Michael Kennedy was hoping for a voicemail machine. Instead, his call got picked up, completing a years-long process of learning to listen for God’s call in his life. 

Kennedy called the Diocese of Trenton vocations office after a long journey away from and then back to the Church.

“I called the vocations office,” recalled Kennedy, now about to be ordained a transitional deacon on May 21. “I really had the intention of leaving a message and washing my hands saying I’d done my due diligence, when Msgr. [Greg] Vaughan [then-director of the Diocesan Office for Vocations] answered the phone.

“It was a little bit of ‘oh, boy. Now I really have to follow through on this.’”
Kennedy was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Manasquan, and first contemplated a call to the priesthood in high school but got, in his words, “distracted and sidetracked.”

By the time he attended the University of New Mexico, receiving a bachelor’s degree in English, Kennedy said he had largely fallen away from the faith. But amid the distractions of college life, a small voice still kept Kennedy from leaving the Church altogether.

“At times, I definitely don’t feel worthy of [the call to the priesthood], because I was a black-belt sinner before I came back to the Church,” Kennedy said. But “there were times when I’d go back to Church, and that kind of kept the seed from dying.”

Upon returning to New Jersey, Kennedy experienced “a rough couple years” before getting his life back on track. He returned to attending Mass on a regular basis, began praying frequently, and while attending Monmouth University, West Long Branch, for a master’s degree in literature, began to think about that long-age call to the priesthood.

The uncertain call to Msgr. Vaughan ensued, following by a serious discernment process in which “Doors just seemed to open,” Kennedy said. “I started really believing that it was God’s will to do this.”

Kennedy credits his parents support and example for being a large part of his return to the faith. “My parents have…always been a great example of faith to me, and an example of a healthy Christian marriage, too. I’ve always known I could see what authentic faith looks like in them.”

Once he is ordained a priest, hopefully one year from now, Kennedy hopes his Prodigal Son-like experience will bring an sense of relatability that will help him become an effective witness about the redemptive power of God’s mercy.

His experience, he said, will “help me to appreciate the gift that is the Sacrament of Confession more, and help me to give authentic witness to the value of the sacrament and to help strengthen our personal relationship with God.”