Eleven years after dropping out of the University of Illinois, the Rev. KYLE LUCAS is back on campus, this time as a spiritual leader. Effective last month, the former political science student is the new assistant chaplain at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. Staff writer Tim Mitchell sat down with the 32-year-old priest for a wide-ranging conversation.
Was this the plan all along — becoming a priest?
Actually, when I was little, I wanted to be a professional athlete. Baseball was my big sport. I played second base for the Peoria Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Starting in high school, my aspirations changed. I was looking to become a lawyer. After I graduated from Notre Dame, I enrolled at Illinois Central College to study political science. I planned to use that to get into law school. After those two years, I transferred here to the University of Illinois. And I actually lived here at Newman Hall.
When did your career path change course?
After I moved into Newman Hall, I became good friends with other students focused to seeing the bigger picture in life. They also had dreams and goals of what they wanted to be. I was inspired to see how faith had become the center of their lives. That made me start to think differently about my own life.
My friends taught me how to pray, and I spent more time in the chapel. When I was 22 years old, my friends convinced me to go on a retreat up at Bellflower with the other college students. That night, I saw the transformation of people I looked up to having positive experiences from going to confession. So many people had achieved great peace.
I felt the Lord asking me to be His instrument of mercy. After the retreat, I talked to one of my good friends. I told him, ‘Dude, I just made an amazing retreat, and I think the Lord is calling me to the seminary.’ That began the journey that culminated in my becoming a priest. I dropped out of the university to pursue the seminary. I was ordained in 2014.
How did you end up at St. John’s for your new assignment?
When I was first ordained, I worked in a parish called Blessed Sacrament in Morton. After three years there, I became the chaplain at my old high school, Peoria Notre Dame.
The experience was both good and difficult. A lot of the teachers were the same ones who had taught me when I was younger, so I felt out of place. But I was excellent going into that ministry knowing the rhythm of the building and knowing the families.
Then this spring, I was having a burger with another priest friend of mine at Granite City Food and Brewery in East Peoria when my phone rang. It was the vicar general for the Peoria Diocese, Monsignor Jim Kruse. He wanted to know if I was open to moving from Notre Dame to St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, and I said yes.
I wasn’t expecting that call. As soon as I said yes, I was very much at peace because I love this place. I knew this was where the Lord was asking me to serve.
How has the UI changed since you were a student at Newman Hall?
Everything is going up. As I come down Green Street, I see all these high-rises that weren’t there when I attended the UI. But when you walk down the Quad, it still feels like home.
What time in the morning do you get up?
I get up at 5:30 a.m. and get my coffee. I love the Caribou Coffee. I was introduced to it in the seminary in Minnesota, and they have it here now. Then I go to the chapel in our rectory for an hour of prayer.
What was your first job?
Working at Big Apple Bagels. It was a cafe that sold freshly baked bagels. I was a bagel maker.
I would go in early before school some days and after school other days. I would roll the dough and put it in the refrigerator. My trick was to put the bagel dough on a big counter to make the product as even as I could before I fed it into a machine.
What kind of music do you like?
I remember growing up listening to the golden oldies in my dad’s car. I must admit I am partial of the King. I’m into Elvis Presley. And I like the music of the Rat Pack.
What’s been the most memorable trip you’ve taken?
I have been blessed to go to the Holy Land when I was a deacon. It was the year before I was ordained a priest. Our seminary class went to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage.
The greatest experience for me was when our class was given a night to ourselves in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old city of Jerusalem. The church was built over the site where Christ was crucified.
Usually, the tourists only get a few seconds at the tomb and where the cross was. But, once the church closed, our class got to stay there for the entire night. I actually spent the night in that church.
I remember spending an hour and a half just sitting in Jesus’ tomb. Then I went to the site of the crucifixion and sat there without any distractions.
Have any hobbies?
I enjoy playing golf. I love Metamora Fields Golf Club just outside of Peoria.
Locally, I enjoy playing at Stone Creek in Urbana. It is forgiving and challenging at the same time.