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Interview with Fr. Kinney

November 1, 2007

Q1: Can you speak a little about yourself? What is your mission at present?

"I am currently the Novice Master of the Western Province of Discalced Carmelite friars.  We are the male branch of the Carmelite order, just as you have the Carmelite sisters of Eugene, we are the masculine branch.  St. Theresa of Avila first started the Carmelite nuns, and then needed chaplains of like mind and spirit to hear confessions, give spiritual direction, and say mass for the nuns. So she asked St. John of the cross to start the order of friars."

So, then you are contemplative. 

"Yes.  We have the same basic prayer schedule as the Carmelite nuns.  We have two hours of personal prayer a day; one in the morning and one at evening. Also, we say five of the Liturgies of the Hours: Morning Prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer, office of readings and night prayer, so we’re in the chapel quite a lot.  We’re not cloistered, we never have been.  Like I said, St. Theresa wanted us to be able to reach the different communities and do ministry.  Our roots are contemplative but we are active as well."

Q2: While growing up did you have any activities that relate to what you’re doing now? Or did you have any desire to be a Carmelite? What order of Carmelites are you?

"Actually that is probably the most interesting part of my story.  I saw that Sister Veronica was Methodist – I was Methodist also.  I grew up in Georgia in a little town called Dalton.  I come from a good Methodist family; I have one sister five years younger than I.  My family was very wholesome, and they brought me up well, I am very grateful to them for all they’ve done for me.  Growing up we always went to church Sunday morning and I went to Sunday school where I had all sorts of ribbons and records of perfect attendance."

"In high school I was President of the Methodist Youth Group, so you can see I was very involved. In addition to what we did on Sunday morning, every Sunday afternoon I would go to the youth group and then there was an evening worship for families, so we really spent four hours in church every Sunday.  I didn’t think that was unusual because all the families in our town; you know the south tends to be more traditional than other parts of the country; did the same."

Did you know any Catholics growing up?

"No, there were about two Catholic families in town and there was a lot of prejudice against them and I didn’t really have much to do with them.  However, I went away to College, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  When I went a way to college, I did like a lot of young people do:  I became less and less involved in the church.  Something big in my life happened in my junior year:  I went to France to study in Paris.  At the time, I was majoring in French and that was a real turning point. I lived with a family who was Catholic, although they really weren’t practicing.  I was so happy in France that when I returned to graduate from the University of Tennessee I decided to go back to France for two more years. During this time I was still studying French."

At this point were you getting your masters?

"Yes, I was studying at the Sorbonne, the Faculty of Letters at the University of Paris.  Then, I was accepted to earn a PhD. at Princeton in French Literature. So, I went, finished my degree in four years, and afterwards I got a job teaching in Stockton at the University of the Pacific.  That’s how I came out West. This is where I could really see God working, because all those years while I was in my twenties in France and at Princeton I really was not practicing my faith at all.  When I would go home to see my parents, I would go to church with them, but during all those years God was speaking in my conscience, asking me to come back to Him.  I knew it, but I wasn’t listening.  The first day I stepped into the classroom at Stockton; it was the perfect job, the Junior track assignment, the money was much better than other beginning professors were making that I knew, and there was no reason why I shouldn’t be happy.  But, the first day I stepped into the classroom, after 10 years of preparing, I had a sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong – that this wasn’t where I belonged. Although I stuck it out for two years at the University of the Pacific, I was just miserable and I couldn’t figure out why.  The students liked me and other faculty members liked me, but after two years, I resigned.  I didn’t have another job and my parents and friends thought I had gone crazy in giving up something so good. I was just not at all fulfilled doing that and I didn’t understand why. Now, on the side, I had been going to a career counselor who had been giving me all sorts of tips and told me that I should go into personnel, working with people. I laugh now; because that’s kind of what a priest does, help people.  What I had enjoyed most about teaching was when students would come to me with their personal problems, not about French Literature, but about what was going on at home or the breaking up with the boyfriend.  Anyway, that summer after I had resigned my teaching job, I had several interviews with places such as banks because I was just trying to get into personnel.  No one would even look at me because of my background in French literature and, at this point, I was really getting discouraged and depressed.  Then one Sunday morning, I was interviewing in Los Angeles, the summer of 1979, and, as I was driving down the street, I passed the Catholic Church and decided to go in."

