“You can give me no greater consolation nor render greater service to your neighbor
than to place yourself in a condition to serve them.”
—Saint Vincent de Paul
Father Greg visited Naples with his family this past summer and stopped at the beautiful statue of the sainted Founder.
In Parts 1 and 2 of this blog-series I highlighted the early days and local influences on the young man who grew up to lead the worldwide Vincentian Family as Superior General. Father Greg Gay, CM, whose family members are lifelong parishioners of Saint Stephen Church, is a native of Kingsville and a 1971 graduate of The John Carroll School, and has had a heart for serving the poor and disenfranchised since he was a teenager.
Called to Servant-Leadership:
Many people refer to leading by example. For Father Greg leadership means service. Hence his leadership roles over the years have supported and given strength to his Vincentian ministry with the poor. Here are the most recent roles in which Father Greg has served:
- Superior of the Province of Central America in 2000, serving for two terms;
- President of the Conference of Religious in Guatemala from 2003 to 2004;
- Election to Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission in July 2004.
Election to Superior-General:
Father Greg recalls being “blown away” upon hearing the results of the election in 2004 and being asked if he will serve as Superior General for the six-year term. “I love the Congregation of the Mission, and if this is the will of the congregation being expressed here, then I accept. I don’t feel worthy of it, but I accept.”
After being elected as Vincentian Superior General,
Father Greg met with “soon to be saint” Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
In an interview with Father Astor Rodriguez, CM, Vocation Director of the Eastern Province, Father Greg speaks of prayerfully re-reading the Congregation’s Constitution on the role of the Superior General who is called “to be the ‘spiritual animator’ of the Vincentian Family.” He always says he considers himself first and foremost to be a missionary: “That is one of the ways that I have always felt energized, …by going out and being with the confreres and the people with whom they serve.” He says that he gets “lots of energy back from that, and I felt that was a way to encourage them to do their work.”
Now in his second six-year term as Superior General after his 2010 re-election, Father Greg has made it his top priority since his 2004 election to travel to the provinces of the Vincentians and Daughters of Charity to support their ministry among the poor, “trying to encourage and animate in and through these visits.” At last count, according to his sister Michele, Father Greg has made visitations in 83 countries. Her brother believes it is essential to show his direct support to his confreres and the Daughters through his visitations to as many of their towns and villages as possible, especially to those who live and serve “on the margins.” Father Greg knows that people are happy to see him, but he says “by far for me it’s much more animating because I see the love that’s alive and the charism and the way the Vincentian Family serve the poor.”
During a 2012 visitation with the Daughters of Charity in South Carolina
Visitation in Israel:
In that same interview with Father Astor Rodriguez, CM, Father Greg recalls one of his most moving experiences as Superior General occurred while visiting a home of the Daughters of Charity in Israel for severely deformed children whose families have abandoned them. One of the Daughters took him to a young girl whose face and body were almost unrecognizably deformed, and as she took the child in her arms, hugging and kissing her, said to Father Greg, “Have you ever seen a more beautiful creature?” He remembers this profoundly noting, “This is the charism alive and well.”
He emphasizes that these experiences of God’s deep love, as modeled by the Vincentians to the poor anywhere he visits all over the world, “encourage me, animate me, give me the opportunity to share these experiences with others to encourage them.” He especially is committed to his confreres and the Daughters who work on the margins who rarely get a visitor. “I try to make the effort to be there.”
“Let us work with a new love in service of the poor, looking for
the most destitute and abandoned among them.
Let us recognize that before God they are our Lords and masters,
and we are unworthy to render them our small services.”
—Saint Vincent de Paul
Addressing the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization:
During his first term as Superior General, Father Greg was elected to the Executive Council of the Union of Superiors General, serving from 2006 to 2009. Last year, he was chosen as one of their representatives for the October 7-28, 2012 Synod of Bishops with now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the topic of “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”
Addressing the assembly, Father Greg spoke of the work of the Vincentians particularly in Latin America and then shared the three moments of encounter and two pathways he considers crucial for the new evangelization.
A moment of presence;
A moment to listen;
A moment of service;
A pathway to service by virtue;
A pathway to action.
Read about the meaning of these five critical points in the complete text of Father Greg’s address to the Synod here: It is a quick and excellent read.
Enjoying a Warm Laugh with Pope Benedict XVI
Father Greg has three pieces of advice for those who are in discernment or in formation with the Vincentians:
- Learn and develop a deep prayer life: God has given us His love and the most precious thing is to be able to give that back to Him as we develop our prayer life with Him;
- Learn the ability to live with others who have the same values and to give witness in community, to live together and pray together with a common mission;
Be ready to serve the poor and evangelize: “Above all, during the time of formation: Learn well from your mentors the art of loving the poor.”
An Invitation to Mass with the New Holy Father:
I mentioned in Part 2 that Father Greg left his family’s Kingsville home last March to visit his confreres in Bolivia. When he returned to his office in Rome two weeks later, there was a message that he was invited to join the new Holy Father for early Mass the next day at the Casa Santa Marta.
Father Greg is seated third from right at morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta
Mass at the Casa with Pope Francis:
“Submit to the Holy Spirit, which comes from within and
makes us go forward along the path of holiness.”
