When the Rev. Kenny St. Hilaire was about 7 years old, he thought he might want to be a priest one day.
The youngest of seven children in a devout Roman Catholic family, St. Hilaire would “play Mass” in his Pasco living room.
Today, St. Hilaire celebrates the Mass – for real – at St. Patrick and St. Francis Xavier churches, where he is associate pastor. At Bishop White Seminary, he is spiritual director for six seminarians.
This winter, St. Hilaire will take on an additional role: co-chairman of the annual Christmas Bureau.
The Christmas Bureau is a 10-day event in December that distributes food vouchers, toys and books to needy families. Organizers expect to serve more than 32,000 people, including about 16,000 children, this year.
The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund, which finances the bureau through donations from the community, launches today with a goal of raising $500,000.
The newspaper partners with Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America in this annual holiday charity.
“I’m impressed by the magnitude of the operation,” St. Hilaire said.
Despite his living-room Masses, St. Hilaire shelved his thoughts of becoming a priest when he was young.
“Saying you want to be a priest is not the coolest thing to do in elementary school,” he said.
As he entered his senior year studying engineering at Central Washington University, St. Hilaire called on his priest, thinking perhaps he could work for the church.
“I didn’t care about making a ton of money or climbing a ladder,” he said. “As long as there was food on the table and a roof over my head, I’d be happy.”
St. Hilaire was stunned, though, when the priest asked if he’d ever considered joining the clergy.
A year later, he and his girlfriend of four years ended their relationship so he could enter Bishop White and find out if the priesthood was for him. After that, he figured, he’d be able marry and start a family with peace of mind.
But St. Hilaire immediately felt at home in the seminary. He’d found a place of “peace and happiness.”
After finishing at Bishop White, St. Hilaire studied theology in Rome for five years and was there in 2005 during the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
“There was an immense feeling of joy among the seminarians” on the day of Pope Benedict’s election, St. Hilaire said. “They were running laps carrying the Vatican flag and offering cheers to the new pope.”
St. Hilaire returned to Spokane in 2008 to take on his current roles.
The priest, who is 30 and plays classical piano in his spare time, says what he likes most about his work is helping people experience joy, mercy and love.
Being a priest involves listening to people’s hardships. Strangers approach him often and say, “Father, will you pray for me?” and then go on to describe money troubles or a child’s illness, he says.
St. Hilaire said he’s honored to serve the Christmas Bureau.
“I’m sure it helps to enkindle the Christmas spirit in folks and give them hope in times of hardship,” he said. “Christmas is a hard time of year for a lot of people. It’s nice to have these lights that bring people joy.”