"I didn’t have any Catholic friends and I had very little contact with the Catholic Church, but I just felt like going there that Sunday.  When I went in, I didn’t have a vision or a revelation, except, I guess this is a revelation, that I knew I had finally found where I belonged.  I say that once I went in that Catholic Church in the summer of 1979, I’ve never been out since!

So, then I started going back to that church every Sunday and shortly afterwards, maybe a couple of weeks, I was offered a job in a small personnel company in Redondo Beach, California.  It was there that I joined a parish. When the first person came up and welcomed me, I could tell that she was French. With all my background I thought that was kind of ironic.  She turned out to be a secular order Carmelite, which is the lay branch of the Carmelite order.  She and I became very good friends and after a few months she gave me a book to read that she thought I would like, which was in French, and it was Story of a Soul by St. Therese.  Within maybe two or three pages of reading that book, it really changed my life.  I knew that God was calling me to be a Carmelite."

"I was just coming into the Church. I made my profession of faith in January of 1980 and I think I had read that book a month before.  So, coming into the Church was all tied up with becoming a Carmelite, I knew it was part of the same pull from God.  Two months after I had made my profession of faith and been confirmed, this lady, the third order Carmelite, had an appointment with the Provincial of the Discalced Carmelites of the Western Province up in Alhambra, California.  She didn’t drive, so I drove her to this appointment.  At a certain moment during their conversation, there was a lull and I said, 'Fr. Patrick, I want to be a Carmelite friar.'  He looked at me and said, 'I thought you’d told me you had only been a Catholic for two months?'  I replied, 'I have.  But I know God is calling me to be a Carmelite.'  He explained, 'Well…Canon law says you have to wait two years and then…'  I told him, 'I’ll wait ten years, as long as it takes, but I know the Carmelites are where I belong'".

"I didn’t have a doubt at all.  So, he [Fr. Patrick] got on the phone and arranged for me to go to our novitiate, which is the community where the new men enter the Carmelites of the Western province, in Oak Hill, Napa Valley.  I visited there two weeks later.  I didn’t know it at the time…I thought they were just asking me questions about myself… but they were interviewing me to join the order.  At the end of the weekend the vocations director told me that, if I wanted to join, I could do so at the end of that July, if I had a two year novitiate instead of a one year novitiate.  To make a long story short, I ended up joining the Carmelites just six months after I had entered the Catholic Church."

Q3: You had quite an amazing conversion! How did you family take everything?   Did you tell them what was going on?

"At first- it was very hard at first; it was very difficult for them.  Because they didn’t know very much about the Catholic Church and they knew even less about the Carmelites.  One of the things I find funny in retrospect; well, my family wouldn’t think it funny; is that we were good friends with a Methodist bishop in Georgia, whom had given the inaugural address of Jimmy Carter and was from our little town of Dalton, hence we knew him very well.  When I went home to tell my parents that I was becoming a Carmelite, they called him to try and get him to persuade me not to do this.  Well, he knew the Carmelites very well, he said, 'Oh, yes. St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, they have a beautiful spirituality.'  That is not what my parents wanted to hear."

"Nevertheless, it was very difficult for them.  They came out to visit me during my novitiate year and several times after.  By my Solemn Profession, six years later, they were sitting in the front row very proud of me and at my ordination-even better!"

Q4: Would you explain what it is to have a vocation, what a vocation is?

"A vocation is a ‘calling’ from God.  It’s a strange word, which for instance my Methodist family didn’t understand because they don’t use that terminology, it’s about the same thing, it’s a calling.  We are all called by God to be saints, to do saintly things in one area or another, whether it’s as a secretary or a doctor or mother.  Some people have the special calling to be a member of a religious order or a sister or a priest.  I felt very privileged that God has called me."

"I think the word 'vocation' is used in secular language is used to mean a particular vocation to be say a Barber or a gardener or whatever, but I think the more proper usage is to mean the call from God.  I don’t think you can separate the word ‘vocation’ from a life given for God."

Q5: Concerning discernment: All of those who have entered religious life or the priesthood have underwent some form of discernment, but would you recommend that everyone discern a vocation, to see what God is asking them? Why would one want to do this, why is it so essential?

