Deacons bringing years of lived experience to priesthood
Deacons John Gonzales and Thomas Quirk to be ordained priests in St. Augustine’s on June 2
By MICHAEL BROWN
Although Deacons Thomas Quirk and John Gonzales will be the newest priests in the Diocese of Tucson when they are ordained in June, they have a lifetime of experience behind them.
Deacon Gonzales spent 18 years as a site engineer for Southwest Gas Corp, and “was pretty happy with how life was going,” he said during a recent interview in the closing days of his fourth year of Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wis.
Trained in construction, Deacon Gonzales, 50, was fascinated with the scientific part of the natural gas industry, and learned on his own everything he needed to become an engineer in the field. He learned the permitting process and debt ratios and was a valuable asset.
He was married briefly – and subsequently had the marriage annulled – and has a stepdaughter.
However, in his mid-to-late 30s, following his divorce, he recalled, he developed a “sense that I was missing something.” Following some spiritual advice, he began seeing the hand of God in the ordinary things around him. “Once I started seeing it, I began seeing God’s hand all over the place.”
Deacon Gonzales called it “a second Spring.” Although he enjoyed his work with the gas company, it didn’t feel like a vocation, something he was being called to do. “Looking back, it was like I was just counting hours, waiting to draw a paycheck.”
“But I didn’t want to jump too soon,” he added. Instead, he got involved in Prison ministry, where he met the late Carmelite Father Cyprian Killackey, who became a mentor for him. Another priest who helped him was the last Msgr. Edward C. Carscallen.
“Every step of the way, men like these stepped forward and gave great witness to me,” said Deacon Gonzales.
Following six years of discernment, he entered the seminary at age 44. He admitted that going back to school was a challenge, especially when most of the other men in seminary were half his age. However, the age difference gave the students much to talk about and to learn from each other.
Deacon Gonzales said that the long discernment process made challenges of seminary life less daunting. “Sure it was a leap of faith, but it was one of the most freeing things I have ever done.”
Following six more years of study, Deacon Gonzales said he is ready to begin his priestly ministry. His ordination takes place June 2 at St. Augustine Cathedral. “I am just looking forward to being with the people and being able to minister to them.”
With the Diocese facing the need to build more churches in Pinal County to accommodate the rapidly growing Catholic population there, Deacon Gonzales said he knows his construction and engineering skills might be ideal for service in a parish in Pinal. However, he added, he only wants to serve wherever God wants him to be.
“I know I bring skills with me that other people don’t have, but I really believe it is best to trust in God.”
Deacon Gonzales said it was a great blessing to receive diaconal orders last year at the same Mass that his brother Alfred was ordained a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Tucson. He also said he was looking forward to returning to Tucson, especially as Wisconsin was experiencing a protracted winter, including a forecast of snow on the day of the interview.
“I am perfectly happy with 110-degree temperatures,” he said.
Deacon Quirk’s path to ordination was much more varied than Deacon Gonzales, although not quite as delayed. He grew up outside Detroit and earned a bachelor’s in Arts Administration from Butler University in Indianapolis in 1996. He wanted to go into theater, and was convinced that the best way to do that was by showing that, besides his acting skills, he could also be a fundraiser and administrator for any local theater company. A year later, he was engaged to be married, but that didn’t work out. In 1998, he entered Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit for the archdiocese, but “I wasn’t ready at that point” and left after two years.
He worked myriad jobs, including car wash attendee, video store clerk, an executive assistant, a staffer at a medical supply company and in the shipping department of a promotions company.
Deacon Quirk came to Tucson in 2007 and worked at CODAC Behavioral Healthcare. For him, it seemed to be a natural fit. “I knew I had the gift of patient listening and that I could utilize that to help other people,” he said. “I can certainly identify with people at all different levels.”
In 2011, he applied to graduate school at Arizona State University, and was admitted to a master of social work program. Around the same time, the call to the priesthood resurfaced and Deacon Quirk was faced with a critical choice. “I just gave it over to God,” he said. “The rest is history.”
He entered St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., in 2013. “At first, it felt hard to fit in,” he admitted. However, the younger seminarians looked up to him and he was able to provide them with some real-life experience. With his earlier seminary studies accepted, he earned a master’s in philosophy in 2014. Four years of theology later, he’s preparing for ordination in June at age 41.
“It’s starting to sink in that I have only 59 days,” he said at the time of the interview in April. His mother and sister live in Tucson and have been very supportive of his path to the priesthood.
As he prepares for settling into life as a priest, Deacon Quirk said he knows he can rely on God’s help moving forward.