By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — This story should be about Karen Lockwood.
Her husband, Father Gregory Lockwood, said she’s the real hero.
Married since they were both 18 years old, Karen — a cradle Catholic — has followed Father Lockwood through a career path, without complaint, that has taken more turns than a theme park roller coaster.
He’s gone from atheistic submarine sailor who used to poke fun at his Mass-attending wife, to becoming a Christian and Lutheran-Missouri Synod member who was called to ordained ministry, to conversion to Catholicism, to the call to Catholic priesthood in St. Louis, to a teaching job at Kenrick Seminary, and now to his new double-hat career as administrator of Christ the King Parish in Kansas City, and associate vocations director for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“She was born and raised Catholic, but she followed me into the Lutheran church. That has been the hallmark of our marriage. She has given up every possible ambition she might have ever had to support me,” Father Lockwood said.
Father Lockwood said his conversion to Christ came suddenly “400 feet down off the coast of Norway” serving on a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine.
“I was one of the guys responsible for cleaning up radioactive spills,” he said.
There was no sudden crisis, except the one boiling in his soul, he said.
“I lost all my confidence. I had to find a new way of living my life. I kept thinking, ‘If I’m so smart, how come I’m such a jerk?’” he said.
He credits shipmate George Rabey, a Navy corpsman, with leading him to Christ.
“George put me straight,” Father Lockwood said.
He hunted for a church home, but the Catholic Church was not an option, despite his wife’s example.
“I was raised in an anti-Catholic family so I wasn’t about to follow my wife,” Father Lockwood said. “She’d go to Mass and I’d laugh at her. Well, no one is laughing now. It’s amazing what happens.”
Father Lockwood said he settled into the Lutheran-Missouri Synod church because of its strong emphasis on the Bible. And even now, blessed with hindsight, he said he doesn’t regret a single moment, especially when he was called to ordained ministry.
“They had the Scriptures, and they had (Johann Sebastian) Bach,” Father Lockwood said.
“I still thank God every day for the seminary education I got from them. You had to be certified in Hebrew and Greek and read the Scriptures in the language they were written before they would even take you in.”
He was cooking along fine as associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Harvester, Mo., near St. Louis, the fourth largest Lutheran-Missouri Synod parish in the nation.
But then he began studying the writings of the early church fathers.
“I got to the point where a church group that was just 500 years old wasn’t good enough to secure me to the roots of the church,” Father Lockwood said.
Suddenly in 1984, “I woke up Catholic one morning. It was terrible,” he said. “When you wake up and realize you are Catholic one morning, and you don’t know what’s next, there is a lot of angst involved. But my father always taught me to follow the truth wherever it leads, so I did.”
Father Lockwood presented himself to then-St. Louis Archbishop John May for ordination as a Catholic priest under Pope John Paul II’s 1980 pastoral provision, written primarily to accept married Episcopalian priests on a case-by-case basis, a tradition that formalized and extended a practice begun by Pope Pius XII three decades earlier.
In 1988, Archbishop May ordained Father Lockwood as a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where he eventually came to be friends with a priest ordained some 10 years earlier by the name of Father Robert W. Finn, now bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“God didn’t talk to me and say, ‘Be a priest,’” Father Lockwood said. “I felt tugged in that direction. Something said to me, ‘You’ve got to be in ministry.’ I just had this sense of peace that this was what I was supposed to do.”
His entire family supported his decision, and not just Karen his wife.
Their daughter Christina is a cantor at a Latin Mass parish in St. Louis. “I didn’t push her into that,” said Father Lockwood. “She went that way because she wanted to.”
Daughter Patricia is a published poet. Daughter Mary is completing work on a doctorate in pharmacy. Son Paul is a U.S. Marine serving in Afghanistan.
With their children grown and successful, Father Lockwood said he and Karen are happy to be where they are together.
“Bishop Finn is a friend,” he said. “I believe in him, and I know he is a wonderful man.”
Father Lockwood also said that in addition to leading a strong parish, he can continue to work with seminarians in his new diocese.
“I’ve already taught a bunch of your young priests, so I know them,” Father Lockwood said.
“This generation of young priests is going to beat us (older priests) all to heck. They are great kids,” he said.
“What they have in common is an overwhelming desire to serve the rest of us,” he said.
“Sometimes, service hurts. Sometimes, you have to tell the truth that isn’t popular. But that desire to serve is what holds us together as priests,” Father Lockwood said.
“I am here because I want to be here,” he said. “I asked permission to come here, and it was granted.”