Former teacher on the road to priesthood

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

jasonharris-7.24.14-wSeminarian Jason F. Harris, who also happens to be a national board certified teacher, will be ordained to the diaconate on Aug. 9 at the Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will preside at the 11 a.m. liturgy.

Harris, 35, is one of 17 men in formation to become priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville. The diaconate ordination is one step in that process. Ordination to the priesthood typically follows a year after.

Harris’ journey to the priesthood began in the spring of 2007 when Harris was nearing the end of another school year spent helping Henry County, Ky., middle school students understand math and science.

It was “a spring and summer of doubt in 2007,” Harris said during a phone interview last week. “I didn’t know which way I wanted to go. I was dating a girl from Georgetown, Ky., and was feeling discontented.”

When the school year ended, he started attending daily Mass and sought advice from his pastor, Father William Bowling. The priest also happened to be the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville Vocation Office at the time.

Harris said that sometimes when he attended daily Mass at his parish, the Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky., he arrived early. On one of those mornings, a prayer group composed entirely of senior citizens noticed him and invited Harris to pray with them.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing there,” he said. “They took me under their wing. They asked me if I was in seminary, and that was the furthest thing from my mind.”

But their influence helped lead him to the seminary, Harris said.

“They sort of taught me how to be Catholic again,” he said, noting that he was raised Catholic in his hometown of Grandview, Ind. “I wasn’t a serious Catholic at that point and they taught me how to be more serious.”

Harris began to take discernment seriously, too. He moved forward with a commitment to seminary, despite feeling some doubts. “I kept saying, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know.’ … I decided I won’t know unless I try it.”

That was five years ago and his formation is nearing its end. He has one year left in school at the Catholic University of America where he is earning a master’s degree in divinity and a baccalaureate in sacred theology.

Those degrees come on top of his previous two degrees in education — a bachelor’s of science and a master’s degree.

Prior to seminary, Harris spent nine years teaching middle school — an age group that can cause some teachers and parents to balk. But Harris loves the age group, he said. And he believes his students helped prepare him for a religious vocation.

“Middle school. Those kids are misunderstood,” Harris said. “I think they just need someone to listen to them, someone to hear them out and hear what they have to say. That’s actually helped me in my ministry so far — learning to listen. It was good training.

“When I’m doing my homily, I try to picture a sea of eighth graders looking at me and I think, ‘How can I get through to them?’ ” he added.

Some of his former students and coworkers plan to attend his ordination on Aug. 9, as will his family — parents James and Judith and his sister, Jill.

This summer, Harris is serving at Holy Trinity Church in Fredericktown, Ky., and Holy Rosary Church in Manton, Ky. He’s also had summer assignments at St.
Michael Church in Jeffersontown, Christ the King Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and Norton Health Care.

The people he’s met, “They are pretty special to me,” he said. “They’ve been so supportive of me. All of the parish communities. Wherever I’ve served, the communities have been great, supportive and loving people. It’s been so powerful to me. It’s one thing I can’t express enough.”

He’s looking forward to seeing some of those people at his diaconate ordination.

“I imagine my ordination and it’s a collection of people from all parts of my journey — a collection of great love and support,” he said.

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