By JESSICA ABLE
Record Staff Writer
Deacon Christopher Rhodes, 34, a former Army infantry officer, began to consider the priesthood shortly after he joined the Catholic Church in 2002. But it wasn’t until he was stationed in Korea that he seriously felt called to the priesthood.
On May 26 Deacon Rhodes, along with Deacons David Carr and Stuart Priddy, will be ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 443 S. Fifth Street.
Deacon Rhodes was born and raised Protestant in Dallas, Tex., along with an older sister, an older brother and a twin sister. During his formative years, he said, he looked up to his mother and grandmother (who died May 5). He also admired the writings and speeches of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., Deacon Rhodes began working in Protestant campus ministry.
“There was this perception that if you worked at campus ministry you would consider entering the seminary,” he recalled in a recent phone interview. “When they realized I wasn’t seriously considering seminary, my responsibilities were relieved for someone who was serious.”
Shortly after this, Deacon Rhodes began spending time at the Newman Center — the Catholic campus center — at Morehouse. He started by visiting the center to study with his roommate who was Catholic.
“Not long after I began doing the sort of things I did at the Protestant campus center,” he said. “I ended up working on staff at the Newman Center as a Protestant.”
His first desire to join the Catholic Church came when he met with a musician to prepare for an upcoming liturgy.
“He asked why I wasn’t Catholic since I worked there and knew everything,” Deacon Rhodes recalled. “I thought, you know, that’s a good question. I did my research and thought about the issues I had with becoming a Catholic. When I decided to become Catholic, he was my sponsor.”
Shortly after joining the church, Deacon Rhodes began to consider the priesthood. But it would be three more years until
he would enter the seminary to become a priest.
After graduating in 2002 with a degree in economics, Deacon Rhodes joined the Army and was stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga., for training and was later sent to Korea. In February of 2005, Deacon Rhodes said, he began to feel disillusioned with his career path.
“One of my jobs was to discipline those that got in trouble. The number of disciplinary actions increased and I couldn’t figure out what the issue was. I began to think, you know, if I’m serious about the priesthood, about helping people to live an ethical life, then maybe my job is not to be a commander of troops but maybe as a chaplain,” he said.
During that time, then-Archbishop of Military Services Edwin F. O’Brien happened to be in Korea and heard of Deacon Rhodes’ desire to enter the priesthood.
“Archbishop O’Brien asked ‘How serious are you?’ I replied that I was very serious,” he said.
With that the now-Cardinal O’Brien passed Deacon Rhodes’ name to General Leon J. LaPorte, the commander of United States Forces in Korea and a devout Catholic. Within a few months, Deacon Rhodes was in Louisville ready to begin formation for the priesthood.
He chose Louisville because of the time he spent in and near the city during his basic cadet training. Also, he had traveled to the Jubilee Mass for priests held at the Cathedral of the Assumption with Father Edward Branch, the director of the Newman Center at Morehouse College. (Father Branch was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Louisville.)
After completing a master’s degree in philosophy at St. Meinrad School of Theology, Deacon Rhodes wanted a change of pace and asked Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz if he would suggest another seminary where he could finish his studies. Archbishop Kurtz recommended the Theological College at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Deacon Rhodes is currently finishing his studies there.
In addition to Father Branch, Deacon Rhodes credits a number of priests and lay people for inspiration during his priesthood formation. They include Father John Judie, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church (Deacon Rhodes’ home parish), Deacon James Turner, M. Annette Mandley-Turner, Father Patrick Dolan with the Kentucky National Guard, Father William Bowling and Father Tony Smith.
Deacon Rhodes said he would love to be the type of priest who encourages others to deepen their spirituality.
“My hope is to kind of work myself out of a job, so to speak. I hope to help others deepen their faith and become more devoted to the point (that) they are encouraging one another,” he said.
In addition to his diocesan duties, Deacon Rhodes hopes to also serve as a military chaplain.
Deacon Rhodes has been assigned associate pastor of St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, Ky., and of Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary, Ky.
He will celebrate his first Mass of Thanksgiving at 10 a.m. May 27 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 1545 S. 34th Street.