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Finding Peace in the Priesthood

“I’m thrilled, actually a little giddy."

May 30 was a day Kyle Doustou has eagerly anticipated since he was a boy of eight or nine.   On that day, at the Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul in Lewiston, he became the first priest to be ordained by Bishop Robert P. Deeley.

“It’s really the one thing that I’ve always wanted in life, that I’ve always felt God calling me to, and now that He is bringing this to fruition, it’s just amazing,” says Father Doustou.

Father Brad Morin and Father Edward Clifford soon joined him as the newest priests of the Diocese of Portland.  Father Morin was ordained at St. David Church in Madawaska on June 6 and Father Clifford at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland on June 14.

“It feels very exciting,” says Father Morin.  "This is what I’ve always been called to be.”

“I definitely have that feeling of calmness, a sense of peace that says this is the right thing that God is calling me to,” says Father Clifford.

During their ordination Masses, the bishop laid hands on them and then prayed the consecratory prayer, asking the Lord each time to “grant us this helper that we need to exercise the priesthood that comes from the Apostles.”

“Take time to come to know the faith of the people you serve.  Listen to them, treasure the way in which they come to God, and lead them closer to Jesus. Love the faith which they live,” the bishop advised during one of his homilies.

All three say they feel prepared for the work that lies ahead and are looking forward to serving the people of Maine in whatever ways they can.

“I believe God will give me the graces to do the work that He needs done, to be a conduit for Him in serving the people,” says Father Clifford.  “To do the work, you have to focus on Christ, as all Christians should.  In doing that, I’m looking forward to the work that I’ll be able to do as a priest, in helping people through confession, the Eucharist, baptism.”

“It’s a special role that you can never take lightly,” says Father Morin, “to be that person that is really so helpful, to invite people into the full mystery of God and to always extend the hand of God."

“The priesthood is as much a journey as anything else in life, and because it’s a journey, you never really know what God is going to have in store for you,” says Father Doustou. “But, as long as I’m open and trusting in God and the Holy Spirit, He will make me prepared for whatever comes my way.”

A Lewiston native, Father Doustou attended Holy Family Church in Lewiston when he was growing up, most often with his grandparents or godparents because his mother isn’t Catholic and his father was not active. He says it was while attending his great-grandfather’s funeral at the Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul that a sense of awe came over him.

“It was the first time ever I sat in the front pew, and I just watched everything going on with utter amazement,” he says.

Not long after, he became an altar server.

“I loved being on the altar. It was just such a privilege.”

He also started playing Mass at home, using a plug-in Christmas candle, Kool-Aid and Cheez-It crackers.

A graduate of Saint Dominic Regional High School, Father Doustou began his seminary preparation in 2007, after earning a full scholarship to enter the Basselin Scholars Program, a three-year, honors program in philosophy at Theological College, the national seminary of Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

He remembers being a frightened 19-year-old, the youngest seminarian there at the time.  While always confident in his vocation, he says he was worried about being away from home and concerned about his abilities to handle the rigorous coursework.  He remembers his seminary advisor pointing to a Latin inscription above the doors, which he translates as “the providence of God will provide for us."

“He told me to keep the inscription over the doors in mind: that the providence of God will provide for me. That is something that I wake up every day and trust in. No matter what is going on, no matter if I’m stressed or anxious or happy, God’s providence has me exactly where I should be,” he says. “You’ve got to appreciate the small things, the here and the now, the stop and smell the roses, and appreciate God’s activity in your life.”

Father Doustou says it is an appreciation and an acceptance that can only come on your knees in prayer.

“People helped me to think about it. People evidenced it by their own example, their own lives, but you can’t really come to that conclusion until you actually trust, and that trust can’t come in any way but through prayer.  I wish I were a better prayer than I am, but from my own experience of prayer, that is what God has communicated to me: be still and know that I am God, and that I am in control, and that my providence will sustain you, and that I love you, and despite all your anxieties and worries or anticipations for the future, just rest in me.”

Father Doustou says it has given him a sense of contentment.  “God is good to me, and He’s given me a sense of joy and peace in my life. Not to say there aren’t tough days and rough days, but overwhelmingly, my sense is that I’m where I need to be.”

