By Justin Chung ’19
This is the second in a series of priest interviews conducted by Justin Chung. Justin is a junior at Bellarmine College Preparatory and an active parishioner at Holy Korean Martyrs Parish.
Father Kevin Joyce’s road to the priesthood can be summed up using one word: involved. He was born and raised in Alameda, California. As a child, his active engagement in his parish’s altar server ministry helped him discern his personal vocation. During middle school, he attended Mass every day and became very involved in altar serving. “I just felt very close to Jesus Christ and the Eucharist, so the priesthood was very attractive to me.” A close relationship with the priest at his church also helped foster a positive view of the priesthood. From a young age, he saw priests as very inspiring men: “I wanted to live the kind of life I saw them living.”
The first time Father Joyce heard God’s calling was in fifth grade. As he continued to serve in ministry, in seventh grade he made his decision that he wanted to enter the seminary. He took the exam to enter the local seminary high school, Saint Joseph College High School Seminary in Los Altos, in eighth grade and was accepted.
He recalls that “most of my friends and family were against my decision, except for my father. My mother couldn’t see me leave to the seminary at 14 years of age. My Protestant friends thought I was crazy; my girlfriend tried to talk me out of going, but I was really determined.”
While he was at his church, Father Joyce became involved in a wide variety of activities during his time at the high school seminary. In athletics he played most of the sports from swimming, tennis, baseball, football, and more. He served as the music director for the choir and played organ. He also acted in a few plays. On top of everything, Father Joyce was very studious and enjoyed academics.
After a busy high school career, Father Joyce entered Saint Patrick’s College Seminary in Los Altos and studied in Mexico for a year. However, he found himself caught in the turbulence of the 1960’s cultural revolution and felt a lost sense of calling. He left the seminary for five years. “I went to San Jose State and supported myself as a working musician and through teaching meditation. For five years I had no intention of returning to the path of the priesthood.”
A main incentive for Father Joyce to leave the seminary was to marry his girlfriend at the time. On the verge of proposal, he realized that he wasn’t ready for any commitment, but the desire to marry stayed with him for a few years.
“Four years later I attended a long retreat during which I had this very powerful experience of God calling me back to the priesthood. One afternoon during meditation I was thinking about all the different options I had of doing business, making money, getting married, and they all didn’t seem right. They didn’t answer the question of what my life was all about. And then as this intense prayer continued I realized that I would never be happy unless I’m a priest – that my life is focused on knowing God and helping people to know and love Him. The thought about the priesthood was a shock. It just came out of the blue for the first time in five years. It was very strong and undeniable. I knew it was the Holy Spirit.”
Father Joyce immediately returned to the seminary and was ordained three years later. “I never regretted it. There have been some great periods in my priesthood in terms of natural happiness and there have been some very difficult periods, conflict and struggle. But I’ve found it to be all worth it. If you really love the Lord and you want people to know the same love, I can’t think of anything better to do with my life.”
Many variables sustain Father Joyce as a priest. Earlier in his priesthood, assigned to Saint Catherine’s, the interaction with parishioners provided rich sustenance. “In Morgan Hill the people were extremely supportive, encouraging, and [there was] an incredibly positive atmosphere.”
Nevertheless, despite the benevolent ambience, Father Joyce felt that he had burned out after four years because he hadn’t been taking care of his spiritual life. “I wasn’t praying regularly, deeply. As I developed in my priesthood I came to see how important it is to have a strong prayer life and read the Liturgy of the Hours and have a daily connection with God. So in addition to the interaction with the people I serve, having a strong prayer life sustains me now as well.”
Talking with Father Joyce helped me to realize God’s constant presence in my life. He will always be there for me through my thick and thins and ultimately for eternity. For Father Joyce, God impacted his life from a very young age and led him to discern his vocation and enter the high school seminary. However, he left his college seminary and strayed away from the priesthood for five years. Even so, God persevered with him every step of the way and called Father Joyce back to the priesthood. Reflecting on this story made me understand that God is always there for me. He relentlessly pursues everyone despite their sins and lack of faith because of his unconditional love for all.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9