“Love is inventive, even to infinity.”
—Saint Vincent de Paul
As the Church observes the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul today, we here at The John Carroll School celebrate the decades of service to God and the Church by one of our own Patriots: Very Reverend G. Gregory Gay, C.M. of the John Carroll Class of 1971.
Perhaps our most illustrious graduate, Father Greg serves as the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, spiritual leader of the worldwide Vincentian family, and the 24th successor of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Having known members of his family for almost 40 years, attending high school with two of his siblings, and later teaching a number of his younger siblings and nieces, I strive to keep the Vincentian connection alive on our campus, especially near the Founder’s feast day.
Family Roots near Harford County:
Residents of the small Baltimore County town of Kingsville and parishioners at Saint Stephen Church, Bradshaw, George and Jeanne Gay sent their ten children to St. Stephen School and then on to high school studies at John Carroll. Little did they know at that time that their second child, George Gregory, named for his father and called by his middle name Greg, would grow up to answer God’s call to serve the Church as a Vincentian priest and eventually move into a role of service to the entire Congregation based in Rome.
Rev. A. Elbert Gay, C.M., Great-uncle and vocational inspiration to Father Greg
Personal Vocation Story:
Father Greg sat down last year with Father Astor Rodriguez, CM, the Vocation Director of the Eastern Province to share about his calling from God. Looking back he credits two areas in particular when reflecting on his religious vocation: the faith of his parents and the influence of his great-uncle who was a Vincentian.
Father Greg recalled particularly how his Mom attended Mass faithfully every evening during Lent at St. Stephen’s while he was growing up, inviting the older children to attend with her. One year young Greg decided to go with her every night, and felt the stirrings of his vocation through the Lenten readings and their invitation to conversion, and the call of the Lord in the context of the Eucharist. This led him to begin to think about the possibility of a priestly vocation.
Huge Impact by Vincentian Uncle:
Father Greg remembers fondly his Uncle Elbert (Rev. A. Elbert Gay, C.M., the brother of his paternal grandfather) who had been a missionary in Panama during the 1950s and ‘60s working with the leper community, and who later returned home to serve as the pastor at a since-closed inner-city Baltimore parish when Greg was a teenager. He often drove his uncle to visits with parishioners and also travelled with him to Emmitsburg to meet the Daughters of Charity. His affection for the Daughters and their ministry grew from seeing their work during his high school days. Greg also loved hearing Uncle Elbert’s stories of the missions and about the history of the Congregation.
One particular memory from Baltimore City during his John Carroll years was of driving to a home visit to an elderly sick parishioner who greeted his Uncle Elbert with such love and happiness, crying and hugging him, and his uncle too was shedding tears of joy to see this dear woman. This inspired young Greg to wonder what it would be like “to be able to love like that?”
Asking his uncle about the life of a priest on the way home, Greg recalls receiving a letter a week or so later to attend a Vincentian workshop. He continued to participate through his John Carroll high school years and entered the Vincentian residence at Niagara Falls when he graduated in 1971 and began his undergraduate studies at Niagara University.
The Class of 1971 Yearbook Portrait from “The Pacificus”
Service to the Poor in Panama:
Spending his seminary summer apostolate in Panama serving as his uncle did, Father Greg felt compelled to work with the poor, noting that he wanted to serve in the mindset of the Second Vatican Council “to realize the reign of God, especially with the poor.”
Father Greg was ordained seven years after entering the Congregation of the Mission in 1973. His first assignment was a year with the Daughters of Charity at their Provincial House in Emmitsburg, followed by service to his alma mater, Niagara University, as a chaplain and adjunct professor in Religious Studies. Father Greg has always encouraged young people to get involved in Vincentian service and spirituality, especially through the Vincentian Marian Youth and the Association of the Miraculous Medal.
In 1985, he left the States again to serve the missions in the Republic of Panama for 15 years. This service to the poor was the work of his heart and his family remembers waiting for his phone calls to get updates on where he was and what he was doing each week.