Father Brad Morin says he, too, discovered the sense of peace that comes through prayer during his years of preparation at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.

“No matter what is going on, if you are having a tough time, it’s something you can really count on,” he says.  “It’s really impressed upon me the importance, and I wish I developed this more when I was younger, the importance and the need for structure, especially in prayer.”

Father Morin, age 30, is originally from Upper Frenchville.  He says he felt a call to the priesthood even as a child.  He started sharing the readings at Mass when he was just age 10.

He says one key moment in his faith journey occurred when he accepted a friend’s invitation to attend an Assemblies of God prayer service, thinking it was a concert. 

“It was my first experience with evangelicals and the first time the question was asked: ‘Do you want to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?’ It was the first time that the idea of a relationship with Jesus came into my mind. So that’s where I really encountered God in a personal way."

He says it ended up drawing him closer to his own faith and resulted in him taking on a more active role in youth ministry at his parish.

“God was telling me that I had a capability to leadership,” he says.

Father Morin attended Saint Joseph’s College of Maine where he studied philosophy and political science. After graduating, he returned to Aroostook County, and while there, a friend invited him to St. Louis Church in Fort Kent, where a woman was speaking about Medjugorje.

“She’s talking about her own prayer for her son and his journey, his path, and I just heard a voice in the back of my head: ‘You need to be a priest.”

A year later, he contacted the Office of Vocations.

Father Morin says something he has battled since a young age, and that seminary has helped him to overcome, is a sense of anxiety when he speaks in front of large groups of people.  He says he now sees some benefits to the occasional butterflies.  “There should always be a sense of nervousness and tension, especially in proclaiming the Word or being a vehicle of the Spirit, because there is a lot of power there that can be channeled, and if you really take that seriously, there is so much good that can be done from that.”

He says he has looked to the example of Pope Francis in forming his own leadership style.

“The first step is to lead with love and then, from there, you build a relationship,” he says. “If there is a point that requires challenge, don’t let it get away, but challenge with a great amount of love.   I think that is what Pope Francis has been doing. He’s maintaining and preserving and defending the faith, but he’s doing it always with love and charity.”

Father Morin says, for him, the priesthood is a visual reminder of God’s presence.  He says through a priest’s involvement in the life of a parish “big things can happen in small moments.” He especially sees opportunities for grace during baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

“If someone has been complacent in their faith journey or they’ve hit a plateau, these moments cause an upheaval, and depending on how you respond, it can really help draw them deeper and deeper into the mystery of God and closer to the community as a whole."

While he feels ready for the priesthood, he also says, “You never stop learning, never stop growing, never stop participating in what God is doing with me.”

Father Edward Clifford says he trusts that God will know how best to use whatever gifts and skills he possesses.

“If He wants me to do this, He’ll make it so,” says Father Clifford.  “You have to have trust in God that things will happen the right way.”

Father Clifford entered Blessed John XXIII Seminary (now Pope Saint John XXIII Seminary) when he was 47-years-old, after already having had a successful career in town management.  Born in the town of Shawmut, he attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Fairfield as a child, then Sacred Heart Parish in Yarmouth, before his family moved to Ohio.

He says he felt an attraction to the priesthood as far back as his days attending the University of Dayton, a Catholic college, but he believed at the time that he was called to married life.  He got married, but it would soon end in divorce and annulment.

He earned a master’s degree in public administration and worked twenty years in local government, first in Pennsylvania, then in Connecticut and in Maine. He served as the Biddeford city manager and then as the director of the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit but was finding his work unfulfilling.

At the same time, he started to again feel a pull towards the priesthood.   Father Clifford says, while attending Mass one day, he heard Father Renald Labarre talk about vocations and felt “like he was talking to me.”  On another occasion, he remembers feeling “a chill up my spine,” while watching a newly ordained priest process up the aisle at St. Joseph Church in Biddeford.

He decided to contact the Office of Vocations.

“God calls people at different times.  He called the apostles at different times. They were older guys,” he says. “I waited, and I believe that was all part of God’s plan."

Answering God’s call, however, meant making some difficult choices.

“I quit my job, sold my house, and gave up my dog.”