"Life is too short, and eternity is too long to jump into something impulsively without thinking about it.  Unfortunately, people do often make mistakes. Getting married or doing something that changes your life forever requires time to think about the future.  We need to take time and discern how we are going to use our future well.  All the more if we believe in God, because we’ll want to do His will.  God calls us so that His will is accomplished, but also because He wants us to be happy.  If somebody really has a vocation they will have a lot of happiness.  There is a joy that comes that comes from serving the Lord that you can’t find anywhere else; some people find it in married life, some in the single life, but I certainly have found it as a Carmelite priest."

Q6: How should one discern a vocation? Should they seek third party advice, such a trusted friend or a spiritual guide? How much weight should one give the opinions of family? How long should discern?

"Well, discernment will be different for everybody.  However, when God speaks in our hearts or our conscience like He was in my life for a number of years, it’s hard too ignore it.  It is important to speak with someone about it and to get a balanced viewpoint.  So often, we look for advice from people who are going to confirm the easy way.  It is more difficult to get someone wise who is going to tell us the best way to live.  There are plenty of  'lights' in our world today that want us to conform to society and live the easy way, but there aren’t many people who will challenge us to be good and give our lives to God.  So, someone’s family, I think, is not always the best guide for making future decisions, I believe it’s better to talk to someone objective."

"That could a priest, or a principal, or the Carmelite nuns there in Eugene.  They do a lot of counseling for people, through letters or face to face, for young people who are thinking about getting married or whatever their vocation may be.  I see that as a priest, people really need someone to talk to these days, especially when you’re young and considering a future that could determine your whole eternity.  For this reason, it’s very important to go slow, to pray about it, and to talk about it with several wise people."

Q7: How important is prayer in the discernment process? What role does it play?

"Prayer is an important part that when we first start discerning we might not always realize. Because God is working in ways we don’t grasp early on.  Prayer is just an opening up to God, listening to God so as to do His will.  On the most basic level, it can be listening to a song on the radio or a quiet walk on the beach.  But having a daily conversation with Jesus in prayer, which deepens as time goes on, usually that breaks through to some realization of how much He loves us, how much He wants to reach out and help us.  Sometimes He does that through trails; like when I was teaching and things were going wrong.  Or, often He gives a lot of consolation to encourage us along the way, to pray more, talking to Him about the future."

Q8: When one follows their vocation, even when it’s different from what they originally hoped for, God still gives them that peace and joy, correct? You will still be fulfilled even though it’s different from what you had thought you would be doing.           

"Have you heard the Arabic proverb: 'God draws straight crooked lines'?"

"So, some people think they’ve made the right choice and try something for a while, but it doesn’t so they have take another step in a different direction.  That is the reason why for people making these big life-choices it’s so important for them to discern well, take their time, and speak about it with wise people."

Q9: At present, what is your mission as a Carmelite priest, what is your charism?

"I said at the beginning of the interview that we were founded by St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross to minister to the Carmelite nuns."

"I am confessor to several communities of cloistered nuns in this area; however, my primary mission is to be director of formation for our novices.  The official term is Novice Master."

"Our center is in San Jose, California.  This is where our men spend the first two years of their Carmelite life. They are a postulant for 6 months; that’s kind of like being an observer.  Then, if that’s working out, they become a novice for a year, followed by first vows and remain here for another 6 months.  Then finally, they go to Mount Angel, Oregon where they begin their studies."

"The Carmelite house of studies in Mount Angel is the resident house for the Carmelite seminarians and their student masters, but they study at Mount Angel Seminary."

Q10: What did find particularly attractive about the Carmelites, or what stands for you in the charism/spirituality of the Carmelites?


"When I was first discerning a vocation during those first months when I was coming into the Church, it became a very powerful time for me.  I knew God was calling me to Him, so I would pick up lots of vocation brochures.  One order would say we focus on prayer, another would say we pray and we teach, others would say we pray and do nursing, all sorts of things.  The common denominator that I found in every order was prayer!  That was what attracted me most to the religious life and that has always been my primary pull to the Carmelite life.  I have, now, been a Carmelite priest for 27 years."

Q11: There are several things I want to ask that often relate to young people. For some, the idea of a vocation can seem daunting, or that one it isn’t possible, especially in regards to the vow of chastity or celibacy. It is just so different from what we’re often presented with, so any thoughts on this could be helpful.

