What path would a one-time garage-band bass guitarist take to be? For Rev. Gary Selin (’89) it would be a long and circuitous journey from the first “whisper” of a vocation to his current position as the formation director at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
Born in Bishop, Calif., to a non-Christian father and an Irish-Catholic mother, Fr. Selin describes his youth as “typical, but very worldly.” Though he believes his call to the priesthood was always there, the noise of the outside world — including that of his homegrown rock band — drowned out God’s call until his junior year in high school when he embarked on a pilgrimage to Fatima.
“As I knelt in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament at the capelinha (little chapel) which is built over the spot where Our Blessed Mother appeared at Fatima, Our Lady made me aware of that faint whisper in my soul.”
While in Fatima, he met with the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross. Their serious and dedicated example of holiness in daily work and prayer inspired young Gary, giving him an image of how he wanted to serve God. He felt very at home there, but it was not until much later on his journey to the priesthood that he would return to this place.
After graduating from high school and taking two years of general education courses at the local junior college, Gary met Damien Gallop (‘83), who suggested that he visit Thomas Aquinas College, from which Mr. Gallop had recently graduated.
“As soon as I set foot on campus, I had a feeling that I later heard College tutor Dr. Molly Gustin describe, when speaking of the major key in music: it was that ‘home-again feeling’ — a sign from God that He wanted me there.” Gary applied to the College, was accepted and began as a freshman at the College in 1985.
Thomas Aquinas College offered, Fr. Selin says, “a whole new world. Though I received the grace of conversion in high school, the after-effects of sin still resided in my soul. I was very submerged in the life of sense — the sensational and transitory.”
The authors of the great books and their weighty subjects, the student-initiated spiritual life, the constant pursuit of the truth lasting well beyond the classroom — these characteristics of the College community invited him to raise his sights from secular and temporal things to those of the intellect and spirit.
In 1989, Gary Selin earned his B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College. He and two fellow alumni spent the next year working as professors at the minor seminary of the Legionaries of Christ in Connecticut. But Gary’s heart was still in Fatima, with the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross. When the school year was complete, he visited the Canons again and prepared to join them on a permanent basis.
He returned “home” to them in July of 1991 and began his postulancy. His was to be a short stay in Fatima, however; in 1993, Gary was transferred to the Canons’ house in Braga, Brazil, for the Novitiate. One year later, he took his temporary vows there and became known as Br. Patrick, in tribute to the patron saint of his mother’s homeland.
In 1997, Gary discerned that his time with the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross had been fulfilled, and that he was being called elsewhere to serve Christ. Still certain of his calling to the priesthood, but not sure where to fulfill it, he returned to the United States and spent the summer in Detroit, Mich., with the late Rev. John Hardon, S.J., where Gary took upon himself a proposed project of founding a new order, of which he planned to be a member.
He performed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius under the direction of Fr. Hardon and drew up a proposal for the new order’s Rule of Life. Before long, however, the project’s supporters withdrew their funding. Undeterred by this setback, Gary felt called to see it through. He spoke to Archbishop Chaput of Denver, who seemed to be his one hope; yet, the Archbishop declined to endorse the project. It seemed to Gary that God had closed a door.
Less sure of his calling now, Gary followed the advice of Fr. Hardon and struck out for Washington, D.C. to study theology on his own. In 1999 he earned a master’s degree in theology from the Dominican House of Studies there. He then worked for the Institute of World Politics for a year, helping to build up and run its library. Having had a door close on his vocation, he was waiting for the proverbial window to be opened.
Just a year later, that window did open for him in Denver, where Gary joyfully entered the seminary in August of 2000. Archbishop Chaput became an invaluable mentor and inspiration as he took his final steps to ordination.
Fr. Selin describes Archbishop Chaput as a true alter Christus who has taken to heart his role as a spiritual shepherd, inspiring his flock by his dedicated accessibility and the personal attention he gives to each individual. He extends this mission beyond his own Archdiocese and strives to bring Christ to the modern world wherever he goes, delivering an uplifting message, for example, to friends and benefactors of Thomas Aquinas College at the College’s 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner in Beverly Hills in September 2001.
After three years of formation and study, Fr. Selin earned a second Bachelor’s degree, in Sacred Theology, and a Masters of Divinity degree. Having first heard God’s whisper nearly 18 years before, he was at long last ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Denver on June 7, 2003. “Words,” he said, “cannot adequately describe the beautiful mystery of being made a ‘priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech,’ a priest conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ through the indelible character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”
Fr. Selin spent his first year as an associate pastor at Our Lady of Fatima parish. Before ordination, however, Archbishop Chaput had already planned to have Fr. Selin pursue a Ph.D. in theology so as to teach in Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. With enrollment rising, the seminary was in need of more faculty; Fr. Selin was to be the first priest Archbishop Chaput tapped to help staff it.
So after a year of parish work, Fr. Selin departed for Washington, D.C., to attend The Catholic University of America, where he earned a doctorate in systematic theology. While completing his coursework, Fr. Selin lived in nearby northern Virginia at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean. Knowing that he would eventually return to the seminary and play an active role in the seminarians’ formation, he chose for his dissertation the topic of celibacy — “because that is the issue that comes up with almost every young man thinking about the priesthood.... ‘What is it all about?’ and ‘Am I called to it?’”
It was Fr. Selin’s strength as a student, says Archbishop Chaput, that led him to choose the young priest to teach at Denver’s seminary. “Fr. Selin demonstrated a wonderful academic ability as a student in St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. The faculty there very much encouraged me to recognize those abilities and send him on to graduate school…. I’m sure that the Lord will accomplish wonderful things through his ministry both at the seminary and in our archdiocesan Church.”
Says Fr. Selin of his assignment, “Archbishop Chaput is investing a lot of time and money in my formation as a seminary professor. It’s a great honor, but also a great responsibility. The parish priest can touch thousands of lives, but in the seminary, I will touch indirectly hundreds of thousands, through the ministry of the priests I will be helping to form. It’s humbling knowing what can be done as God’s instrument.”
Rev. Gary Selin (‘89) at his 2003 ordination with the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, then Archbishop of Denver, currently Archbishop of Philadelphia; and the Most Rev. José H. Gomez, then Auxiliary Bishop of Denver, currently Archbishop of Los Angeles
“When you first arrive here, the upperclassmen are almost like your heroes because they’re at the place — or approaching the place — where you want to be, both intellectually and spiritually. It promotes friendship in a way that I have never seen before.”
– John Jost (’17)
“Few schools anywhere can match Thomas Aquinas College’s extraordinary blend of deep Catholic faith and rich academic formation.”
– The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput
Archbishop of Philadelphia