By: Dominique Johnson
The path to finding your vocational call isn’t always easy or found right away. Father Perry Kenaston said, “We live in the microwave generation, we are used to getting the instant answer,” but as he experienced on his journey to the priesthood, God’s plan isn’t always an instant answer.
Born in 1947, in Wenatchee, Washington, Father Perry grew up on a cattle ranch where his father would wake up early to take care of the chores on the farm, before heading into town where he worked as a real estate agent.
After a few years of living on the ranch, Father Perry’s mother decided she didn’t want to live in isolation anymore, so the family moved back into Wenatchee. In Wenatchee, from 3rd to 7th grade, Fr. Perry attended St. Joseph Catholic school.
Father Perry remembers he first heard God call him to the priesthood while attending the school. It happened while the parish priest was visiting his classroom. He shared that there wasn’t anything the priest did that contributed to his interested in the priesthood, but during that visit, he heard God say, “Someday you will become one of my shepherds, just be patient.”
The summer before going into 8th grade, Father Perry and his mother moved to Dishman, Washington, after his father had left the family for another woman. He would graduate high school in Dishman.
Father Perry admits that he wasn’t a good student in high school, graduating with a 1.25 GPA. He then bounced around community colleges in Wenatchee and Pasco before finding a passion for the culinary arts at Spokane Community College. While attending school in Spokane, Father Perry became involved at his local parish, serving as a Eucharistic Minister and Lector. And he heard God calling him to become a priest again following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but those plans were put on hold when he got a letter from Uncle Sam saying, “We want you.”
Following basic training for the U.S. Army, Father Perry was sent to the military’s food service school, because of his culinary background. He was then assigned to Seoul, Korea for 21 months. During his time in Korea, Father Perry said he would make time on Sunday to attend Mass and would assist the Catholic chaplain when needed.
After his time in Korea was up, Father Perry returned to the States to pursue a career in real estate with his dad, but after a year moved to Las Vegas, then Colorado to continue working in the food industry, before he re-enlisted with the Army.
During his second term with the Army, Father Perry was sent to Germany. Again, he became friends with the Catholic chaplain. However, this time he shared with the chaplain how he felt God was calling him to pursue the vocation of the priesthood. The chaplain encouraged him not to seek re-enlistment, but to begin his college career.
Once he was honorably discharged from the Army, he moved in with his mother in Spokane and started taking classes at Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC). While at SFCC, a faculty adviser took Father Perry under his wing. Father Perry said the adviser enrolled him in a writing lab and from that point he saw improvement in his grades.
Father Perry shared that once he started pursuing God’s call, “God sent people to help me along the way.” He graduated from SFCC with a BA in Philosophy and a 3.5 GPA and then was accepted to Gonzaga University to work on his Master’s in Divinity and Pastoral Ministry.
After two years he was assigned to the Madonna House Apostolate in Ontario, Canada for their formation program where he lived in poverty and served the poor while finishing his degree. Once he received his Master’s in Pastoral Ministry, he attended Holy Apostle College and Seminary in Connecticut, to complete his Master’s in Divinity.
Once again returning to Spokane, God sent another person to help Father Perry on his journey to the priesthood. This time it was a local priest, who encouraged him to write a letter of interest to the Office of Vocations for the Diocese of Juneau. After the diocese received the letter, Father Perry got a call inviting him to visit Juneau. After years of feeling called he thought, “Maybe this is God’s time.”
Following his initial visit to the diocese, Father Perry received a letter from Bishop Michael Warfel inviting him to spend a year in the Diocese of Juneau. After six months working with Father Peter Gorges and Sister Zita Simon, he was ordained a transitional deacon.
On November 10, 1999, Father Perry was ordained a priest of the diocese. He recalled that his mother, who wasn’t fond of flying, made the trip from Spokane and upon greeting him the airport said, “I hope you are worth it. That was the worst plane ride I have ever had.”
The memory that will always stay with Father Perry from his ordination was when his mother placed the stole around him, he said, “It was like Niagara Falls hit,” as his mother teared up and hugged him saying, “You did it.”
Father Perry responded to his mother, “No, we all did. For I belong to the people.”
In his 19 years as a priest for the Diocese of Juneau, Father Perry has served the communities of the Northern Missions, Prince of Wales and is currently the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Haines and St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Skagway.
In his time in the ministry of the priesthood, he said he enjoys, “Being with the people.” He added, “It isn’t a nine to five job,” and that priests are there to serve people when they are needed. “We have to be Jesus to the people. No matter the time of year or time of the day.”
On his spiritual journey, Father Perry says he has learned to trust in the Lord’s will for his life. He advises those still on the path to finding their vocation to, “Listen to that silent whisper in your heart of hearts and simply say to the chief shepherd, here I am Lord. I come to do your will.”