Father John Ketchum, Pastor
Journey to the Priesthood
Each and every one of us has a personal calling to use the gifts given to us by our Lord and Savior towards the betterment of others. One of the most commonly asked questions throughout the course of my theological studies and ordination was: What was your calling? How did you decide to become a priest?
I was born in New York in June of 1969 and raised with my brother and sister in Florida, where my parents still reside and remain active in their parish of St. Nicholas in St. Pierce. After graduating high school, I moved to Orlando to study political science and international relations at the University of Central Florida (though I am a huge Florida Gators fan!), with the intention of entering into the United States Air Force.
I was in the USAF ROTC program, in which I would be granted an officer’s commission upon graduation. After completing an extensive battery of Air Force Officer exams and preparation courses, I was ready to go to Field Training—equivalent to a six week Boot Camp for officers. Before leaving for camp, I underwent a complete physical, dental, and psychological examination. The results of my eye exam led to a diagnosis of glaucoma—a disease of the inner eye and an automatic cancellation of military commission.
Devastated and believing my career plans had gone down the drain, I retreated to a small chapel in the middle of the woods in Brooksville, Florida. It was originally the site of the Atlanta Diocese Youth Camp, where I had once been involved in as a camper and later a counselor, and this small chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas was always a special place for me. While praying in the chapel for guidance, the icon of St. Michael the Archangel fell from the Icon Screen. Startled, I picked it up and entered into the altar. I felt an indescribable and overcoming feeling that the altar was where I was supposed to be. It felt like home. It was home.
Fr. John Liadis, my spiritual father at the time, and Fr. Michael Kontogiorgis—my parish priest in Orlando and currently the Assistant Chancellor of the Archdiocese in New York—helped me to apply to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. I received notice of my acceptance upon graduation from my undergraduate program and I prepared to enter into the seminary. I sold all I had and got ready to move to Boston. Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from the Air Force stating that my initial eye exams were interpreted with error and that I did not have glaucoma and I confirmed this with another eye doctor. This validated my belief that Christ intervened to pull me from the ranks of the military and place me in the ranks of the clergy.
While completing the four year Master’s of Divinity program at Holy Cross, I met my wife, Presbytera Veronica, as she was studying Elementary Education at Hellenic College. We were married on January 7, 1995, my Name Day, in her home parish of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Shrine Church in Flushing, New York. I later returned to this same Church to be ordained a deacon by His Grace Bishop Alexios of Troas in June of 1996 and, in turn, was assigned to serve the parish of St. John the Baptist in Des Plaines, Illinois in July 1996. I was blessed to be able to return to my home parish of St. Nicholas in Ft. Pierce, Florida a few weeks later to be ordained a presbyter by His Grace Bishop Iakovos of Catania, locum tenens of the Diocese of Atlanta. It was a great honor to be the first member of my small parish to be ordained a priest with my family and friends there to witness this special Sacrament.
I was immersed in a dynamic ministry and a very busy parish during the first six years of my assignment in Des Plaines. I had started three new youth ministries at St. John and also continued with the GOYA and the Young Adult League. I was in charge of the Sunday School program, approximately 250 students in grades Pre-K to 10th grade. I was in charge of weekly meetings of the OCF (Campus Ministry) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL for three years and also visited as their Orthodox Chaplain. During the school year, I celebrated Divine Liturgy in the Guardian Angel Chapel (a separate Church) which was geared towards young people and adults wanting more English. I visited the local hospitals on a weekly basis and the nursing homes quarterly or by request. Each January, I enthusiastically visited several homes and businesses for Agaismo (Blessing with Holy Water). Once a week we also prayed the Paraklesis Service, followed by Orthodox Christian Fellowship (discussion of the Orthodox Faith for adults). I also participated in the Outreach Ministry, Stewardship Committee, Catechism Classes (for those converting to Orthodoxy), Philoptochos, and Senior Citizen groups. Through the work of the youth ministries, we were able to raise funds to purchase new altar boy robes and beautify the Main Church with iconography and new marble floors. We also took a mission trip to Project Mexico and sent considerable donations to IOCC, Patriarch Bartholomew Visit, St. Basil’s Academy, HC/HC, OCMC, HIVCO, St. Innocent Orphanage in Mexico, Rafael Guatemala Orphanage, and the September 11th Relief Fund. I also was in charge of producing each month the Newsletter, The Forerunner, with distribution to over 1000 households and a special youth bulletin each week during the school year.
I was blessed to have been assigned to serve under the spiritual leadership of His Eminence Metropolitan IAKOVOS at Kimissis Tis Theotokou in Racine, Wisconsin from August 2002 until July 2015. With the help of many in the Kimissis community, I witnessed many areas of growth and improvement over the years. I have been blessed to receive from His Eminence the Honors of Confessor in April 2007 and Oikonomos in October of 2011. I also serve on the Metropolis Council of our Chicago Metropolis and I am a member of the board for the St. Iakovos Retreat Center in Kenosha County.
I believe that however long my assignment to this wonderful parish of Annunciation Milwaukee (God willing, many years), that I may serve you with love and dignity. Milwaukee is an excellent place to raise our six children—Katherine, Evangelia, Michael, Alexander, Sophia, and Elizabeth. I see great potential for growth and spiritual maturity in this parish. The “fruits” are ripe for harvesting. I am excited to write a new chapter in your parish’s history and I look to a brighter future, through the blessings of Panagia and her Son, Christ Jesus.
Sincerely, your Pastor,
Rev. Father John Ketchum