Lake George has been one of the loves of my life

August 8, 2011

There was a heat wave on the shores of Lake George, NY, with a gentle breeze blowing cloud puffs across a serene blue sky only interrupted by the lush green foliage covering the jagged Adirondack mountains that surround “the queen of the American lakes.”

But the heat did not deter some 100 people from gathering under a white tent to honor Father Kenneth McGuire – the Paulist priest who has spent the past 16 years serving as director of St. Mary’s on the Lake, the Paulist retreat facility and summer house on Lake George.

“Lake George has been one of the loves of my life,” Father McGuire said during the homily of the July 23 Mass celebrating the end of his tenure as director. “I have enjoyed getting to know you and the good times we have had.”

“Every Paulist, except two who died prematurely, has lived here,” remarked Father McGuire, 80. Pointing behind him, he said, “That tree has been here since before (Paulist Founder) Father Hecker. I would love to sit and talk with that tree!”

The Paulists have celebrated summer Masses at St. Mary’s, helped the local parishes and served the community since 1869. Serving generation after generation of Lake George families and visitors for more than 140 years. And for the past 16 years as director, Father McGuire has welcomed many Lake George residents, visitors and retreat groups and that have come through St. Mary’s doors as well as many Paulists who enjoy the lakeside beauty and serenity. He has overseen countless meals, had docks built and repaired, buildings painted and maintained, and supplies stocked.

To chronicle the Paulist contribution to the Lake George community, Father McGuire has just released a book titled, Holy Ground Through Generations: A History of the Paulists at Lake George. The 144-page hardback includes stories on the founding of Lake George itself, the coming of the Paulists, poetry, memoirs and first-hand stories of the happenings at St. Mary’s and its inhabitants. The text is wonderfully illustrated by more than 350 photos, maps and other works of art that tell the story of the Paulists at Lake George from the late 19th century to present day.

Charles Sloan O’Conor, a famous New York lawyer, donated the first parcel of land at Lake George in 1872. Paulist Founder and Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker established St. Mary’s on the Lake in 1868 as a summer retreat house for his brother Paulists and a place of summer formation for Paulist seminarians. St. Mary’s began hosting retreats and welcoming retreat groups about 15 years ago, which are welcomed during the months of June and July. Keeping with Father Hecker’s original vision, August is reserved as a time for the Paulists to gather in community, especially the seminarians whom all spend two weeks at St. Mary’s before returning to Washington, D.C., for academic studies and priestly formation.

“I love this place,” Father McGuire said. “I have never missed a summer coming here since I joined the Paulists.”

Father McGuire’s affinity for Lake George is no surprise when his background is considered. Father McGuire was born the son of a farmer in Kentucky and raised in Ohio.

“I have always enjoyed the outdoors and am good at farming,” he said. “I was the first Eagle Scout in my Boy Scout Troop.”

Father McGuire grew up unchurched for the most part. His father was a member of the Church of Christ and his mother a Baptist, but neither was church-going. The future Catholic priest had a passion for religion, and explored Lutheranism, Methodism, Presbyterian and Mormonism, even watching rehearsals of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I kept arguing religion with everybody,” he said with a smile and a laugh.

Father McGuire joined the Air Force, serving stateside during the Korean War working in the medical supply office. Stationed in Wyoming, he had an epiphany at three o’clock one morning.

“I had been reading Faith of Millions by John O’Brien, a Holy Cross priest, and I told myself that I had gone too far,” he recalled. “I told myself I had to become a Catholic and had to become a priest.”

He talked with an Air Force chaplain, who dutifully gave him copy of the Baltimore Catechism to study.

“There were 107 questions and 107 answers,” Father McGuire said, noting that he was baptized the following Saturday, April 23, 1953.

As for the second part, becoming a priest, Father McGuire was less sure of his path.

“I thought priests were holy, and I wasn’t holy,” he said.

After serving in the Air Force for almost four years, Father McGuire first met the Paulists serving at the St. Thomas More Newman Center while he was studying at The Ohio State University in Columbus in 1956.

“I wanted to do campus ministry, and they were big on campus ministry,” Father McGuire said. He was a member of the largest novitiate class in Paulist history (41 novices the 1961 class) and was ordained on April 27, 1968.

The newly-minted Paulist first served as associate pastor of St. Rose of Lima in Layton, UT, from 1968-69. He returned to Ohio State for graduate studies from 1969-72 and then continued his studies at the University Notre Dame from 1972-74. Father McGuire then served as director of the University Catholic Center at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1974-78. He then returned to Los Angeles, serving as director of the Paulist Institute of Religious Research at St. Paul’s from 1978-82 before heading to the University of California at Santa Barbara as director of campus ministry until 1990. Father McGuire served at St. Sebastian in Los Angeles for nine months, and also served as director of the Cultural Orientation for International Ministers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for 18 years. He became director of St. Mary’s on the Lake at Lake George in 1994, where he would become its longest-serving director.

“Lake George has become a year-round destination, not just for summer vacations, and [the Paulists] need to look at our ministry here and change with the times,” said Father McGuire.