The following comes from a July 31 story in the Napa Valley Register.
Father Gordon Kalil, who left a lucrative career in the fashion industry to pursue a religious calling, has been assigned to the St. Helena Catholic Church. Jesse Duarte photo
Picture Gordon, a Manhattanite living the quintessential fast-lane lifestyle. With a job in the upper ranks of the fashion industry, he earns a salary that’s helped him amass lavish collections of art and cars.
Now imagine Father Kalil, a devout small-town priest with a soft spot for poor families. In his free time he reads presidential biographies and mulls over his lesson plans for an adult education class about why God allows his people to suffer.
And now guess who’s happier.
Any religious leader will tell you that worldly possessions are no substitute for a meaningful spiritual life. Yet they can rarely say so with the authority of Father Gordon Kalil, whose glamorous life of conspicuous consumption left him feeling empty.
Kalil was assigned July 1 to St. Helena Catholic Church, where he replaces the retired Father John Brenkle.
In his late 30s, he left behind his career as a fashion executive and — after a skeptical team of clergy, a therapist and a psychiatrist concluded that this was not just a midlife crisis worthy of a bad movie — exchanged his Armani suit for a cassock and a starched white collar.
Kalil grew up in Indiana, the oldest of five children in a family of Lebanese descent. When he was 8 years old, he told his parents he was interested in becoming a priest. When they referred him to a pastor, “he told me I didn’t have the intelligence and my family didn’t have enough money.”
Today, Kalil believes that those words, which temporarily discouraged him from pursuing the holy life, were all part of God’s plan.
Pursuing a life of material wealth, and spending 15 years away from the church, “enriches my priesthood,” Kalil said. “When I encounter those doubts that most people have about God and their journey of faith, I understand because I’ve been there and done that.”
Kalil swiftly rose to the executive ranks of the fashion industry. His 37th-floor office suite had a breathtaking view, he said, and he could always retreat to his summer house outside the city. He had a keen sense of style and business savvy, as well as a mastery of the bitingly witty repartee one needs to survive an endless string of New York high-society social gatherings. But something was missing.
“The more I accomplished, the emptier I felt,” he said. “It didn’t feel like this was where I belonged.”
At age 37, Kalil left the industry. Envisioning a low-key retirement, he moved to San Francisco, along with his collections of art and cars. When he’d go to the gym in the lower Fillmore, he’d park his Jaguar in the parking lot of St. Dominic’s Catholic Church.
He avoided entering the church for a full year. When he finally did, “I was overcome by a sense of coming home again,” he said. He started attending Mass again and found himself drawn to the Dominican Order, which agreed to accept him if he could prove his devotion through rigorous theological and philosophical study.
Kalil excelled in his courses and rejoiced in his newfound faith. He got rid of the art and the cars, rented a cramped studio apartment that he said was roughly the size of one of his old closets, and bought a used Ford Escort that sputtered and popped.
“Stripping away that worldliness was a painful process, but it was liberating,” he said. “Every moment of difficulty, pain or stress was compensated thousands of times over by the grace that came to me.”
Kalil was ordained and assigned to a series of parishes and diocesan-level positions, including ministering to prison inmates and AIDS patients, before landing at Napa’s St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in 2001.
Kalil said he hadn’t expected to be reassigned to St. Helena. He’d spent some time in the St. Helena Parish about 15 years ago when Father Brenkle was helping the Santa Rosa Diocese sort out its catastrophic financial and legal problems, but the church has changed a lot since then.
Kalil spoke highly of Brenkle’s “wonderful ministry and service.” Kalil, who considers the lack of immigration reform “a travesty,” said he wants to build on Brenkle’s activism on behalf of the Hispanic community….
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