Abilenian Advances From ‘Playing Priest’ to Ordination
By LORETTA FULTON
As early as kindergarten, Kevin Lenius loved Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church, usually celebrated by Father Fred Nawarskas.
He would even “play priest” at home, urging his parents to listen to him preach. Even on the swing set, gently swaying back and forth, Lenius felt God’s love and presence. When he got a little older, his love of Mass and sensing God’s presence led Lenius down a path that started at a very early age.
“The priesthood was something that was on my mind from early on,” he said.
Lenius outgrew “playing priest,” went through nine years of religious training, and now is on the cusp of being ordained to the priesthood at age 27. That service will take place at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 22, in Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Angelo, with Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo, presiding.
The next day, Sunday May 23, Lenius will celebrate his first Mass as a priest at noon at Abilene’s Holy Family Catholic Church and a Solemn High Mass (traditional Latin Mass) at 7 p.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Effective July 1, Lenius will become parochial vicar at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Midland, serving under the church’s priest, the Rev. Rodney White, former priest at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church in Abilene.
The parishioners of St. Stephen’s are in for a blessing and a treat, with Lenius in their midst, his bishop said. Sis noted that Lenius will bring many gifts to the parish, including being conversant in both English and Spanish and a talented singer and violinist. But that isn’t all.
“The parishioners can expect that he will go the extra mile in humble service,” Sis said. “He will approach his ministry with joy and enthusiasm. He will energize the youth and warm the hearts of the older parishioners. His preaching will be insightful, faithful, and vibrant.”
Lenius literally has been training for this opportunity his whole life, or at least beginning in kindergarten. His calling was sealed when he was in the eighth grade and going through religious education at Holy Family. For the first time, he grasped the Catholic teaching that in the celebration of the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
“I just remember it floored me,” Lenius said. “That planted a pretty substantial seed.”
Bishop Sis became the sixth bishop of the Diocese of San Angelo in 2013, a year after Lenius graduated from Cooper High School. For most of his life, the diocese was led by Bishop Michael Pfeifer, who now is retired and living in San Antonio.
But Sis has known Lenius long enough–and heard about him even longer–to know that he will make an excellent priest. He was recommended for the priesthood by several people at Holy Family when they recognized his gifts and potential, Sis said.
“From a young age, they could see his great love for God and people,” Sis said, “and they commented that he would make a good priest.”
For the past nine years, Lenius has either been in school or serving in parishes in the diocese. He spent the 2018-2019 academic year serving a pastoral internship at San Miguel Arcángel in Midland. His bishop took note of Lenius’ willingness to serve as called.
“In his year of formation,” Sis said, “he has generously served the people in the churches where he has been assigned.”
With nine years of religious training behind him, his ordination on Saturday, and two Masses to celebrate on Sunday, Lenius is looking forward to a break before moving to Midland to begin his service as a priest on July 1.
“Number One on the list,” he said, “is rejoice and take a breath.”
After that, he and his family will spend a week in Florida relaxing by the beach, followed by trips for his classmates’ ordination services.
Lenius feels ready for his life as a priest and is grateful to all the people who made it possible. He also is feeling his own weakness, which he said is a good thing. He knows his work is to be a servant of God.
“This is his work,” Lenius said.
It is that deep spirituality and humble nature that people saw in Lenius when they suggested he become a priest. His bishop, Sis, noted his natural leadership skills would have served him well in a number of fields, but he followed his call to the priesthood.
“By pouring out his gifts in service to God through the ministry of Christ’s Church, Kevin will bring souls to Christ,” Sis said. “What better way to spend your life than to help people go to Heaven?”
MEET KEVIN LENIUS
Family: Parents, James and Denee Lenius of Abilene; one older sister, Andrea Walker, and family of Lubbock
Education: Cooper High School, 2012; Conception Seminary College in northwest Missouri; Saint Mary’s Seminary in Houston; master of divinity, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis
Experience: Several parishes in the Midland and Abilene areas; spent 2018-2019 school year serving pastoral internship at San Miguel Arcángel in Midland
Ordination to priesthood: Saturday, May 22, Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Angelo
First Mass as priest: Sunday, May 23, Holy Family Catholic Church, Abilene
First assignment as priest: Parochial vicar, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, Midland, July 1, 2021
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene