Meet the Chaplain: Fr. Gordon Kalil – Napa Valley Chapter
Father Gordon Kalil was a retired fashion executive in his mid-30s trying to find himself in the Bay Area. One day, he walked into St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco. That visit prompted a conversion that would lead the driven businessman to be ordained a Dominican priest, and later become a priest for the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
Today, Fr. Kalil, 75, uses his business background to good effect as pastor of St. Helena Church and as the chaplain for Legatus’ Napa Valley Chapter. He spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
What was it about St. Dominic’s Church that led to your conversion?
First of all, it’s one of the most beautiful churches. I walked in, and they had a shrine to St. Jude, and the statue was identical to the one we had in my small hometown Catholic church in Indiana. It just overwhelmed me in that moment and I started to sob. Then I moved over to the side chapel in front of the Blessed Mother, and it was the same image we had in that same church in Indiana. It really was like returning home.
Why had you been away from the Church?
When I was 18 and a student at Indiana University, I just couldn’t find the answers in the Church so I left. It just didn’t make sense to me. During my time in New York City, where I was for about 14 to 15 years, I felt this emptiness. It came at a time when I was just getting tired of the fashion industry. It just seemed so hollow for me. I had wanted to be a priest when I was about 9 or 10, but our pastor in Indiana said I didn’t have any intelligence, and he also said that my family didn’t have enough money. In those days, sponsorship for the seminary was usually from the family.
Did that experience with your pastor discourage you?
It did, but then I was also raised to believe that the pastor knows best.
Do you ever miss living and working in Manhattan?
No, I don’t miss that sense of “go, go, go” and the bustle and hustle. The pedestrian traffic is reflective of the mood in the town, which is you have to go where you’re going rapidly, and if you stop, you die. I don’t miss that, though I do miss the incredible walking town that it is, and of course the arts.
Does your business background inform your priestly ministry today?
Absolutely. First of all, from the perspective of knowing about people who are in business, knowing a bit of what drives them because I was very driven and competitive. Also, I think that my counseling of people comes from an orientation of knowing the temptations, which are all around someone who is striving to be successful, and there are many temptations, even beyond what we would consider the norm for anybody living in the secular world.
What do you do as a Legatus chaplain?
I’m available to the members for counseling, confession, spiritual direction, as any priest would be. Also, I think in part my history, having been in the business profession, helps. Now, I’m not saying that’s a requirement, but it has certainly helped. The foundation of Legatus is certainly an appeal to people in business, and it helps to be relatable to them because ‘I’ve been there and done that’ so to speak.
What has struck you the most about being a priest and Legatus chaplain?
I’m continually humbled by the strength and the power of the laity; their faith, their witness to the faith, and their willingness to serve the Church and its ministries. When we went through our founding as a chapter, I looked out at the members and realized every one of them was involved in a charity, not just for the Church but for the world at large. It’s a joy in my priesthood to see the laity committed to being servants of Christ in the world.