The R.I. Life: The Lord called, and Marcel Taillon answered
01:00 AM EST on Monday, November 29, 2010
By G. Wayne Miller Journal Staff Writer
The Rev. Marcel Taillon, who worked at CVS before joining the priesthood, prays at St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett.
The Providence Journal / Mary Murphy The Rev. Marcel Taillon, a Woonsocket native, talks with a parishoner after Mass on Wednesday at St. Thomas More Parish in Narragansett.
The Providence Journal / Mary Murphy
NARRAGANSETT — Among the prayers that the Rev. Marcel Taillon offers during his celebration of Mass this day before Thanksgiving is one common during Catholic services for more vocations. It is a prayer he often heard as a young man, when he enjoyed a promising lay career at CVS.
“When that petition would come up at Mass, it rocked me” –– in a disturbing way, says Father Taillon, 45, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish. He sits in his church rectory as he tells the story of his calling, which did not follow a traditional path.
His path led through the drugstore chain, where he had started work as a teenager and where in his 20s he was still happily employed –– making good money and enjoying a social life. He was traveling the country for CVS, part of a 1980s team that was assisting company pharmacists’ often difficult transition to computers. His strength was in people skills: communicating, listening, problem-solving.
“I loved CVS,” he says. “I loved my job. I loved my friends. I loved it all. I was really happy, but I wasn’t fulfilled.”
And that was one problem he couldn’t solve. He felt incomplete: a feeling, he would later discover, shared by other eventual priests. “It’s one of the threads that runs through everybody’s different story: You’re not sure what it is, but you can feel something’s missing.”
Father Taillon had been a devout Catholic since he was a child, and during his teenage years and into his 20s, lay people, along with some clergy, sometimes remarked that he would make a good priest. The possibility both intrigued and frightened him. A vocation might fulfill him, but his lay life was comfortable.
So he adopted an avoidant mentality.
“I ignored it pretty well, I think, for a while,” he says. “I put all my eggs in the corporate basket. I wanted to do a good job. And my job at CVS really affected people’s lives. They needed support.”
Mass-time prayers and Sunday sermons about callings, he says, kept resurrecting his dilemma. He was increasingly conflicted: a young man caught between a life he enjoyed and a life, not easily achieved, that might hold more for himself and others.
“It was spiritually uncomfortable, when I look back,” he says. “I wouldn’t have called it that then, but now I can put it together and see that obviously the Lord was calling. Very mysterious.”
One of three children of a forklift operator and a housewife, Father Taillon grew up in Woonsocket in a French-Canadian family where the rosary was prayed regularly. His mother took him to Mass every day and he was an altar boy, which brought him into contact with priests and a nun who would prove influential: Sister Maria, who belonged to a small and now-dwindling order, the Sister Servants of Our Lady, Queen of Clergy.
“She was an anchor in my spiritual life,” says Father Taillon. “Without being heavy-handed, she was always teaching me.”
After Catholic grammar school, the young Marcel entered Woonsocket High School, class of 1983. He was a class officer. He dated. At 16, he took a part-time job at CVS. He had no desire to become a priest, despite what others thought –– to Marcel’s annoyance.
“In high school, I resented it when people told me I should be a priest. I didn’t like it at all. I actually thought it was terrible.” He thought he would get a good-paying job, marry and have children, like most of his friends.
Marcel worked at CVS while attending Southern New Hampshire University, which he left shortly before graduation to join the Woonsocket-based corporation full-time. He was returning from a trip to Newark three days before Easter in the late 1980s when he decided to visit his parish church, St. Ann, in Woonsocket.
“It was Holy Thursday,” he says. “The churches are open, the Eucharist is out, and that’s the day that we believe that Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood.”
A nun was praying. Light from the sanctuary cast a glow.
Thoughts of joining the priesthood settled on him again, this time decisively.
All right, he thought, I’m going to try this.
Marcel contacted the Diocese of Providence, and the vocations director, Monsignor Paul D. Theroux, now the diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, began to advise him. He would have to pass extensive psychological and other testing and, if accepted, enter the seminary, complete a degree at Providence College and undertake more years of education and training. He was accepted. The time came to quit CVS. He had kept his new direction to himself.
He chose a coworker named Tina to tell first. He didn’t know her spiritual leanings, but professionally, they were close.
Tina, he said, I have to tell you something. I’m going to leave CVS and go to the seminary.
“I was afraid she was going to say, ‘What, are you crazy?’ But she wept right away. And she said: ‘You go! Get out of here and don’t look back!’ It was tremendous. It was so freeing for me.”
He told other close coworkers, and then his larger team, with whom he had some fun.
I’m going to work for a company that has more outlets than CVS, he told them. It’s a global company, it’s not just U.S.
“They all thought it was IBM because I had worked closely with them,” Father Taillon says. When they learned where he was really headed, he says, they were supportive –– and more. “Right away, everyone came to me to talk about their problems. Immediately. ‘Can you pray for me?’ It all came out.”
Father Taillon entered Our Lady of Providence Seminary in 1988, received an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Providence College, and left in 1990 for Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he studied for five years. Ordained a priest in Providence in 1994, he served in Vocation Ministry and was chaplain to Bishop Hendricken High School for several years before becoming St. Thomas More’s pastor.
In his work now with the faithful and in his celebration of the Eucharist, Father Taillon says he finds fulfillment, which he defines as something beyond ordinary emotion.
“There’s greater than happiness. There’s joy. And I found joy, and joy makes you cry sometimes, makes you suffer with love — makes you more human, more alive, more Christian. It’s not a mood or a feeling but the knowledge of the presence of God every moment and the freedom to trust that relationship is true and real.”
Men reach the priesthood, he says, along many paths.
“Some guys know right out of the womb,” he says, “and they’re right; they know, and God gives them that gift. And for other people, it comes out of nowhere later in life. For myself — when I look back now, I think it was always there.”
But achieving it took a sort of perseverance, a theme he strikes in his day-before-Thanksgiving sermon.
“I look back and think of all the fears and struggles and the obstacles that were mostly self-created,” he says from the pulpit.
He draws two lessons.
“Fears can keep us from doing good things,” he says.
And: “Persevere until the end.”