—Homily of Pope Francis, April 16
April 16 marked the 86th birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and the Holy Father’s homily “surprised and delighted” Father Greg as he spoke about the role of the Holy Spirit and our resistance in listening to the Spirit:
Pope Francis: “The Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, makes us walk, and pushes the Church forward. Because of this, we wish to calm down the Holy Spirit, to tame it, and this is wrong. The Holy Spirit is the strength of God; it’s what gives us strength to go forward. Nowadays, everyone seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit, but that’s not really the case, and there still is a temptation to resist it.”
The Holy Father cited the controversy over the effects of the Second Vatican Council as evidence of this resistance to the Holy Spirit. He described Vatican II as “a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit.” But a half century later, the Pope asked, “have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do? No. We celebrate an anniversary, we put up a monument… but we don’t want to change, and what’s more, there are those who want to turn the clock back.”
A Holy Father with a “Vincentian Heart”
Father Greg shared with Vincentian Director of Communications John Maher, CM later that week that he found the Holy Father’s homily “refreshing and empowering,” and that Pope Francis had spoken “like the true pastor he is, one with his people and the Church. It was very consistent with what I’ve experienced with the hierarchy of the Church in Latin America.” Father Greg recalls of Panama and, in general, throughout all of Central America that “the Church is alive and vibrant in these countries because their leadership has discerned the workings of the Holy Spirit among the faithful.”
My favorite part of Father Maher’s article was his note that “Fr. Gregory believes the new Holy Father has “a truly Vincentian heart that loves the poor, and like St. Vincent, a willingness to seek Divine Providence by following the path set forth by the Holy Spirit.”
Read his fascinating account on the Vincentian website which details how Father Greg got word about this Mass and about meeting the Holy Father afterward here.
Kindred Spirits: The Successor of Vincent and the Holy Father who lives the Vincentian Charism
Advice for Youth from Father Greg:
I recently asked Father Greg for some simple advice for both our young people here at John Carroll and all our Church’s youth on how to live a good Christian Life:
- Do for others, especially those in need;
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself;
- Be thoughtful and respectful towards all, even if others think you are strange for doing so;
- Don’t be afraid to be different and stick up for the underdogs;
Fall in love with Jesus, his life, and his Gospel.
Father Greg shares with our youth that Saint Vincent de Paul is his spiritual role model, along with “a number of our priests, brothers, and Daughters of Charity who have gone to heaven.” He notes that while in high school here at John Carroll, two teachers were role models for him: his Religion teacher Bernard P. Mullin who also taught English, Latin, and later served as Guidance Director until his retirement in 2012, and his English teacher Robert Templeton, who taught at JC from 1967-1970, and has served as a professor in the Education Dept. at Saint Joseph University, Philadelphia, since 1996.
Role Model to the Superior General:
Father Greg with his godfather James Gay, his Dad’s first cousin and parishioner
at Saint Thomas More Church; A proud Catholic War Veteran and retired postal worker,
Jim has taken Holy Communion to Catholic patients at Saint Joseph Medical Center for almost 20 years.
On Sharing the Vincentian Spirit and Charism:
It has been a real joy to share this blog-series about Father Greg: the “son of John Carroll and of the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” who grew his high school yearnings for dedication to God and the poor into a life of religious ministry and servant-leadership. Greg is the man who grew up in our backyards and now models for all of us how to follow Jesus’ Gospel message by treating every person he encounters, from popes to the poorest of the poor, as he would Jesus. May we follow his lead and treasure the dignity of each person we encounter along our life-journey.
“Whatsoever you do to the least of My people, that you do unto Me.”
Father Greg with his sister Patty Gay O’Brien, retired vice-principal of Saint Stephen School, on a family trip to Siena in 2007: Patty shares: “Greg is a gift to my family and to the Church. He is also a fabulous brother. For me, the best part of Greg’s ministry has been the many home Masses and family Sacraments we have shared over the years. Those Eucharistic celebrations are like gold to me.”
Two excellent videos to check out:
1. Two-minute video from the Mary’s Miraculous Medal:
This touching two-minute video entitled “Why the Superior General Thanks Mary” was filmed at Mary’s Shrine in Philadelphia, where Father Greg tells about the time when a torrential storm hit the area where his pilgrim group was traveling from Costa Rica to Nicaragua wiping out roads on the eve of the Assumption and turning their prayers to the help of Our Lady.
2. Interviews with Fr. Astor Rodriguez, CM, Vocation Director of the Eastern Province:
Two Superior Generals Share Their Vocation Stories:
Rev. Robert P. Maloney (1992-2004) and Rev. G. Gregory Gay, CM (2004–present)
Excellent and insightful 13-minute video.
Much Gratitude and Acknowledgement to:
- Father Greg’s family for their assistance, reflections, and the sharing of family photographs: Patty Gay O’Brien, Michele Gay Dobson, Sarah Jeanne Dobson, Joan Gay Law,
- The Vincentian bloggers and web-masters for their input and assistance:
- With special thanks to Father John Freund, CM, and Father Astor Rodriguez, CM.