On a recent Saturday in a moving ceremony before a large crowd of faithful, in the beautiful church of Saint Catherine of Siena in Wake Forest, Fr Philip Gerard Johnson became a priest in the diocese of Raleigh.
A Greensboro, NC native, he was ordained by the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington.
But this wasn’t just any ordination, and Fr Philip isn’t just any priest.
Father Philip, a cancer survivor and advocate for the cause of life especially in the terminally ill, has battled hard to answer his personal call to the vocation of the priesthood.
“I graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2006 and served during two deployments to the Northern Arabian Gulf. Towards the end of my last deployment at the age of 24, I began to have seizures and was diagnosed with a fast-growing inoperable Grade 3 brain cancer. I was told that the median survival time for my cancer was 18-24 months. I received radiation and chemotherapy for over three years, and I continue to be monitored by doctors, as this cancer almost always recurs in a more serious way.”
He said in a 2015 address to Connecticut Legislature while trying to combat a bill which would allow physician-assisted suicide which earned him national fame.
Shortly afterwards he felt the call to the priesthood beckoning him and went to study at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. It wasn’t an easy road.
Although there is a shortage of men discerning a vocation to the priesthood, Fr Philip’s health kept him from important events and studies. It became difficult to keep pace with his brother seminarians, and there were concerns that he wouldn’t be able to find the strength to minister to others.
With the support of his friends, family, and a dedicated army of prayer warriors determined to see him become a priest, he developed a deeper relationship with Christ and soldiered on.
Under the careful care of his mentors and spiritual advisors, he found he had correctly discerned his vocation and went on to become a priest in the diocese of Raleigh this month.
What would he say to other young men?
“Give the priesthood the first chance. We have a vocation shortage right now, but it is not because God has stopped calling young men to share in His priesthood – it is because many young men do not respond to this beautiful call from God. Too many Catholic men consider the priesthood to be a “backup plan” if they can not find a suitable wife or career. It is every man’s responsibility to properly discern the priesthood before committing himself to marriage,” He said.
Lover of the Latin rite, gregorian chant, travel, and all things French, Fr. Philip is a wonderful addition to any community gathering, an advocate for life, expert baby-kisser and the most animated celtic music fan around. His faith, deeply influenced by a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Bernadette, and Father Thomas Price, (the “Tar Heel Apostle”) has so far inspired and encouraged many of the faithful far and wide to pray more and do more in their family and community.
As he said in his speech to congress: “It is often said that a civilization can be judged by how it treats its weakest members, and the terminally ill are among the most vulnerable in our society.”
If he’s right, then the Diocese of Raleigh is doing just fine.