He says he needed to put his trust in God then, and it has only grown since.

“In the course of discernment and working towards the priesthood, I’ve learned that’s what you have to do, put everything in his hands. It’s freeing, actually, to do that.  Once you realize that, it’s freeing,” he says.  “I’ve grown more spiritually in really being able to put my trust in the Lord.”

Father Clifford says seminary has also given him valuable practical experience. Although he was active in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and a faithful parishioner as an adult, he was never an altar server nor a reader at Mass.

“I’ve had a lot of firsts, and obviously, the first time you do things, you’re nervous, but you also have the assurance that God called you to do it."

He says serving the past year as a transitional deacon has given a greater level of confidence, for instance in delivering homilies.  He says he tries to draw from his many years listening to them.

“I try to think about what I, as a person who sat in the pews, would want to hear. Not that other priests can’t do that, but I’ve been in the pews for 40 some years,” he says.

Father Clifford points to several influences on his faith journey: his mother and sisters, parish priests including Monsignor Charles Murphy, and Father Robert Vaillancourt, former vocations director.

Father Clifford recalls Father Vaillancourt sharing the story of St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars in the early 1800s.

“They sent him to the backwater Ars, where people weren’t being faithful, and through his ministry and his calling, he and the grace of the Holy Spirit were able to turn that place into a mecca of holiness,” he says. “So, wherever we’re called, there is a need, and you need to fulfill it.”

Father Morin says he draws strength from those in his home town, many of whom attended his ordination Mass.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” he said following his ordination Mass. “My ministry was formed by a great community of people, and they’ll continue to be a part of my ministry. And I hope to serve them worthily."

Father Morin says he especially looks to the example set by his grandparents, who may not have studied the faith but who lived it every day and taught him to do the same.

 “Church has always been there. It’s always been a constant feature,” he says. “They’re not intellectuals about it, so I think that’s where I find a real sense of beauty.  They have this profound trust.”

Father Doustou also points to his grandparents, especially his grandmother, whom he calls the “primary example of faith in God in my life.”

He says, “She was the rock of faith for me growing up. She was the one who took me to church. She was the one who taught me my prayers. She was the one who first received my, sort of, boyish exclamation that I wanted to be a priest. She just nourished that my whole life.

He recalls a Christmas visit with her following his first semester at seminary.

“She said, ‘Kyle, are you happy?’ And I said, ‘Mémère, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my whole life.’ And she said, ‘That is all I needed to hear.’ And she passed away the day after Christmas.”

Father Doustou also credits the examples set by the two parish priests whom he chose to vest him at his ordination.   He says that it was through Monsignor Andrew Dubois, former pastor of the Holy Family Parish “that I fell in love with the priesthood.”

And he says of Monsignor Marc Caron, current pastor of Prince of Peace Parish:  “I’ve never seen a priest who, literally, his whole life is consumed with what is good for his parish. It’s amazing!”

All three of the new priests are now serving in parishes themselves.  The bishop assigned Father Clifford to the Portland Peninsula & Island Parishes, Father Morin to St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor, and Father Doustou to Parish of the Precious Blood in Caribou.

“I’m excited for the priesthood,” says Father Clifford, “just the awesomeness of being able to celebrate the Eucharist and bring Christ in that way.”

“The basic parish life, the ins and outs, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows that are experienced by your typical every day parishioner, I want to be part of that and journey along with them. And I hope that I can offer a little bit of guidance and that they will do the same for me.  So parish life is, I think, where my heart is,” says Father Doustou.

All say they are excited to be back in Maine.

“I have experience in a lot of parts of Maine, and it’s a beautiful place to be,” says Father Clifford. “There is something unique and beautiful about it: the mountains or seas or whatever.”

“Growing up on a farm, I never realized how really rooted I am in the soil. For me, my heart is here. This is where my blood is. Maine means a lot of to me,” says Father Morin. “I received so much from here.”

“You’ve got the beauty of God’s country out your window whererever you are,” says Father Doustou. “It’s been my experience that wherever I’ve been assigned in Maine, the people are just so wonderful.”

And now they’ve been given the gift of three new priests to serve them.