"If God gives the call to do something, He gives the means to live it out.  I was very scared by all that, but I felt the pull to try it. I felt that with God’s help I could do it.  It’s just like in any profession. Say for instance, someone out of dental school, who is just beginning their practice, most likely is nervous about having to pull teeth.  Nevertheless, there is the belief that, 'I think I can do that, if I’m trained.'  I felt that way at the beginning, 'I think I can do that if God trains me and I discern well.'"

Q12: What are the vows that a Carmelite would take?

"A Carmelite friar takes the same vows as Carmelite nun, which are the same vows of most religious orders in the church:  poverty, chastity and obedience."

When you say you live poverty does that mean you’re not allowed to own anything?

"Yes, we not allowed to own, for instance, a personal bank account or a car. We keep very few possessions."

"Obedience is to my superior, to my prior, and then to my provincial- the Carmelite priest in charge of all of us in the Western Province. That means for us friars that we are moved around every 3-6 years, generally we stay in one place no more than 6 years, as opposed staying in one place. Now, this is very different from the life of a Carmelite nun, who for example, will live in the same convent for the rest of her life. This is very difficult, especially if you’re doing great work in a parish or a retreat, or a novitiate like here, and low and behold, before you know it, it’s time to move on. However, I find it keeps me growing, from getting used to something, it forces me to keep changing, and to keep trusting God."

Q13: One thing people encounter, it seems to have been very clear for you, but some people have trouble knowing which order to join. What aspects should a person consider, what things about themselves should they notice, when trying to decide in which group they belong.

"We see a lot of that here with the men who are applying to our order. We always interview them and spend a lot of time with them. It’s important to look in several places. I didn’t just look at one place, I also looked into other religious orders. I thought God was calling me to be a Carmelite, but it’s sort of like dating a girl- most men don’t marry the first girl that comes along. It is good to have something to compare to. Regarding which order to join; I think one will be attracted to a certain type of work or a certain community life, or ministry. Also, we have to be open to the fact that God wants us to grow and sometimes He will put us in a position to stretch us a bit, sometimes even a lot, with something we haven’t done before."

Q14: As a Carmelite, what advice can you offer about prayer? How to pray, what are good means to foster that relationship with Christ?

"Everybody has different way of praying. The most important thing to remember is to stay with it. Stick with it. Our prayer life changes as do; our prayer evolves as we grow. My prayer in the morning is usually different in the morning than it is in the afternoon. But the main thing is just stick with it."

"Some people get very upset because, say after a conversion, or powerful experience of God, they will be having a lot of consolation and then they’ll get upset because things are drying up. But that happens with everybody. Everyone’s prayer at one time or another becomes dry.  Everybody.  Even Pope John Paul or Mother Teresa of Calcutta had many distractions, and that is just part of being human. Our distractions are sort of like flies, we have to shoo them away and just stay at it."

Q15: For you, this might be too personal but, what has been the most rewarding aspect, in your 27 years, of being totally dedicated (or consecrated) to God?

"Prayer is the first thing, and then my relationships with others. The Lord over the last few years has given us a big increase in vocations, not only in numbers but there are many young fine young men who are joining us.  We even had to build a new house of studies on Mt. Angel, Oregon. It is very encouraging when you see the young men and discern that this is where God is calling them, then to put down roots and be so happy. And then, to see them go through studies, be is just very beautiful to see and to realize that in some small way I’ve been a part of all that."

Q16: To someone who is discerning a vocation, what advice would you give them? What would you tell them? How can they achieve that peace and happiness with God?

"Discerning a vocation is a great adventure. It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating, in the sense that one realizes God is calling even ‘me’. As unworthy and unlikely as it seems, God has looked on me with love and wants me to give my life over to Him. On the other hand, discerning a vocation can be very scary because we can feel odd and misunderstood, sometimes persecuted by others, such as family members, friends. On the one hand, we feel so happy we want to shout it from the roof tops and, yet when we try and do that, people just stare at us and think we’re crazy. All of that goes with it and my experience is that it’s just part of life. Jesus said that his followers would be understood as much as He was understood, which was to be completely misunderstood."

For the Faith 
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