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Responding to their call

Local members of the class of 2008 of newly ordained seminarians are starting their careers.

At his ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Brian Kean (right) shares his joy with his parents, Bruce and Geraldine Kean, and Cardinal Justin Rigali.
At his ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Brian Kean (right) shares his joy with his parents, Bruce and Geraldine Kean, and Cardinal Justin Rigali.Read moreAPRIL SAUL / Inquirer Staff Photographer

The liturgy with all of its colorful fanfare and symbolism wasn't the part of priestly life that most fascinated the teenage Brian Kean.

It was the day-to-day routine that he witnessed while answering phones and running errands at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church in Fairless Hills.

Guiding families through an unending procession of baptisms, funerals and other events is what intrigued him.

Kean held onto the images and tucked them away, until his plan to become a teacher was transformed into something else. There was no clap of thunder or vision of angels, he said, but there were the memories of St. Francis of Cabrini parish.

The Rev. Brian Kean is now one of three priests ordained this year in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Conwell-Egan Catholic High grad will soon report for his first assignment as an assistant pastor at St. Joseph Church in Downingtown.

As a member of class of 2008, he starts his ministry at a time when the church is in great need of clergy and is adjusting to the shifting demographics. It also is a time of healing, said Msgr. Joseph Prior, rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

"When you look back over the history of seminaries, it really

is a continuous change going on, as we evaluate where we are today, the people we will serve, the issues in society and our culture," Prior said.

Kean is one of 15 in his graduating class at the seminary this year. He was ordained May 17 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

While in the seminary, Kean was one of several Bucks County students, including Harold McKale, of Our Lady of Grace in Penndel; Michael Pawelko, of Saint Isidore in Quakertown; David Friel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown and Stephen C. McCarthy, of St. Joseph the Worker in Fallsington.

McCarthy, 25, entered the seminary in 2004. He had been a student at Penn State Abington but found college life unfulfilling. He felt a tug toward the ministry. Unsure at first, he was helped along in his decision-making by his twin brother Dan, who was already a seminarian.

"He was the one who got me to meet a lot of the people there," said Stephen McCarthy, who is still at St. Charles Borromeo. "The decision was easier for me because I had gotten familiar with the seminary."

Once the decision was made, McCarthy felt "a sense of relief and peace," he said.

For Kean, entering the seminary was part of the ongoing discernment process.

"I wasn't convinced that God was calling me to be a priest, and that I was going to be a priest," Kean said. "But I needed to go to the seminary to find out."

Before that, Kean had grown up in what he described as an "average" Catholic family. He was an altar server and participated in CYO. His parents, Bruce and Geraldine Kean, were active in the parish. Brian Kean is the couple's only child.

"We didn't really see any signs coming, but he was always a compassionate child and a good listener," Geraldine Kean said. "People would come to him to talk and bounce their ideas off of him."

While no one was looking, Kean kept his eyes and thoughts on the priestly ministry. He was a student at East Stroudsburg University when he realized that his career choice of teaching mattered less, and the priesthood mattered more.

In the seminary, days were spent in 7 a.m. prayer, then daily Mass, then breakfast, then the start of classes at 8:50 a.m. Seminarians also served in the field at sites around the archdiocese.

During a year spent at a spiritual retreat in Northampton, Kean realized "that this is what I want to do." His family was "thrilled and very supportive of his decision," said Kean's father, Bruce.

McCarthy's study at the seminary hit a speed bump when his brother Dan, who had entered the seminary right after high school, decided to leave.

"It was very difficult," Stephen McCarthy said. "I had to remember, with the help of my parents, that the decision to enter was mine - and I had to make that decision again."

At 25 and 28, respectively, McCarthy and Kean buck a trend toward older seminarians. As a new priest, Kean and his fellow graduates are starting their ministries as the church is experiencing cultural shifts, including a rapid increase in Latino Catholics and increasingly complex bioethical issues. And, they will take on the responsibility of representing the priesthood after a scandal that produced victims and an image of the priesthood that has been damaged, Prior said.

"Every priest has the responsibility to be faithful to their call, to the gospel, and live that out," Prior said. "Now, healing needs to take place because some priests weren't faithful. We get across to the men that they are part of the healing process and part of that is to be good witnesses for the priesthood and live it out earnestly and faithfully."

Kean says that while in seminary, there was disappointment in the priests who failed to live up to their calling, but he is convinced that he and his fellow graduates won't make the same "grievous mistakes because we were trained and formed in a different way."

Kean is taking on his new role with such anticipation that he said he can't wait to unpack his bags in Downingtown. McCarthy is happily serving a summer internship at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in the Andorra section of Philadelphia.

"Every day you have to wake up and respond to the call, McCarthy said, "and do it out of love."