May 23, 2008

Renaissance man: Deacon Aaron Jenkins brings many gifts to the priesthood

Deacon Aaron Jenkins with the Easter candle. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon Aaron Jenkins with the Easter candle. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

“That boy’s going to be a priest.”

Such was the thought of Russ Jenkins in 2001 when he saw his son, Aaron, received into the full communion of the Catholic Church during an Easter Vigil celebrated at St. Ambrose Church in Anderson, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

Even though Russ, a longtime member of Zion United Church of Christ in Shelby County, had limited knowledge of the Catholic faith, he knew his son well. He knew that Aaron, even at a young age, had a desire to grow closer to God.

“It was nothing for him to go out and meditate on his own [when he was 9 or 10],” Russ said. “We lived close to a little wooded area, and he would disappear for an hour or two and just be out there meditating.”

That yearning for God continued during Aaron’s teenage years and when he was a student at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind. During those years, that desire for God eventually led him into the full communion of the Church.

A year later, after teaching art for a year at an elementary school in Washington, he told his parents that he was going to enter the seminary.

And now, seven years after he was received into the Church, Deacon Aaron Jenkins will be ordained a priest on June 7 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Deacon Jenkins answers basic questions below)

His father’s prophetic thought is being fulfilled.

“I really think God has played a big part in it,” Russ said. “Everything that I thought is actually coming about now. It’s pretty amazing, really, to think like I was thinking back then and it actually coming about.”

Seeking God in beauty

A key part of Deacon Jenkins’s journey of faith and journey to the priesthood has been his love of art, which he expresses in his works of stained-glass, and in the sculptures and paintings he has created.

“Ultimately, art is a search for beauty,” said Deacon Jenkins. “And that’s ultimately what the search for God is. God is the ultimate beauty. Christians search for God and so we search for beauty. That’s what attracts us to it.”

Deacon Jenkins also loves the “raw beauty” he finds in nature. This is a love that was, in part, nurtured in him as a Boy Scout.

“I love the outdoors. I love hunting and fishing,” he said. “There’s just the solitude that you normally find there. There are just lots of beautiful analogies out there in nature that help us to figure out or think about God and his relationship with us.”

Deacon Jenkins ultimately became an Eagle Scout, the highest level of achievement in the Boy Scouts.

Father William Stumpf, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, got to see these wide and varied interests in Deacon Jenkins when he lived and ministered at Father Stumpf’s parish last summer.

Father Stumpf thinks these interests will benefit his priestly ministry.

“He’s going to be able to connect and to relate to people on so many different levels,” said Father Stumpf. “Ministry is primarily relational. That makes him so much more approachable.”

Embracing the whole person

Although Deacon Jenkins expresses his desire for God through his artistic talents, he doesn’t see those talents and his love for beauty as just small sections of his personality.

“I can’t compartmentalize it,” he said. “No matter what I’m looking at or what I’m doing, I’m always going to approach it with an artistic sensibility.”

“Aaron embraces the whole person and the whole experience of living the faith,” said Father Eric Johnson, archdiocesan vocations director.

“I think that’s part of what attracted him to Catholicism. It engages the senses. It engages the emotions. It engages the mind. It engages all of that.”

Engaging the faith in this way will also lead Deacon Jenkins to have meaningful relationships in his ministry, Father Johnson said.

“Aaron, I think, has a deep desire to be a man of communion,” Father Johnson said, “and to help build bridges between people, to speak on behalf of people, to be somebody that I think is able to challenge, but is able to do so with a great deal of empathy and compassion.”

Deacon Jenkins’ mother, Linda Jenkins, saw this compassion in her son while he was still young, saying that it was “Christ-like.”

“If somebody was upset at school, that bothered him,” she said. “He tried to right things many times between different classmates. Or he would stand up for the underprivileged and put his two cents in. And the kids seemed to listen to him and to back off.”

Father Joseph Moriarty was archdiocesan vocations director when Deacon Jenkins became a seminarian. He has continued his friendship with Deacon Jenkins at Saint Meinrad School of Theology, where he serves as the associate director of spiritual formation.

“I believe his priesthood will be blessed by the fact that he knows already what it means to trust in God,” Father Moriarty said. “And if he continues to do that, God’s grace, then, will be efficacious in his life. It will overflow.”

An expanding family

It was, in part, Deacon Jenkins’ total embrace of the Catholic faith that led his parents to learn about the Catholic faith and be received into the full communion of the Church this past Easter Vigil.

They are members of St. Mary Parish in Rushville.

When Deacon Jenkins initially told them that he wanted to be a priest, they were sad because they wouldn’t see him have the good marriage and children they have had.

Now they see that their family is expanding in a different way.

“The loss that we thought he might have, I don’t see that at all anymore,” said Linda. “If anything, I see that it’s going to be even more rewarding to have people whose lives he’ll touch.”

Deacon Jenkins is looking forward to expanding his family by gaining lots of brothers among his fellow priests. He said his relationship with them will be important.

“I can’t be a good priest by myself,” said Deacon Jenkins. “I can only be a good priest with my brother priests and with the archbishop. And my ministry apart from that is pointless because it’s just me.”

With his brother priests, he will be living out his identity in a key way at the Mass, where he also looks forward to growing in communion with the people he will be called to serve.

“I’m really just looking forward to celebrating the liturgy with the community,” he said. “Being able to stand there, at the altar, on behalf of the people, will be great. That’s where I think all of my ministry will flow from—from that altar.”

(Deacon Aaron Jenkins will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving on June 8 at St. Mary Church in Rushville. Because of the limited seating capacity of that church, Deacon Jenkins is unable to extend a general invitation for the liturgy.)

Deacon Aaron Jenkins

Age: 31

Hometown: Rushville

Home Parish: St. Mary Parish in Rushville

Parents: Russell and Linda Jenkins

Education: Rushville Consolidated High School, Anderson University, Saint Meinrad School of Theology

Parishes he has served in as a seminarian: St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, St. Mary Parish in New Albany, St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington

Favorite saint: St. Ambrose (“He was known for his love of beautiful liturgy and wrote many hymns, including the Exultet. He also was known for his mystagogical teaching and used the image of a bee hive to describe the work of the Church, which I always like because my grandfather raised bees. It is also the name of the church that I became Catholic at.”)

Favorite Scripture verse: Mt 4:19: “He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ ”

Favorite prayer or devotion: The Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”)

People you most admire: My father and grandfather

Local site Links: