Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jul
  • 11

The Lord had other plans

Posted By July 11, 2013 | 12:43 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

Father Mark Rainville recalls when he was called. And when he became open to the call.
“My vocation began when I was 13,” said the 43-year-old who was ordained June 29 at St. Paul Cathedral. “I got woken up in the night by a voice that said, ‘Mark, will you follow me?’ I knew who it was and I responded with, ‘No,’ because I wanted to grow up and get married, have kids, a dog, a white picket fence. And a priest can’t have that.”
The next time he and his family went to Mass at their parish, St. Joseph the Good Provider in Berlin, Father Robert A. Grattaroti, the pastor at the time, announced, “Somebody here has been called.”
“I was like, panic-stricken,” Father Rainville said. He feared the pastor might make him stand up. “Luckily he didn’t know who, so I kind of got away from that one.”
Father Rainville went on to Assabet Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School, then joined the U.S. Army, where he was a mechanic in the 25th Infantry, Hawaii, from 1989 to 1993. He returned home, framed houses for a couple years, then did remodeling for eight years.
Father Rainville is the son of Robert D. Rainville and Sharon (Harriman) Rainville, and brother of Paul Rainville. At one point his mother, who played the organ at St. Joseph the Good Provider, and St. Stephen and St. Joan of Arc parishes in Worcester, suggested he try St. Joan of Arc. In the late 1990s he started going there.
One day Father Joseph M. Nally, then pastor, said in a homily, “We haven’t had a vocation come out of St. Joan of Arc for a long time. If you feel that stirring in your heart, you need to respond to that.”
“I felt that, so I immediately ignored it and made it go away,” Father Rainville said. He didn’t tell the pastor about this, but Father Nally asked him to teach sixth-grade religious education classes.
“I was kind of wondering, ‘Who was going to teach me?’” Father Rainville said.
The answer was Msgr. Thomas J. Needham, St. Joan of Arc’s former pastor, who was then pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Worcester. Msgr. Needham, for whom Father Rainville’s mother was secretary, went over the lesson plans with him that first year, he said.
After class one day, while waiting for a student’s ride to come, the catechist and St. Joan of Arc’s associate pastor talked.
“The fateful day is November 2002,” Father Rainville recalled. “It’s Father Andy (José A. Rodríguez) who’s the pastor and Father Stephen Gemme is the associate. We froze waiting for that child to be picked up. Father Gemme asked, ‘Have you ever thought about being a priest?’ At that point I was disposed. I told him this story. A couple years later I ended up at St. Charles Borromeo” Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., to study philosophy.
Father Rainville said he had never told the story to anyone before that.
What made him tell it to Father Gemme?
“I have no idea,” he replied, but noted that he was involved with the Church, teaching religious education classes and helping with the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry.
Was he open to Father Gemme’s question?
“He worked on me for a couple years,” Father Rainville said. “He became my spiritual director and my confessor and led me to take that step. The step to go into the seminary was like jumping off a cliff. It’s a complete detachment from everything you’ve known and one hundred percent trust: ‘The Lord will carry this through.’ … The vocation kind of develops.”
The first road block was financial need, Father Rainville said.
“Finally I end up in front of the tabernacle: ‘Lord, I know I’m in the right place.’ I knew I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be.” He gave God the problem and God solved it; things were worked out with the Diocese, he said.
“Between the faith and reason – those two just love to pull apart,” he said of trying to trust God with what reason told him was an insurmountable problem. “Probably the only strength there is – you’re completely weak; there’s nothing you can do.’”
Another hurdle arose; he was invited to study theology at the Gregorian in Rome – in Italian.
“I’ve never been good with languages,” Father Rainville said. So he was sent to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton for a year.
Then it was off to Rome – to the Angelicum (the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas), where he studied in English. He got his bachelor’s in sacred theology there in the spring of 2012 and in October was ordained a transitional deacon in St. Peter’s Basilica.
He then did a year in spirituality for a diploma in pastoral theology, so he was still there when Pope Francis was elected in March.
“That was absolutely wonderful,” he said. “The most wonderful thing was standing in (St. Peter’s) Square when the white smoke rose, and thanking God for sharing that grace with me, and Pope Francis coming out” and saying, “Good Evening” in Italian.
“I had no intention of going to the Square that night,” Father Rainville said; he didn’t think the new pope would be elected that soon. But The Catholic Free Press and others were asking about his experience being right there while the rest of the world was watching from afar.
“When I got there, they closed the barricade behind me,” he said; it was closed and opened to regulate the crowd. “We were about 50 yards behind the obelisk. We waited about four minutes and the smoke appeared.” He and his fellow seminarians made their way to the front and when Pope Francis came out and spoke “I had a German lady translating for me,” he said.
But that wasn’t all.
“I ended up serving the installation Mass as a Communion deacon to the dignitaries, so we were right up there on the altar with the pope,” he said. “I just wanted to have one Angelus with the new pope. The Lord had other plans.”