administration.
Yet another option drew him—the Paulist Fathers. It was not an option that would necessarily please his dad—who was raised Mormon. So the young man took the emotion out of the equation.
“I tend to be somewhat of an analytic person,” he says. “So what I did was to set up two columns.”
Pluses and minuses of future paths were carefully placed. And the result surprised him.
“They were even,” he says, getting choked up. “It was awful.”
“So I got down on my knees and I said, ‘Show me.’ And at that point—Paulist Fathers. That was truly an experience of grace,” he recalls. “It wasn’t my doing.”
The year was 1973, and that young man is now Paulist Father Kenneth “Ken” Boyack. It’s a role he’s had since his ordination in 1979.
A central piece of Fr. Ken’s ministry since that time has been letting others know that those profound moments of grace are available to them, too. He is vice president of Paulist Evangelization Ministries.
Part of the lure of evangelization really began in Fr. Ken’s childhood in Minnesota. He noticed differences in the quality of life between his active Catholic mother and his dad. While, Fr. Ken points out, his father was a loving and caring man, Fr. Ken’s dad would always forgo Sunday church services to meet with friends at Bob’s gas station and café. It was a community for his dad, but Fr. Ken saw something lacking.
“I think there’s so much more that a person can experience through coming to know Christ within a community of faith,” Fr. Ken says. “When a person follows Christ as a Catholic, there is a change of heart, new discoveries, a change of lifestyle, and greater joy and peace.”
In this period of increasing secularization, it’s a time of challenge for Paulist Evangelization Ministries.
“How do you reach out to welcome and invite the enormous number of people in the United States who are not practicing their Catholic faith or who have no church affiliation?” Fr. Ken asks. He has found an answer in the wisdom of St. Paul, the Paulist patron, in Ephesians 4:11-12:
“And he [Jesus] gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….”
“That’s what we strive to do at Paulist Evangelization Ministries,” Fr. Ken comments. “Inspired by the teachings of Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel, we work with individuals, parishes, and dioceses to form and nurture Catholics as missionary disciples, equipping them to reach out and share the joy of new life in Christ.”
Fr. Ken’s life is one of discipleship and its companion—discipline. Now in his early seventies, he pumps iron and rides the elliptical machine three times a week in the basement gym of the Paulist seminary where he lives in Washington, DC.
And Fr. Ken writes a daily journal entry as part of his morning prayer. After reflecting on the Word of God and on his life, he writes about a half-page that he says “helps me to understand the presence and promptings of the Holy Spirit.” On Sundays, he takes about 30 minutes for what he calls a “mini retreat” to review the week’s journal entries and learn how the Spirit might be guiding him in his life and ministry.
“It’s not a big deal, but I read through my entries for the week to see what’s happening,” he says. “Am I missing something? What’s going on?”
Each month, he reviews his findings with his spiritual director. Annually, on an eight-day retreat, he has time to review the entire year’s journals and, he says, “delight in what the Spirit teaches me.”
“There’ve been experiences on these annual retreats when God surprises me with the joy of new ways of understanding God’s will for me,” Fr. Ken says.
“One example of this—I’m 71 now and for the last few years I’ve been thinking that since bishops submit a letter to the Holy Father offering to retire at age 75, well, maybe I should retire at 75. But through prayer on an annual retreat I thought about this and wondered why am I constricting myself to my own limited vision. So I dropped the idea. Now the sky’s the limit since I trust that through discerning with others, the Spirit will let me know when it’s time─when it’s God’s time─for me to enter into Senior Ministry and begin a new chapter in my life as a Paulist.”
Trust in God has been one of the great lessons that Fr. Ken has learned as a Paulist.
Jennifer Szweda Jordan is a writer and audio producer based in Pittsburgh.