By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Deacon Jason Harris’ path to the priesthood was as much about discovering who he is as it was about studying theology and philosophy.
His path of personal discovery will culminate with his ordination to the priesthood on May 30.
Deacon Harris, along with Deacons Shayne Duvall and Peter Bucalo, will be ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz May 30 at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth Street.
For nine years, Deacon Harris worked as a middle school math teacher at Henry County Middle School. He was good at the job and he loved it, he said in a recent interview at The Record offices.
“I loved being a teacher; I loved teaching eighth-grade. Some days they drive you crazy, but also there are good days,” the 36-year-old said with a good-natured chuckle. “I liked the combined aspect of teaching and listening to people’s stories.”
Deacon Harris grew up in the small Southern Indiana town of Grandview, located in the Diocese of Evansville. He and his sister, Jill, were raised in a loving, Catholic home, he said, by his mother and father, Jim and Judith Harris. They attended St. Bernard Church in Rockport, Ind.
“We were just regular Catholics. We weren’t super serious, but we mostly went to Mass on Sunday,” he explained.
His paternal grandmother, Bernice Harris Robeson, was an important influence who helped him understand his Catholic faith, he noted.
It wasn’t until he attended Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Ky., that Deacon Harris began to more seriously contemplate his faith.
“I taught seventh- and eighth-grade CCD classes, mostly because I was becoming a teacher,” he said. “But it sort of made me study my faith a little more.”
At that point in his life, though, he said he was focused on getting his life started and securing a teaching job.
Once he settled into his teaching position in Henry County in 2000, he started attending the Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky. He wasn’t particularly involved in the parish, at first, though.
He said he was a “roaming Catholic,” traversing back and forth between Kentucky and Southern, Ind., where he regularly visited his ailing maternal grandmother.
When she died in 2004, Deacon Harris said he began to plant more roots in his new Kentucky home. In 2006, he dated a young woman who was Baptist and who asked a lot of questions about Catholicism.
“I couldn’t answer her, so I went to Father Bill Bowling,” pastor of Annunciation at the time. Father Bowling also happened to be vocation director for the Archdiocese of Louisville at the time.
Deacon Harris began reading books about on Catholicism at the suggestion of Father Bowling. He also took a step back from his relationship to “reset” and focus more on learning about his faith.
With this renewed sense of curiosity, Deacon Harris began attending daily Mass. He also joined a morning prayer group and a Bible study group at the invitation of several long-time members of Annunciation.
“A couple of people starting asking me if I was going to the seminary,” he said. “At that point, no. I was not thinking about that.”
But he did accept Father Bowling’s offering to join a discernment group with other men who were contemplating some type of vocational call.
From there, he began to think more and more about priesthood and serving God through a religious vocation, he said.
“I entered seminary on a trial basis. I thought ‘I’ll go and see if this feels right.’ It became more and more clear that it fit my skills,” he said.
Deacon Harris described his vocational call as a gradual process, not one that “switched on.”
“It was a gradual growing into it. I had glimpses every once in a while, but it wasn’t an automatic thing where I woke up one day and said, ‘I’m going to be a priest in 2015.’ That never happened,” he explained.
Following his ordination, Deacon Harris said he looks forward to being a constant presence in the lives of his parishioners.
He’s looking forward to hearing about their successes “and helping them, if God allows me, through the struggles of sickness, death and depression,” he said.
“There is something about living and being a part of a community — not just one that leads the prayers,” he said.
Deacon Harris graduated with a master’s of divinity and a baccalaureate in sacred theology, both from the Theological College at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on May 9.
He will serve asassociate pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky.
His first Mass of Thanksgiving will be at Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky., May 30 at 5:30 p.m.