Article: ‘Winding conversion story’ led son of Evangelical missionaries to the Catholic priesthood

Published in the Catholic Standard, June 18, 2009
By Richard Szczepanowski, Catholic Standard staff

Deacon Daniel Gallaugher calls his spiritual journey from son of Evangelical Christian missionaries to Catholic priest “a winding conversion story” with an ending “that surprised me.”

Baptized a Methodist, raised as an Evangelical Christian and spending some time as a member of the Episcopal Church, Deacon Gallaugher will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington on Saturday, June 20.

Born in Santa Barbara, Calif., Deacon Gallaugher’s parents, David and Penny Gallaugher, were Catholic before they converted to the Methodist faith.

“My father was a cradle Catholic and a diocesan seminarian for seven and a half years in the 1960s. My mother was a teen-age convert to Catholicism and spent three years right after high school as a Franciscan postulant and novice,” he explained.

After returning to lay life, the two met each other, married, and stopped practicing their Catholic faith. After a couple of years, the couple began attending a Methodist Church, where Deacon Gallaugher was baptized.

He said that while growing up, “I was on [my parents’] journey, both physically – moving every few years – and spiritually.”

The deacon said he spent almost a decade attending the Methodist church before attending Evangelical churches with his family.

When Deacon Gallaugher was 15 years old, David and Penny signed up to serve as Evangelical missionaries, and moved the family to Spain. Deacon Gallaugher’s father taught music and liturgy at an Evangelical seminary there.

After finishing high school at a boarding school in Germany primarily for children of Evangelical missionaries, Deacon Gallaugher attended Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications.

As a teenager, Deacon Gallaugher originally thought about a political career, “but I knew I could make a greater impact on the world with some sort of Christian service instead of politics. I wanted to work in some form of full-time ministry, and was interested in apologetics, but I had to put that on hold when I began questioning my religious beliefs.”

In the 1990s, Deacon Gallaugher moved to Washington and began to attend Episcopal services.

“In my mid-20s, in fairly quick succession over less than two years, I gained my footing with regard to faith,” he said of his decision to convert to Catholicism.

In what he called “a close sequence of events,” Deacon Gallaugher went from considering becoming an Episcopalian priest to joining the Catholic Church.

“I was asking myself how do I take the best of what I grew up with as an Evangelical – a passion and dedication to truth and service – and combine that with the Episcopalian passion for liturgy, worldwide communion and history,” he said. “The answer was the Catholic Church. It was an answer that surprised me.”

He added that “of course, every convert, including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, will tell you that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was part of the conversion process. If that reality is true, how could I be anywhere else?”

Deacon Gallaugher entered the Church in 2001, and in 2003, began six years of seminary study. He attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, earning a master of divinity degree in theology with a concentration in Sacred Scripture. He is semi-fluent in Spanish and can read New Testament Greek.

Prior to the seminary, he worked in graphic design and layout for several firms, producing documents, presentations, diagrams, newsletters, brochures, documents, posters, advertising and other products for a variety of clients, including the Washington National Opera.

“There was nine years in between college and seminary,” Deacon Gallaugher said. “I think it was useful to spend that time working, because I know what the problems are of living and working, and I think I will be able to better understand [parishioners’] problems.”

His journey to the priesthood, he said, had many inspirations: a female missionary to Africa who visited his family’s Methodist Church when he was 8; his parents’ missionary work in Spain; their co-workers and the parents of his classmates who, he said, provided “quite an example of dedicated … service of the Gospel;” and an Episcopalian rector serving at a Church in Washington who “seemed to raise the idea of becoming a priest frequently.”

Having a background in other faiths, Deacon Gallaugher said, will be a help as he ministers as a Catholic priest.

“I’m comfortable and confident in dealing with all the different types of Protestant faiths,” he said. “I know there is a lot of good there, and I know where to be cautious and what sorts of errors to watch for. I can guide people in their interactions with our separated brothers and sisters.”

Coming from such a diverse religious background, Deacon Gallaugher said his family’s reaction to his becoming a Catholic and then a priest has been varied. His father, he said, “has been interested and supportive.” One of his brothers serves as a pastor in a Protestant church. They will all attend his ordination.

Deacon Gallaugher’s mother died in January 2004, after a nearly five-year battle with breast cancer. His June 20 ordination falls on what would have been his late mother’s birthday, which he said, “I find very meaningful.” Pictures of his mother will be set up at the reception following his ordination.

As he considers his ministry as a priest, Deacon Gallaugher said he looks forward to hearing Confessions and offering spiritual direction.

“The reality – and I can still hardly imagine it – that I can be part of the communication between the penitent and Christ and to offer them freedom from guilt is just amazing,” he said.

To those considering a priestly vocation, Deacon Gallaugher said he would suggest they enter a seminary and discover that “so much growth and transformation and support is available. They will discover positive aspects of themselves that they never knew was there.”

“And it is good to remember that God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called,” he added.

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Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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