2016-05-26 / Neighbors

South Portland native to be ordained into priesthood

As Saturday, May 28, approaches, there is enthusiasm and pride in Deacon Matthew Gregory’s voice, a peaceful demeanor usually reserved for those fully accepting and confident in the fact that they have discovered God’s divine plan for their lives.

“I’m at total peace. I cannot wait for the ordination of priesthood. There is just joy in my heart and excitement and anticipation,” he said. “I can’t wait for it. I can’t wait for it!”

It is on that day that Gregory will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert P. Deeley at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, just miles away from where his journey began as a South Portland native and graduate of Cheverus High School.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Gregory said. “When I first started out, it seemed so far off. It’s going to take forever to get here, but the years have just flown by. It’s really hard to believe. Even leaving seminary, a couple days before I left, it wasn’t real, even though classes were done. When I packed up and said goodbye and left, it started to hit me, knowing in the next couple weeks, as we get closer … I still can’t believe it.”

Vocation stories are unique. Each path formed on the way to generously bringing the person of Jesus to the people of the Church is different and Matthew Gregory is no exception. His path led to the initial pursuit of other dreams. A love for snowboarding took him west to Lake Tahoe, with aspirations of someday operating a ski resort. Then, he headed to Florida where he attended flight school, earning his commercial pilot’s license and flight instructor rating. For nearly seven years, Gregory taught at various flight schools and worked in aircraft sales.

His aviation career took him throughout the east coast, but eventually, he landed back in Maine, where his jobs included working with young adults with cognitive disabilities. His faith had taken a backseat, but one day, he recognized the need to have God back in his life.

“I knew that I could not go back to Mass and receive holy communion without going to confession,” Gregory said. “So, that was really one of the first things I did. Within a couple days, I went to confession and that was over at St. Patrick Church in Portland. I remember going there and just confessing everything, and it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. It was just unbelievable to confess, to verbalize what I had done, seeking the mercy of God, and then to hear the priest say the words of absolution. And when I walked out that door, I was a new man, and I felt completely changed, transformed, free. It was a beautiful thing.”

He began attending daily Mass and praying the rosary daily. He worked again in aviation for a brief time and then for Pierce Promotions, a marketing firm in Portland, but his faith was coming alive.

“God was clearly at work when I began working for Pierce,” Gregory said. “It was shortly after I was hired that I began to discern my call to priesthood. My work schedule allowed me to go to Mass each morning at St. Joseph Church in Portland. I would also go to St. Joe’s during my lunch break and spend time in prayer before the tabernacle. The combination of daily Mass and spending time with Our Lord present in the tabernacle was central in hearing God’s call and having the courage to say ‘yes.’”

In 2010, he began formation at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. A year later, he transferred to now Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts (then Blessed Saint John XXIII) where he recently completed his theological studies and priestly formation.

As his ordination to the priesthood approaches, there has been time for personal reflection. Gregory realizes he would not have come this far without the love and support of his family, friends and the many priests who have guided him back to the church and helped reveal his call. The list is long, but includes a special slot for Fr. Bob Vaillancourt, currently a hospital chaplain in Portland, who will vest Gregory on his ordination day.

“He took me under his wing and really showed me what it means to be a priest and a holy priest,” Gregory said. “Something he always said, ‘You know, Matt, we don’t need good priests. We don’t need great priests. We need holy priests.’ And that’s what I strive to be. That’s the bar I set for myself. That is what Jesus is calling us to, to be holy priests. So I will remember that forever, and that will be what I strive for. I think to be a holy priest is to be a man of prayer, a man of sacrifice, to be humble, to be a man of purity of mind, of heart, of spirit.”

It is humbling for Gregory to know he will soon be able to offer the great peace and the gift of forgiveness provided by confessions, the very sacrament that reignited a passion for his own faith and illuminated the path to his calling.

“God has been very merciful to me in my life, and this being the Year of Mercy, confession has always been something that has appealed to me, and something that I strongly desire is to share the love and mercy of God with others,” he said. “I have had the weight of sin removed from my soul, that weight that you carry on your shoulders, so I want to be able to share that same thing and help people to be freed of the burdens that they carry. Confession is probably the biggest thing outside the Mass that I’m looking forward to. It’s providential that I’m being ordained in the Year of Mercy. When I heard Pope Francis announce that this was going to be the Year of Mercy, I thought, ‘This is the year I’m going to be ordained.’ I just welled up with tears. It was like, ‘Wow. This is unbelievable.’”

All are welcome to attend the ordination on May 28 as parishioners rejoice in Deacon Gregory’s journey, faith and generosity of spirit as he embraces his new life.

“This moment has been a long time coming and I am so grateful to Almighty God for calling me to serve him and his people.”

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