Reflections from His Sister Michele:
I spoke at length to Father Greg’s sister Michele Gay Dobson, whom I had in my Church History class when she was a John Carroll junior. Michele told me that when she went to visit her brother in Panama in 1995 she was finally able to see the “squeaky chair that Greg sat on when he called home to our parents.” Michele shared that her brother is amazing and is able to connect with all types of people. “Whether you are a pope or a leper, Greg treats everyone with the same high level of respect.”
During her occasional travels with him over the years, Michele sees people treat her brother “like he is their best friend” due to his caring disposition of treating no one less than another.
She shared more with me about the visit to Panama in 1995 with her sister Patty Gay O’Brien to visit Greg and the people he served. One day the three of them travelled for miles by horseback to a mountaintop community so Father Greg could celebrate Mass, conduct Baptisms, hear Confessions, and meet with community leaders. The people greeted them upon arrival in song and the children came running from the school to see them. “It’s so humbling to go to these places,” Michele remembers.
They also joined their brother on a visit to another mountain community that was accessible only by foot since the trails were too steep and narrow for the horses. Michele recalls the daily activities of the people in these two communities stopped for the four days of their visit as “they wanted to spend all of their time with us.”
During this same trip Michele and Patty were able to visit the former leper colony where their great-uncle Elbert Gay, C.M. once served. It has since been converted to a Vincentian home for the poor. They celebrated Mass there and were delighted to meet up with some who remembered their Uncle Elbert and his work there.
Michele told me again that “it is so humbling to see how people greet my brother and want to speak to him. They show how much they love him.” She explained that so far her brother has visited 83 countries to see the poorest of the poor and the work of his congregation, including some multiple visits. His goal is to visit all of their locations, no matter how remote. “He goes to work every day doing good for someone else.”
Family members and Father Greg gather with the Daughters of Charity at their home at the Vatican near the Casa Santa Marta, July, 2013. From left: Brother-in-law Chris Law, sister Joan Gay Law (in lavender), in front of brother-in-law (Sarah’s Dad) Scott Dobson, in the middle his sister Denise Gay Brockmeyer (in white), and on the right is Father Greg with his sister Michele Gay Dobson (Sarah’s Mom).
Words of Inspiration about St. Vincent de Paul
“If God is the center of your life, words are not necessary.
Your simple presence will touch hearts.”
—Saint Vincent de Paul
Father Greg speaks of being inspired by the above quote of Saint Vincent de Paul: “Let us make Christ the center of our lives, inspired in the very example of St. Vincent de Paul… to see Christ in all in order to be able to give testimony of his love in the world by our living testimony in our nearness to the poor. This is what we should do, to act as Jesus Christ has acted and doing good as Vincentians of our time.”
Read Part 2 Next Week:
Having spent many hours talking to people about Father Greg and his influence on their lives and reading about his work, I am in awe of the wonderful example of goodness and humility he brings to the Church and his Congregation’s work with the poor all over the world. He is a true role model for all of us of service and servant-leadership: May we each be inspired to follow Father Greg’s example and extend our love and compassion to all God’s Children as we follow Jesus’ command:
“Whatsoever you do to the least of My people, that you do unto Me.”
John Carroll Patriot Pride: Gathering after a family Baptism at home parish of Saint Stephen Church in Bradshaw are all ten siblings. Back row: from left: John Gay ’78, Patty Gay O’Brien ’77, Father Greg ’71, Kathy Gay Ayers ’70, Joseph Gay ’73; Front Row: Bill Gay ’87, Michele Gay Dobson ’84, Denise Gay Brockmeyer ’82, Joan Gay Law ’81, and Mary Anne Gay Halloran ’75.
With gratitude to:
· Father Greg’s family for their assistance and the sharing of family photographs: Michele Gay Dobson, Sarah Jeanne Dobson, Patty Gay O’Brien, Joan Gay Law;
· The Vincentian webmasters and bloggers for their input and assistance: John Freund, CM, Javier Chento, CM;
· The Vincentian Archives: John W. Carven, CM