This is the 15th in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. The last article featured Kevin Kriso, OFM, of Mt. Irenaeus. Those commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession were honored by the Province on June 24.
EL CAJON, Calif. — Working as a waiter and restaurant manager right out of high school paid the bills, but for a 19-year-old Kevin McGoff, OFM, this life seemed unfulfilling. At the same time, Kevin found the volunteer work he was doing at a Catholic retreat center run by a family friend in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., to be fun and exciting.
After a few years of bouncing from one restaurant job to another, he began to realize he was being called to religious life. “The diversity between working at the exciting retreat center and the boring restaurant was big, and I tried to figure out what made me happy. I realized that my work at the retreat center made me happy and I wanted to work with those kinds of people all the time.”
He also knew that music was a source of joy and something at which he was talented, especially with a mother who was a trained singer and dancer.
The Our Lady of Fatima diocesan retreat center made a strong impression on Kevin, one of nine children who the McGoffs struggled to put through Catholic school. “From a young age, I was involved in music ministry, and by 10th grade, I was running the music program at the center. I played the guitar and sang for years and years,” he said with a smile.
As he celebrates 25 years as a Franciscan, Kevin looks back and sees how his early work at the retreat center, coupled with his love of music, has led to rewarding work in music ministry.
In 1987, at the age of 22, he started researching a religious vocation. He moved into the retreat center as a volunteer so he could focus on writing to religious communities and discerning the best order for him. “You should see the piles of mail I got back from all the orders,” he recalled.
Then he met the friars and life changed for Kevin. “I met with a lot of people, but as soon as I met Joseph Finn, OFM, the vocation director, I knew in my gut that this was the right move for me.”
Kevin joined the friars as a postulant in the summer of 1988 and was first professed in 1990 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. During his post-novitiate formation, he began studying music education and voice at The Catholic University of America. From 1993 to 1994, he interned at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., a parish the friars had recently begun staffing.
After his solemn profession in 1994, he received his bachelor’s degree from CUA in 1995 and began studying for a master’s degree in choral conducting at the acclaimed Hartt School of Music in Hartford. He completed his degree in 1997 and began his first assignment at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church as pastoral associate and urban minister, a role he held until 2003.
Ministering in New England
Kevin’s work also included being director of worship, overseeing all aspects of the liturgy and Eucharistic ministers, and choir direction, something close to his heart. In addition, he founded a community outreach program called the Church Street Singers, which brought music to inner city students. The Church Street Singers, named for the street on which the church is located, performed around the area.
Kevin was very proud of his work in Hartford but, after eight years, felt it was time to move on. He took an assignment at St. Francis Chapel in Providence, R.I., working with Frank Sevola, OFM, to expand the Franciscans’ ministry to include St. Mary Church in downtown Providence.
After four years in Rhode Island, Kevin felt like he was “in a rut” and asked to take a leave of absence to figure out his next assignment. He was granted a period of exclaustration from 2007 to 2009. “Things weren’t making sense and I wasn’t happy. I needed to take time away. I knew I had lost my bearings and I decided to put on the brakes.”
A good friend and retired priest in New Jersey invited Kevin to use his home for the summer while Kevin was searching for a job. After nine months, he found a job in California. “I cast my net very wide. Nothing was keeping me in New England or the metro-New York area.”
Moving to California
In the winter of 2009, Kevin began working as the director of liturgical music at Santa Sophia Church in the San Diego area, a position he held for four-and-a-half years. In the fall of 2013, the pastor, who hired Kevin, took an assignment at the nearby Our Lady of Grace in El Capon, and invited Kevin to serve there as director of liturgical music one year later.
Although Kevin is living far from Holy Name Province’s other fraternities, he said he made the move with the Province’s blessing and he stays connected with the friars. He enjoys San Diego and asked for permission to remain there in his ministry. “I’m very happy. I love it here, especially the climate.” He lives near the Franciscan School of Theology and is often with friars from St. Barbara Province at Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside.
He is also happily revamping the music ministry at Our Lady of Grace, since the church has modern architecture and the acoustics aren’t the best. “It was built in the 1980s and it is not music-friendly. It’s challenging, but in a good way.” Our Lady of Grace is a large parish, offering five Sunday Masses and welcoming 3,500 to 4,000 worshipers. It has approximately 2,500 registered families.
In his spare time, Kevin loves to read, mostly historical fiction — “everything from Charles Dickens to Stephen King.” He is also a published composer, and very happy to say that his first published work by GIA Publications — This is the Wood of the Cross — has been translated into Swedish.
He would like to be remembered in his professional life as a person who strove for excellence and considered the music of the liturgy as absolutely critical to worshipping God. He also would like to be thought of as a “fair and nice guy,” but it may be too late for that, he jokes.
The best part of being a member of HNP, he said, is the friars. “After being away from the friars for almost four years, it was wonderful to attend last year’s chapter, and I was reminded of all the ways I loved the friars. The unique thing about a religious life in our time is that you have the communal aspect of the life, meaning your family is your brothers.”
Last year was a difficult one for Kevin, who had surgery to remove his appendix and lost his father in November. But it was great, too, he said, to be with the friars at the jubilee celebration in June.
“It’s ironic because I don’t live in community with the friars, but when I’m with them, it’s joyful,” he said.
He recalls many friars who were influential to him, including the late John Murphy, OFM, with whom he lived while in Hartford, and William Beaudin, OFM, who he first met at Rye Beach, N.H.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.