By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Deacon David A. Cockson knew he wanted to be a priest when he made his first holy Communion as a 7-year-old in Grand Island, Neb.
Fifty-five years later, his religious vocation will be realized. His ordination, set for Saturday, will be the fulfilment of an unwavering commitment to his vocation delayed only by an equally strong devotion to his family.
Deacon Cockson will be ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville at 11 a.m. on May 31, by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St.
At 63, Deacon Cockson is soft spoken and tall and he’s among the oldest men to be ordained in this archdiocese. That’s one of the reasons he came here; the Archdiocese of Louisville is open to later-in-life vocations.
He has one other connection to Kentucky: He was educated by the Dominican Sisters of Peace from St. Catharine, Ky., who were on mission in Nebraska in the 1950s. The sisters attracted him to the priesthood and helped nurture his vocation by their joy, commitment and prayerful witness, he said.
Deacon Cockson is the sixth of eight children born to Alvin and Mary Cockson in south central Nebraska in close proximity to the meandering Platte River. They were a prayerful family whose lives revolved around parish life, he said.
A life-changing event early in his life — at age 15 — helped to affirm and continues still to guide his religious vocation.
Marcia Cockson, Deacon Cockson’s older sister by 11 months, made the ultimate sacrifice when she was 16.
On Dec. 9, 1965, he and Marcia were on their way to school. Marcia was driving and prepared to cross a one-lane bridge when an oncoming car nearly collided with them.
“We crossed five narrow bridges to go to high school. We were on the last bridge; it was foggy and icy. Marcia was driving very cautiously. Out of the fog comes our neighbor’s vehicle.”
The neighbor, a father of eight, was driving with his father. Marcia made an effort to avoid hitting them, causing herself and Deacon Cockson to be ejected from their car. Marcia did not survive.
“My sister made a decision to give up her life to save” two others, Deacon Cockson said. “We saw their faces in the window — I can still see them. She chose to sacrifice her life for their lives and their family.”
The local bishop attended Marcia’s funeral and the church was filled to overflowing, Deacon Cockson said. Marcia’s classmates still remember her — “They remember her sacrifice, her devotion to life,” he said.
The lesson that lingers for him relates to suffering.
“Marcia was a mentor for me,” he said. “And she taught me the meaning of suffering in my own life. I’ve been able to look through the pain in order to see the possibilities in that suffering. I hope, as a priest, to be able to offer that hope to people — to look for possibilities for new life.”
Deacon Cockson’s path to the priesthood would not be a direct one, though. After high school, he was encouraged by his pastor to continue discerning his vocation by attending college and living on his own.
“I knew that to be well-rounded I needed to be on my own, pay bills and have my own responsibilities,” he noted.
He spent about a decade teaching high school social studies and in sales, while continuing to be involved in the life of the church and discerning.
He entered into seminary studies and, in 1988, he earned a master of divinity degree at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
Also in 1988, he began caring for his elderly parents in his home. Caring for his family became another vocation for Deacon Cockson and delayed his religious vocation, though he believes his experiences helped prepare him for the priesthood.
From 1988 to 2007, he cared for his parents and two older siblings. In the midst of care taking, he was ordained in 1992 to the diaconate, a step on his path to the priesthood. Usually, there is a year between the diaconate ordination and priesthood ordination. But Deacon Cockson took a leave of absence to continue caring for his mother, who’s health had taken a bad turn.
As he cared for his family members, Deacon Cockson served as a hospital chaplain and returned to school to become a licensed clinical social worker. He spent 15 years serving clients struggling with mental health and substance abuse problems.
His mother died in 2007 and Deacon Cockson returned to seminary.
“I’ve spent many years caring for my family and I’ve spent my life since my first holy Communion preparing for the priesthood,” he noted. “I never wavered in my desire to become a priest. When these earthly responsibilities were fulfilled, I began in earnest to experience my final journey to the priesthood.”
The way he sees it, “I’m right on schedule.”
“The grace of God is like grits sometimes,” he said. “You don’t order them at the restaurant, but they come with the meal. So my life has been one of challenges, but many consolations that have been the presence of the grace of God in my life.”
After his ordination, Deacon Cockson will serve as associate pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky.
He will celebrate his first Mass of thanksgiving at 11 a.m. on June 1 at St. Michael Church in East Louisville where he has been serving as a deacon.
The chalice he will use at his first Mass was purchased by his late parents 48 years ago. They purchased the chalice for Deacon Cockson, then 15 years old, with money the family received as memorial gifts for his sister, Marcia.