Father Alvin Kimel Connects the Dots on his Journey that Led to Priesthood
by Ward Miele, Managing Editor

Archbishop John J. Myers (left) ordained Father Alvin Kimel Jr. on Dec. 3 at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish. Two days later, in a public forum at the South Orange parish, Father Kimel traced his "unusual" journey to the priesthood. Before becoming a Catholic priest, Father Kimel served as an Episcopalian clergyman for 25 years.

SOUTH ORANGE - Father Alvin Kimel, Jr., gave a candid and heartfelt account of his faith journey from Episcopalian minister to the Catholic priesthood during a presentation at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish on Dec. 5, two days after being ordained there by Archbishop John J. Myers (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 6).

Married and the father of four grown children, Father Kimel has been a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows since last February. He called the pastor, Rev. Msgr. John E. Doran, "such a blessing" to himself and wife Christine who was in the audience at the opening of the parish's decade-old Advent Lecture Series. Msgr. Doran noted that the ordination of Father Kimel, 54, was the first of a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows church.
Father Kimel took to the podium, he explained, "to share my story" and his journey to the priesthood, which he termed "unusual." Growing up in Virginia, he was raised a Methodist. However, while a high school student, Father Kimel explained that he was "a devout atheist." That state of mind continued until his senior year in college when began giving "serious consideration to the Christian faith."

By the spring of his final year in college, Father Kimel said he was "a believing Christian." He realized then that if he were to be a Christian it would mean involvement fulltime in pastoral life—a "deeper commitment."

In 1975 he returned home and a friend took him to an Episcopal church in Washington D.C. By coincidence an African bishop was there that day performing confirmations. He was, Father Kimel recalled, "dumfounded" by the liturgy that he termed "very Catholic." The beauty of the liturgy, he added, "captured me." Equally stunning was the "real presence" of the Eucharist that Father Kimel remembered was "so palpable...here was the risen Christ." That, he said, was "revolutionary for me."

Within six months he was in contact with a rector of the church and began weekly confessions. In the fall of 1977 he entered an Episcopal seminary in Wisconsin. Graduation came three years later and he became a curate at a church in Florida. From there it was on to being a rector at churches in Maryland, South Carolina and, finally Johnston, PA, which is located in the western half of the Keystone State.

It did not take long after his ordination in the Episcopal Church, Father Kimel explained, to feel there was "something wrong," which he described as a "sickness of the dogma of inclusivity." Such a mindset, he went on, results in nothing being believed in except inclusivity. Expounding on that point, Father Kimel said there are no core beliefs resulting in ongoing conflict. Because of those convictions he became involved in a movement to "save" the Episcopal Church.

But in the late 1990s, Father Kimel lamented, "the battle had been lost." He had reached the point where all he could do was wait for an early retirement upon reaching the age of 58. What "a terrible thing," he said to nods of agreement from the audience.

The final break with the Episcopal Church came in the summer of 2003 when the Diocese of New Hampshire elevated a divorced homosexual to bishop. Saying he did not anticipate his response "in my soul," Father Kimel said at that point he decided he "had had enough." He knew it was time for him to leave the Episcopal Church, but reaching that decision, he confessed, was "traumatic." Some time after that decision a friend suggested he give the Catholic Church "a hearing," and he did just that.

His faith journey included one of his three sons converting to Catholicism four years ago. The newly ordained priest explained the "considerations" that led him to join the Catholic Church. One was concern over the "preservation" of Revelation. He also had to deal with "how to believe with a true Catholic Faith." He was, Father Kimel pointed out, "an Anglo-Catholic except for the pope." He said, too, he had to reach the point of trusting the Catholic Church as "teacher, prophet, mentor and guide." Father Kimel explained he came to the determination that the Catholic Church is "what she claims to be…guided by God." The Catholic Church is the "sacramental body of Christ," he stressed.

A primary concern, Father Kimel told his audience, was the infallibility of the Catholic Church and the pope. He had a "unique perspective" as someone coming into the Catholic Church in that he was being asked to accept all of its teachings. "Simply trust the Church," he declared.

Last year he left his congregation in Johnstown. As a result of that move, the congregation was "furious" with a feeling of being "betrayed." He entered the Catholic Church with his son as his sponsor and his decision cost him the friendship of several parishioners in his Johnstown church, Father Kimel revealed with obvious sadness.

Father Kimel's ordination was possible because of a special Pastoral Provision instituted 26 years ago by Pope John Paul II. It was in response to requests from priests and laity of the Episcopal Church seeking full communion with the Catholic Church.

The ordination was Archbishop Myers' first of a former Episcopalian. Last year William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with approval of Pope Benedict XVI, named the archbishop to the post of Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision. In this position, Archbishop Myers works with all other Catholic bishops nationwide to oversee the process.

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